In classical ballet, the male dancers are usually nothing more than glorified chairs and ladders in tights. While they are occasionally showcased in brief solos and pas de deux (a duet for two dancers, typically a male and female), they exist primarily to showcase the ballerina. They lift her while she dances and stand there as she spins. It is rare to see a male ballet dancer take center stage, but the Boston Ballet does an amazing job showcasing their male dancers in their Fall Program this season.
The program features three contemporary ballet pieces that push the boundaries of the classical ballet convention. By taking an innovative spin on themes, narratives, and gender roles, the Boston Ballet successfully reinterprets the traditions of classical ballet, presenting a thought-provoking Fall Program that is thoroughly enjoyable for both ballet connoisseurs and newcomers to the art form.
The opening piece, Christopher Bruce’s “Rooster,” is danced entirely to music by the Rolling Stones and sets the stage for the show’s wonderfully iconoclastic display of ballet. The dance features an unusual gestural phrase in which the men literally strut like roosters and occasionally stop to slick back their hair in a very Elvis-esque style. This slightly unnerving movement is repeated and alluded to throughout the entire piece, developing it into a comforting recurring thread that ties the piece’s eight dances together. This masculinized phrase material combined with Rolling Stones music paints “Rooster” as a dance about the American mating ritual from the male perspective that makes the male dancers the true stars of the show.
One of the most stunning and memorable dances was “Paint it Black,” featuring a lone male dancer partnered by three women. This innovatively choreographed dance directly contradicts ballet’s traditional partnering style and allows the male dancer to truly showcase his talent and technique. Instead of the standard gender roles, the male dancer is the soloist, and the three women lift, spin, and turn him. This creative choreography luxuriates and showcases the male dancer in a refreshing and inventive way.
The second piece was the world premiere of Jorma Elo’s ballet “Awake Only.” Of the three pieces, Elo’s choreography is the most traditional of the ballets in the Fall Program, and uses music, stage setting, and costuming simply but skillfully to convey a profound message and narrative.
The piece is about a young man meeting his past and future selves in a dream, which coninues the Ballet’s male-centric trend. Like “Rooster,” Elo’s main dancers are all men: a child, a young man, and an adult. Costume designer Charles Heightchew uses simple outfits to link these three male dancers. The little boy wears pajamas, the young man wears a body suit, and the adult is bare-chested with tights. While all of these outfits are different, they are made from the same patterned material, which suggests to the audience that these are all the same man.
Elo uses the silence between dance numbers to tell the main narrative story. When the music ends and the dancers stop, the men interact with one another. The little boy takes the young man by the hand and leads him across the stage. The young man holds his adult counterpart and teaches him how to move. The ultimate effect of these moments contribute to the piece’s larger theme that maturation is not necessarily a linear process.
Jeffrey Cirio, the young man and principal soloist in “Awake Only,” is a breathtaking dancer with a moving stage presence. He leaps in his first solo with a powerful pas de chat en tournant, and throughout the dance lands all of his intricate jumps soundlessly and effortlessly. But beyond Cirio’s beautiful technique and stunning lines, he has a striking charisma onstage. He masterfully conveys joy, ecstasy, and loss all whilst flying through the air. This combination of talents makes Cirio the perfect star of this profound piece and adds a level of gravitas to the dance that only a truly skilled dancer can execute.
William Forsythe’s piece “The Second Detail” ends the Fall Program on a controversial note. It is by far the most unconventional dance in the program and uses stark sets, sleek costumes, and jarring music to shake the audience and force them to draw their own conclusions. Forsythe pairs powerful movements with the strong down beats of his odd-but-climatic music to emphasize dancer’s sharp and beautiful phrases.
Unlike the other dances, “The Second Detail” does not follow any distinct narrative, making it hard for the audience to emotionally connect with the dance. But at the same time, this lack of didactic story allows the audience to pull their own individualized conclusions from the piece. Thus, “The Second Detail” is either the perfect or worst ending to the program. It either leaves the audience yearning and working for a conclusion, or completely confused and discombobulated.
However, the Boston Ballet presents a beautifully choreographed and wonderfully performed Fall Program that pushes the boundaries of the classical ballet traditions. The show does a great job at showcasing the male dancers and goes so far as to cast them as the gender transgressive “prima ballerinas.” The final piece—while confusing at times and galvanizing at others—ties the show up nicely, completing the theme of reinterpretation of traditional ballet.