Boston Ballet Review: Process and Progress May 13, 2021 | Digital
Boston Ballet’s Process & Progress program features pieces choreographed across time zones and continents. Called a “long-distance collaboration” by one of the choreographers, themes of connection and human relationships run through all four pieces. Boston Ballet’s digital show leans into our synchronistic feelings of isolation, mixing them with ripples of hope.
Zoom In, by Ken Ossola, starts things off with creative staging and clean cinematography.
Four walls stand in the space, two of which consist of the marley floor curved up towards the ceiling, allowing for sneaky entrances and exits by the dancers who disappear and reappear from behind it. A strip of narrow floor lights and moody stage lighting complete the look. Shot on the narrow view (rather than wide as viewed in a typical theater), the ninety-degree shift in perspective creates a new realm for the dancer and viewer.
Ossola has a polished movement vocabulary displayed in his choice of contact and rebound movements (stemming from his impressive experience in the Jiří Kylián style). Dancer Tyson Clark stands out in his use of the floor and adoption of Ossola’s choreographic style.
Relying on an ominous otherness, the piece holds a tension throughout, but it is the final pas de deux with María Álvarez and Paul Craig where the tension meets its match in music and dance. The strings of Arvo Pärt’s music hit whistling high notes, the choreography revealing a quietness as the dancers relax into each other.
La Voix Humaine masterfully conceptualized by Nanine Linning invites us into a strange world.
Opening with a blaring sound of brass instruments from Francis Poulenc’s operatic piece by the same name (text by Jean Cocteau), we see a sad woman hanging up a phone. Sung by Denise Duval in French, the 1959 recording lends an old-timey feel, doubled up by the black and white film.
The main character Elle, danced stunningly and with entire devotion by Ji Young Chae, finds herself accompanied at times by a mysterious group of dancers who weave in and out of her story. A dominating cage of webbed string surrounds the dancers and Lanning utilizes it to portray an inwardness and isolation.
Costumes designed by Shane Maxwell and Erica Desautels feature unusual face coverings for the group, at times taking on the appearance of sea anemones or mops.
Lanning’s choreography is geometric and theatrical for Chae. The group dances are foreboding with creepy undulations and alien-like movements. Unusual like a dream, nightmare or somewhere between, La Voix Humaine is a complete experience.
Lex Ishimoto, known for his appearance on So You Think You Can Dance, has some ballet roots in Boston. Invited back, this time not as a dancer but as a choreographer, Ishimoto flexes his choreographic muscles in a breezy number.
City sounds of traffic and bluesy instruments echo the easiness in electronic music by Kurtis Sprung. What Happens If… contemplates the possibilities of trying something new and the optimism of an unexpected outcome.
Luckily, the dancers are at home in his style of movement; cool and casual and human. A mix of staccato and supple movements, flexed feet and hands carve through space in soft patterns. However, the piece could have benefited from less symmetry across the stage.
Decked out in cozy turtlenecks, elastic-waist culottes, and socks, What Happens If… wins the award for most comfy costumes (designed by Ishimoto). Soft grey tones and an androgynous design allow the dancers to show up in their purest forms, as dancers.
Closing the program, we enter the subway in Boston, known by locals as the “T”.
Choreographed by company dancer John Lam and set to soundtrack based on the Catalan folk song, “El cant dels ocells”, moving pARTS is an interesting take on where dance is today, after living though a pandemic.
There is something beautiful about placing dance in a public space like a subway. Architecturally, the Boston subway stations lend many stages to the directing team and they use the space well. The dancers filter out of the subway car, shedding their daywear to reveal simple black outfits, and then spontaneously begin dancing across concrete floors and escalators. Metaphorically, the juxtaposition of elite dancers against the grunge of a commute is poetic.
Lam relies heavily on elbow choreography which is not bad. In fact, he impressively comes up with new and interesting shapes throughout.
At times, we catch a commuter walking past, bewildered by the dancers. The onlooker’s presence only intensifies the ballet’s message which seems to be, “we’re still here and we’re ready”.
The short film launches Boston Ballet’s new public art initiative meant to use dance as a “catalyst for building community”. I am sure the Boston community looks forward to more dancer sightings in the wild.
Over saturated with dance streams this past year, I am continuously impressed with companies that try to take filming to the next level. With that comes a whole new crop of artists to celebrate: the director of photography, editor, behind the scenes videography, production assistant. Along with the costume designers, wardrobe department, carpenters, hair and makeup designers, electricians, and stage managers, there is a whole team of artists representing the backbone of an ambitious project like this. Boston Ballet takes the time to feature and appreciate the people involved in the project and we get those behind-the-scene peeks in the stream.
Nadia Vostrikov is a former television actress and dancer for Boston Ballet II, Alberta Ballet, and numerous freelance dance companies. She currently works as a Digital Marketer in NYC. (Photo by: Katrina Cunningham)