May 8 – 18
Boston Opera House
It’s finals time, even in the ballet world. Next week, advanced students of the Boston Ballet School will give their end-of-year performance, and in two weeks the company wraps up its 50th anniversary season with Balanchine’s Jewels. Dancers don’t revert to grunge-mode like college students during crunch time, however. The Boston Ballet was at its finest last Thursday in Pricked. They made the audience laugh, cringe, and marvel in awe during the edgy, fun, and technically demanding performance. They earned a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience at the finale. I’ll long remember the performance.
The show started with Harald Lander’s Ètudes, set to piano studies by Carl Czerny. The curtains opened to Misa Kuranaga, clad in a white tutu, flawlessly performing elementary ballet movements, such as plies and port de bras, as if she were caught in the middle of a ballet class onstage. Other female company members joined her, completing ballet exercises at the barre.
It might have looked like an ordinary ballet class, but the lighting and staging made the performance edgy. At times only the dancers’ legs were illuminated as they completed frappes, creating a mesmerizing array of feet fluttering against ankles. Artistic director Mikko Nissinen referred to the piece as the “epitome of classicism.” Corps de ballet member Patrick Yocum called it “a tour de force of classicism,” in a previous interview with The Tech.
Ètudes progressed from barre exercises to center combinations and partnering. It finished with a grand finale of dancers spinning, completing fouettes, in sync. Male dancers jumped like popcorn, never seeming to get tired. Isaac Akiba, one of the soloists, always had a gigantic smile on his face. It looked like he couldn’t be happier, flying through the air.
At one point, three tutu-clad company members spun across the stage diagonally one at a time, followed by Kuranaga who spun at two (maybe three) times their speed. I was awestruck watching the dancer transform into a hummingbird.
The next ballet, Petr Zuska’s D.M.J. 1953–1977, was an entirely different work, but just as technically demanding. Six male-female couples danced with large black coffin shaped boxes and large red roses. The main couple, Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili, stole the show, however.
The choreography seemed made for Cirio, who completed each movement seemingly effortlessly. The piece explored love, yearning, and loss, but more than anything, it was beautiful to watch. “When Zuska [the choreographer] first came to visit us, he spoke about his inspiration coming from a very profound, perhaps mystical experience he once had in a desert; there is clearly something important happening in the lives of the ballet’s main couple, but it’s never explicitly stated,” reflected Yocum, who performed last Thursday.
The evening concluded with the North American debut of Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, the “edgiest” ballet of them all. The opening score was text read aloud, followed by a string quartet on stage that was joined by the Boston Ballet Orchestra. Eventually the dancers became instruments of sorts, adding to the score with rhythmic claps, slaps, falls, and breaths. Dancers moved in unison atop square platforms, moving perfectly to the beat that they were both performing to and creating. Spoken word also accompanied them at times.
The narrator’s pseudo-intellectual speech turned ridiculous, making the theater erupt with laughter. “The movement is unlike anything I’ve been asked to do on stage before, and that sort of originality is very exciting,” reflected Yocum in a previous Tech piece. “To go from the classical positions of Ètudes into the barefoot, awkward contortions of Cacti is a bit like asking an athlete to play a game of basketball and then tell him to try his hand at surfing.”
The highlight of Cacti was Jeffrey Cirio and Whitney Jensen’s duet. The two danced to humorous commentary that pretended to be voices in the dancer’s heads, reminding them of the steps. The couple and narration thoroughly entertained the audience, both through comedy and the dancers’ athleticism and rhythm.
Overall, Pricked is entertaining and impressive. It pays homage to both classical ballet technique and discipline, while subtly conveying a range of emotions and being, at times, a little goofy. As Yocum said, “We are presenting the broadest possible extremes of ballet in one evening.” Pricked is a must-see performance, even for those settling into finals week grunge mode.