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A Good Finnish Start

Boston Ballet presents ‘Morris, Forsythe, and a World Premiere’

By Bence Olveczky

staff writer

Morris, Forsythe, and a World Premiere

Boston Ballet

Wang Theatre

Sept. 19-29

By Mark Morris, William Forsythe, Jorma Elo

Directed by Mikko Nissinen

With his inaugural production, Boston Ballet’s new artistic director Mikko Nissinen has taken a stance. Instead of the old-fashioned, sappy, fairy-tale-like ballet evenings that traditionally open the season, the young Finn has chosen to introduce himself with a string of contemporary works. A daring choice, and one that hopefully signals a direction away from conservative crowd-pleasers favored by the old guard towards new and exciting dance.

Morris, Forsythe, and a World Premiere is luckily a much more imaginative evening of dance than the title suggests. It starts with Maelstrom, a trademark Mark Morris piece set to Beethoven's “Ghost Trio.” What distinguishes Morris as a choreographer is his bravura in creating a symphony of dance moves to match and complement the music. Just as the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo was trying to “release the figures trapped in the stone,” so Morris tries to capture the choreography hidden in the music. The seven couples dancing the piece provide a gentle and graceful illustration of Beethoven's piece, following the changing moods of the music with their expressions and movements. And just as Beethoven’s orchestration lacks soloists, so the dancing is the coherent effort of an ensemble rather than the sum of individual performances.

The second piece on the program is by Nissinen's compatriot Jorma Elo. That the program title does not feature Elo's name (his piece is the “World Premiere”) is a testimony to his obscurity, and his offering Sharp Side of Dark is not likely to propel him to stardom either. The piece, which is set to a string-trio arrangement of Bach's “Goldberg Variations,” starts out promising. The stage resembles a futuristic movie set with giant spotlights suspended over the dance floor, moving up and down, lights coming on and off. All the while, the choreography explores the possibilities of the “duet” as a choreographic element, bringing to mind the works of Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. But Elo fails where Morris succeeds, and in the end the lighting, the music, and the dance seem antagonistic and disjointed, and it is unclear what the common theme is. The suspicion must be that Elo tried too hard to do too much and in the process came up with a bit of a half-baked hodge-podge.

All is well that ends well, and it is American choreographer William Forsythe that delivers the hard-hitting punch that brings the evening to a successful conclusion. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is set to Dutch composer Thom Willems' throbbing and visceral electronic music. The very physical dancing, the almost robotic movements, and the harsh lighting all combine to give the piece an industrial feel. The high energy dancing radiates a lot of sexuality, making In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated a surprisingly titillating piece. The sibling pair April and Simon Ball, together with Sarah Lamb and Gael Lambiotte, are outstanding and largely responsible for the erotic charge exuding from this fast-paced performance.

Boston Ballet is off to a fresh start under its new artistic director, but it remains to be seen if Mikko Nissinen can keep it up. One of the major obstacles he faces is the very audience he is catering to. Boston Ballet regulars have grown fat on many sugar-coated crowd-pleasers and seem to be wanting more of the same. On the Friday evening I went to see Nissinen’s venture into the new and exciting, more than half the seats in the Wang auditorium were empty. The only positive aspect of this is that you are likely to get a very good seat for the student rush tickets that cost only $12.50. It’s a rare bargain and a good way of showing your support for a daring undertaking that deserves to succeed.