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Hot & Cool lends Ballet flavors of Ireland and blues

HOT & COOL

Boston Ballet.

Choreographed by Danny Buraczeski, Daniel Pelzig, and Lila York.

Costumes designed by Tunji Dada, Pam Graham, and Nong Tumsutipong.

Wang Center.

Until April 7.

By Hr Kser
Staff Reporter

It is that time of the year again. The local ballet company has decided to put something original and contemporary on stage. It is Hot & Cool, Boston Ballet's new production of three half-hour world premieres that kick off the season this year.

The idea is simple: a plain, almost empty stage (except for the backdrop) and no orchestra. Instead of the merry tunes of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker that we are so used to hearing, By the Horns echoes in the Wang Center with blues from such names as Joe Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and Jon Faddis. Created by the renowned jazz dance choreographer Danny Buraczeski, this first half-hour piece of the night is teeming with passion. Do not misunderstand. This is not a love story per se - if what you are looking for is a romantic love story, you have to wait until May 2, when Boston Ballet stages Sleeping Beauty.

In fact, there is not much of a story in By the Horns at all; instead, we get the usual playground: groups of men, groups of women, pairings off, then re-pairings and several short solos. Dancing does not even reach a finale when the black curtain falls. So, what is the deal? Well, this is exactly the point - it is the dancing alone that makes the half-hour drift away. Marjorite Grundvig and Laszlo Berdo certainly deserve praise for their natural, swirly moves that follow the outline of Faddis' energetic trumpet. Overall, the texture of dancing is an interesting hybrid between ballet choreography, West Side Story , and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" clip. On certain occasions, however, everything seems to be scripted - something that does not seem to go well with the improvisational nature of the blues.

In the second half-hour, choreographer Daniel Pelzig is also deserves the most credit for his Nine Lives: Songs of Lyle Lovett. Pelzig was appointed the resident choreographer of Boston Ballet just last year. His first commissioned work for the company, The Princess and the Pea, was a definite success and promised more bright ideas. Nine Lives is certainly one of those bright ideas in action. It is also what you would expect from his background, which covers choreography for the opera (such as Eugene Onegin, La Traviata, and Orfeo ed Eurydice ) and theater (such as Privates on Parade, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story), as well as ballet.

Nine Lives is where you begin to recall scenes from Rebel Without a Cause. Before the first performer ever steps down on the stage, we hear Lyle Lovett reciting, "Hello, I'm the guy who sits next to you and reads the newspaper over your shoulder. Wait, don't turn the page, I'm not finished." And then following are eight songs through Lovett's bitter, Meat Loaf style voice: "I've Been to Memphis," "Pontiac," "Hot to Go," "All My Love is Gone," "She's No Lady," "Nobody Knows Me," "Black and Blue," and "If You Were to Wake Up." Paul Thrussell's expressive solo in "Hot to Go" is especially reminiscent of James Dean's rebellious outcry for recognition. The costumes and the dancing represent a snapshot from the late 50s, while Lovett's music belongs to the 80s. Despite this anachronism, the piece manages to fit well into the "hot" aspect of Hot & Cool.

The "hottest" part of the night, however, came at the end. Celts, by choreographer Lila York, is an original masterpiece. It takes the rhythm of the night up to the peaks of the Irish mountains, and transforms the Hall into a huge stage of celtic rituals. Olivier Wecxsteen and his earth goddess Marie-Christine Mouis mesmerize both the Irish and the audience alike, forming the magical and romantic link between the powerful scenes of stepdancing. The music (by The Chieftains - William J. Ruyle, Bill Whelan, Celtic Thunder and Dan Ar Braz) is extremely energetic as is the dancing. Half a dozen, bare-chested men fill the stage with head-shaking and stepdancing in an enchanted proclamation of power (accompanied by Bill Ruyle's extraordinary drum solo). Robert Wallace makes his jumps and stepdancing look natural, and Laszlo Berdo blinds the audience with his speed and intensity. In effect, Celts brought the evening to its boiling point.

Hot & Cool is quite successful in achieving its goal: it surprises you. It came as no surprise, however, that the opening evening concluded with a standing ovation. It is definitely pleasant to realize that dancing can be so expressive and so powerful, yet so original and unexpected. Hot & Cool promises to warm up a chilly spring night. It is worth seeing for sure.