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Boston Ballet Displays A Contemporary Flair

By Alyssa A. Botelho, Crimson Staff Writer

Last Friday, the Harvard Dance Center’s Studio 1 was transformed into a black box theater. Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen told his audience, “I hope to show the progress of the art form through the eyes of contemporary repertoire.” The evening’s sampling of contemporary works, presented as “Boston Ballet Dance Talk” by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, showcased the versatility of Nissinen’s dancers as well as his vision for Boston Ballet in the local community. The company dancers performed strikingly innovative choreographies of William Forsythe, Helen Pickett, and Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo with all the raw athleticism and finesse that contemporary ballet demands. Nissinen has brought a fresh artistic vision to the young, forward-thinking Boston audience while maintaining his company’s force in the classical tradition. In the same way, the Boston Ballet dancers displayed an invigorating spectrum of repertoire that was never too far removed from its classical roots.

Unlike performances at the Boston Opera House, the company’s home theater, “Dance Talk” was a uniquely intimate glimpse of Boston Ballet. Nissinen and Ballet Master Anthony Randazzo spoke about each choreographer and their work before each of the evening’s pieces. The first work presented was an excerpt from “The Second Detail,” choreographed by one of the pioneers of contemporary ballet, William Forsythe.

“The physical demand and musical complexity of Forsythe’s work changed the way we look at ballet,” Randazzo said. “The Second Detail” was no exception. The excerpt performed—taken from the climax of the full-length work— featured a bold interplay of physical power between seven male and seven female dancers. Against the strong, almost abrasive beat of Thom Willem’s electronic rhythms, the dancers darted across the stage: their arms and legs extended, flexing in sharp geometries, then flowing to fluid, arcing forms. Principal Lia Cirio’s movement onstage exuded an energy that seemed to hold together the dynamic of the entire group.

The forceful opening of “The Second Detail” was softened by the evening’s second excerpt, Helen Pickett’s “Tsukiyo.” A lilting and sensuous pas de deux—a dance between a man and a woman—Pickett’s work offered an interesting stylistic contrast to the preceding piece: Pickett was one of Forsythe’s own dancers at the Frankfurt Ballet decades ago. A piece with a subtle Japanese undertone, “Tsukiyo” (Moonlit Night) opened with Principal Misa Kuranaga kneeling on a black pedestal in front of a large, hanging translucent disc decorated with Japanese floral designs. From afar, Kuranaga seemed to be floating gracefully in midair. Kuranaga and Principal Yury Yanowsky’s delicate movements were fitting complements to the fragility of Arvo Pärt’s composition for violin. Their gentle and sometimes forceful manipulation of each other’s movement evoked at points a sense of wonder, at others of desperation. However, the calm, even feel of “Tsukiyo” and Pärt’s music may be most interesting when tempered by the more dynamic movements in Pickett’s full-length work, “Pärt I, II, and III.” In all senses, “Tsukiyo” seemed a piece about exploration.

The last excerpt featured was Jorma Elo’s “Plan to B,” a prelude to Boston Ballet’s spring production “Elo Experience,” a show entirely devoted to Elo’s work (March 24-April 3). “Jorma choreographed his piece at a very vulnerable time in his life … when he decided to retire from dancing,” Nissinen said. “‘Plan to B’ is a reflection of his struggle: it is full of the hesitation and nervous energy he experienced as he took the leap to ‘stop taking leaps,’” Nissinen continued. The six dancers in “Plan to B” exemplified the uniqueness of Elo’s movement style amidst fellow contemporary choreographers. The dancers’ windmilling arms and swinging legs were often punctuated by rapid synchronous turns, evoking an altogether circular, sinuous movement that as Nissinen said, was “so Jorma.”

At the end of the evening, Nissinen and Randazzo welcomed a broad range of questions from the audience about everything from the dance steps performed to the life of a company director. When asked of his opinion on Darren Aronofsky’s hit film, “Black Swan,” Nissinen said with a laugh, “Though it does not do a disservice to the art, it is certainly an exaggeration.”

Nevertheless, Nissinen said the movie did speak to the life of the professional dancer. “Life as dancer is incredibly difficult, incredibly demanding—and yet, it is simply wonderful.”

—Staff writer Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at

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