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Boston Ballet Goes Modern

‘From Distant Shores’ Show Features Three Flavors of Modern Dance

By Bence Olveczky

staff writer

“From Distant Shores”

Wang Theatre

October 25, 2001 - November 04, 2001

The Boston dance scene took a serious hit last season when Dance Umbrella, a visionary organization dedicated to bringing the best of modern dance to Boston, lost its funding. The void has yet to be filled, but in “From Distant Shores,” the Boston Ballet is giving dance fans some ointment for their ailments by scrapping its trademark costume and prop filled extravaganza for a triptych of modern ballet that is at once simple, beautiful and beguiling.

In a time of flag waving and anthem singing, it’s refreshing to see the Boston Ballet going abroad to find inspirational glue for its evening of dance. The first piece, “Ginastera,” was named after the Argentinean composer whose string quartet inspired Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig to create a ballet showcasing the prowess and precision of his male dancers. It is a technically challenging piece with complicated classical movements often performed in unison. And it is made even more difficult by the fact that Ginastera’s string quartet lacks the rhythm that would aid the dancers in synchronizing their movements.

Sadly, in Boston Ballet’s rendition of van Dantzig’s piece, the eight male dancers fall short of the mark, and on opening night they were often dancing out-of-sync, creating an aesthetic dissonance that detracted from an otherwise dazzling choreography. Ironically, it was the graceful and precise female dancers who saved the piece, successfully translating some of the magic in Dantzig’s neo-classical choreography to the audience.

But if “Ginastera” was a slight disappointment, the second part of the program, “Jardi Tancat” (Closed Garden), was a riveting revelation. Choreographed by Spaniard Nacho Duato, the piece displayed a synergy between music and movement rarely experienced. The dancers, surrounded on stage by winding sticks, directed their movements toward the earth-colored floor, evoking images of hard working peasants. The dynamic flow of slow, fluid movements perfectly captured the essence of the melancholy Mallorcan folk songs on which the choreography was based. All six dancers were excellent, but a duet between Gianni Di Marco and Adriana Suarez was particularly poignant.

It is a testimony to Nacho Duato’s talent that “Jardi Tancat” was his first ever choreography, and we can only hope that Boston Ballet under its new director Mikko Nissinen will showcase more of his work in the future.

Lila York’s “Celts” was a hit when it premiered here in 1996, and its present revival, as the third and last installment of “From Distant Shores,” yet again captures the imagination of the audience. York’s choreography is an energized and stylized version of Irish folkdance set to the pounding rhythms of Celtic music.

This joyful and spectacular work may lack the subtlety and poetry of the preceding pieces, but it makes up for it in sheer energy and vivaciousness. Although “Celts” is mainly an ensemble piece, there are many impressive and explosive solos, executed by, among others, a remarkable Paul Thrussel. The piece certainly knocks the socks off Irish dance inspired shows like “Riverdance,” and it makes for a fitting ending to an evening that is a tribute to the rich diversity -- cultural and otherwise -- in modern dance.