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Contemporary Dance

An Enchanting Blend of Modern and Ballet

By Sonja A. Sharpe

Staff Writer

Boston Ballet Company

Choreographed by Rebecca Rice with Viktor Plotkinov

Sound by Oliver Hammerle

April 13-14, 2002

Fans of ballet and modern dance were treated to a wonderful mÉlange of both of these dance forms when choreographer and dancer Rebecca Rice presented examples of her choreography at the Boston Ballet Grande Studio this past weekend. The compilation of her works, entitled “Contemporary Dance,” also featured the premiere of a contemporary work choreographed by Boston Ballet Company Principal Viktor Plotnikov, as well as a historical piece choreographed in 1919 by Ruth St. Denis.

Rice has been teaching modern dance and choreography at the Boston Ballet School since 1992, and is currently a faculty member at MIT. This semester at MIT she is teaching a ballet and modern dance class, and also a technique and choreography class. She is also in the process of creating a new dance project called “Kinesthetic Engineering.”

The showcase at the Boston Ballet Grande Studio, “Contemporary Dance,” exhibited five of Rice’s works, each drawing to different degrees on her strong background in both ballet and modern dance. The first work, “Paradigm,” set to a Bach concerto, is a fluid, energetic mix of ballet and modern dance, with a significant amount of creative floorwork. This piece shows off the amazing strength and flexibility of the dancers, who clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The second piece, “Altis Ballet,” was definitely one of the highlights of the show. The work is strongly modern and consists of five short vignettes choreographed in January 2002 specifically for a photography exhibition by Martin Cooper. “Altis Ballet” is an inspiring piece of modern dance that illustrates Rice’s talent in translating seemingly static forms into ones with energy and purpose. The first four vignettes, set to new age music, focus on the women’s preparations for the events. They emphasize contained strength and power, with the dancers moving slowly, crisply, and deliberately. Feathers, discusses, and bows are used as props to emphasize the athletic forms and shapes assumed by the women as they prepared for the events.

In the final vignette, called “Run,” the contained energy displayed in the first four vignettes is released to music that could have come straight from the Gladiator soundtrack. Caitlin Novero shows amazing grace, strength, and flexibility in the lead role of a renegade female participant in the Games, which she helped choreograph with Rice.

Two of Rice’s other works, “Deep Horizon” and “Mirage,” are less celebratory than “Altis Ballet.” “Deep Horizon,” primarily a ballet piece with a few modern forms, shows the falling apart of a strong, structured entity and the emotions that arise from the crisis. “Mirage” is an empathetic tribute to loved ones lost on Sept. 11. Although the solo cello music used in the piece seemed too slow and plodding at times, it set the overall mood of the piece. Desiree Reese Parrott, Dean Vollick, and Sara Knight superbly brought to life Rice’s inventive choreography.

Viktor Plotkinov’s premiere piece, “Sketch of a Couple,” is also set to a solo cello score and emphasizes form and shape. “Sketch of a Couple” is a modern piece about the mood changes in the lives of a romantically involved couple. It was flawlessly performed with passion and emotion by Sabine Challand and Gael Lambiotti, who portrayed a couple moving from tenderness and passion to anger and hostility and back to reconciliation and tenderness once again.

The historical piece, “Sonata Pathetique,” was choreographed in 1919 by Ruth St. Denis as an example of “music visualization.” Set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, the piece accurately depicts the emotions invoked by the music. It is somber, dark, and even accusatory at times. A mix of modern and ballet, “Sonata Pathetique” repeats simple movements and is not technically challenging for the dancers, but the piece draws from this simplicity to create a powerfully dark, focused atmosphere.

The showcase’s finale, “Illuminations,” is an ensemble piece choreographed by Rice in 1999 and set to Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Opus 6. Primarily ballet but with some modern influences, it is an energetic, graceful movement work devoted to the theme of creating light. The work is also unique in that the male dancers perform together on stage by themselves for a time, instead of just in pairs with the female dancers or in solo acts, although those aspects are also present in the piece.

Although each piece was superbly performed, the Boston Ballet Grande Studio was not the ideal setting for displaying such talent. Resembling a converted gym, the stage area is flush with the audience members, and the studio lacks true stadium seating. Thus, those who did not arrive early enough to sit in the front rows were forced to constantly shift from side to side to see around the heads of the people in front of them. This was quite distracting and prevented some from appreciating the full flow of movement displayed by the dancers.

Despite this small distraction, “Contemporary Dance” was a thoroughly enjoyable exhibit of Rice’s thoughtful, inspired works.

Students in Rice’s MIT Class and the MIT Choreography Group will perform a free showcase on May 7 in La Sala de Puerto Rico.