Review: Boston Ballet's 'MINDScape' Offers Sassy Contemporary Moves

by Iris Fanger

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 10, 2022

Boston Ballet in William Forsythe's Blake Works I; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in William Forsythe's Blake Works I; photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet  

Who would have believed that the surprise hit of the Boston Ballet's May 5-15 program was created at rehearsals on Zoom for presentation during the COVID lockdown? Given the general disappointing quality of flat screen dance that took the place of live performance, one might have gratefully left behind that period.

However, not for the American-born choreographer, William Forsythe. He found a way to keep on keeping on. He turned "Blake Works II" into "Blake Works III (The Barre Project)" and mounted it with six Boston dancers, moving on and off a horizontal pole centered across the rear of the stage at the Opera House.

The ballet is set to a series of songs performed on tape by the British Grammy winning composer-performer, James Blake. The performers — Haley Schwan, Benji Pearson, Ji Young Chae, Derek Dunn, Daniel Durrett and My'Kal Stromile — begin their solos clinging to the barre but move away from it in dare-devil leaps and turns, pushed to a punishing velocity, only returning to home base now and then as if for comfort and time for a breath.

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Ruth's Dance, photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Ruth's Dance, photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet  

To their credit, Pearson, Durrett and Stromile, artists of the corps de ballet, made quite an impression, keeping up the pace alongside the three principal dancers, although Dunn is a hard guy to beat. The entire cast delivered a virtuoso performance with gasp-inducing speed, ending the program of three contemporary works by bringing the viewers up from their seats and cheering.

The evening is constructed in a circular fashion, with the curtain-raiser an earlier work by Forsythe called "Blake Works I," originally premiered by Paris Opera Ballet in 2016, and presented by BB in 2019. Although accompanied by another Blake performance of songs (from his album, "The Colour in Anything,") the older piece is made for 21 dancers who often work as a unison troupe before breaking off into the solos, duets, and trios that string throughout. An assured Lia Cirio, the reigning ballerina of the company, led the ensemble. Chyrstyn Fentroy and Lasha Khozashvili performed a touching (emotionally and in real time) pas de deux of seeking and withdrawing from each other, sometimes with regret. The segment called "Two Men Down," danced by eight high-flying men, backed by the women, was headed by a tightly-coiled Patrick Yocum, before the ballet ended in a quieter change of pace for Cirio, partnered by Patric Palkens.

Sandwiched between the two Forsythe works was the second world premiere of the evening, "Ruth's Dance," by Jorma Elo, resident choreographer at the BB since 2005. Elo's piece is a tender elegy in memory of his mother, set to Johann Sebastian Bach's "Concerto for 2 Pianos in C Major," enhanced by live performances in the pit by the company's Principal Solo Pianists, Freda Locker and Alex Foaksman.

Daniel Durrett in William Forsythe's Blake Works III (The Barre Project); photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet
Daniel Durrett in William Forsythe's Blake Works III (The Barre Project); photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet  

Like Forsythe, Elo makes dances that are based on classical technique but propels the audiences into modern times by speeding up tempos and twisting the performers into postures, steps, and gestures that are augmented by unfamiliar lifts, and taken from trendy 21st century disco, cheerleading, strutting and every sort of athletic movement. Conventions from the past, such as stories and characters to tell, them are eliminated in favor of movement for its own sake. Costumes are simple, and scenery is non-existent, except for body-molding lighting. Both choreographers prefer the women in pointe shoes.

Despite keeping up the quick tempos, Elo's work was closer to classical ballet without updating the steps and combinations. One solo man, Palkins, moves at the head of the 23 dancer troupe, which includes three lead couples: Viktorina Kapitonova and her attentive partner, Paulo Arrais in red; an elegant pair in blue, Addie Tapp and Khozashvili; and the spunky newcomer to the Boston Ballet, Michaela DePrince, with John Lam, dressed in purple. Despite an underlying theme of loss, the ballet and the music provide a sense of gratitude for the memories, rather than sorrow.

On opening night last Thursday the dancers looked like they loved the challenges of adjusting their training to the sassy contemporary moves. Coming up in three weeks is the season closer, "Swan Lake," that will test them in more conventional ways, to end their first season back live on stage, a gift to Boston audiences.

Remaining performances of "MINDScape" are May 12 - 15 at the Citizen Bank Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For further information, visit the Boston Ballet website.