The BLOG: Culture

Boston Ballet pushes boundaries of dance in Mirrors

Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky's "Smoke and Mirrors"; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky’s “Smoke and Mirrors”; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

In a memorable performance that brought audiences to their feet on May 6, Boston Ballet proved a worthy contender in the world of contemporary dance. Mirrors, the company’s final production of the season, boasts two world premieres, including a moving and groundbreaking piece choreographed by Boston Ballet’s own former Principal Dancer, Yury Yanowsky.

Boston Ballet’s performance of Mirrors came the week following an announcement that it will collaborate with the Royal Ballet on a world premiere by choreographer Wayne McGregor, and two days after the company announced a five-year partnership with choreographer William Forsythe. Mirrors drives home the point that Boston Ballet is worthy and more than capable of these remarkable contemporary endeavors.

The four ballets that compose Mirrors are tied together by elements of creativity and stark otherworldliness, in addition to a particular focus on movement and the interactions between paired dancers. The first three pieces, José Martinez’s “Resonance,” Norbert Vesak’s “Belong” and Yanowsky’s “Smoke and Mirrors,” ran together aesthetically, artistically and emotionally, but the fourth — “Bitches Brew,” a world premiere by Choreographer Karole Armitage — was an unfortunate way to end the show.

Lasha Khozashvili of Boston Ballet in José Martinez's Resonance; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Lasha Khozashvili of Boston Ballet in José Martinez’s “Resonance”; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

In theory, a contemporary ballet set to Miles Davis with dancers decked out in shiny gunmetal leotards, futuristic wigs and shoes dyed every color of the rainbow sounds like a recipe with potential. Although Armitage aimed to push the boundaries of dance, “Bitches Brew” was a letdown, more strange and messy than profound.

For such sporadic, jazzy electric trumpet improv (it was recorded, don’t worry), the choreography was oddly serious. The movement, though relatively interesting at times, juxtaposed the music and did not capture the fun in jazz. With jazz and improv also comes the challenge of keeping time, and it is remarkable that the dancers managed to dance in sync despite the vague cues and complicated noise.

Although their choreography was not particularly interesting, a few dancers brought nice elements to the ballet with incredible physicality. Soloist Ji Young Chae was heavily featured in the piece, contorting her body with energy absolutely exuding from her limbs. She was the most interesting to watch, and also had spectacular moments in “Resonance” and “Smoke and Mirrors.” Soloist Irlan Silva also created intrigue as he danced with intensity, completely absorbed in the moment.

A more successful attempt at balletic novelty was Yanowsky’s “Smoke and Mirrors.” Yanowsky, who retired from Boston Ballet last season, seemed to pour his heart and soul into his first piece choreographed for the Boston Opera House stage. His cousin, the Fast & Furious 6 composer Lucas Vidal, wrote music that was atmospheric for a stage with lingering wisps of smoke and rays of light shining eerily through the clouds.

Lia Cirio of Boston Ballet in José Martinez's "Resonance"; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio of Boston Ballet in José Martinez’s “Resonance”; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Yanowsky defied physics in his new piece by costuming the women in specially designed corsets with handles that allowed the men to manipulate their partners’ movement. It transformed their range of motion and momentum, giving the appearance of the dancers gliding in slow motion. “Smoke and Mirrors” was innovative and inspired, breaking the boundaries of possibilities in ballet. This brought out the best in Boston’s dancers.

Yanowsky arranged “Smoke and Mirrors” for seven couples, and each brought something special to the ballet. Soloists Anaïs Chalendard and Sabi Varga were particularly enticing with a commanding focus. Each couple’s unique intimacy was very moving, revealing a depth of character.

The men — Principal John Lam, Solists Varga, Paul Craig and Isaac Akiba, and Corps de Ballet members Andres Garcia, Lawrence Rines and Matthew Slattery — demonstrated masculine strength but also revealed a certain vulnerability. The women — Solists Chae, Chalendard and Maria Baranova, Principal Erica Cornejo, and Corps de Ballet members Shelby Elsbree, Emily Mistretta and Dalay Parrondo — were strong but elegant and inspiring like muses.

It was a moving ballet that I needed to fully absorb as I sat in the Opera House, and judging by the roaring applause and standing ovation, I have no doubt that it was the same for my fellow audience members. I predict that it won’t be long before Yanowsky receives requests from other ballet companies eager to perform “Smoke and Mirrors,” and hopefully Boston Ballet will perform it again soon.

This is the case for Martinez’s “Resonance,” which Boston Ballet premiered last season. Two pianists, one onstage and one off to the left in front, played Franz Liszt’s “Transcendental Études” as a cast of 20 danced intriguing choreography before a mobile set (moved by the dancers, themselves). The ballet is aesthetically pleasing and accessible, but not shallow. I enjoyed searching for rhyme or reason for the choreographic arrangements and shifting costumes.

It was a commendable performance by all 20 dancers, led by Principals Lia Cirio with Lasha Khozashvili and Principal Dusty Button with Soloist Patrick Yocum. As always, Cirio and Khozashvili were excellent and compelling. Button and Yocum were beautiful to behold, with lovely lines and strong emotion, especially from Button. These leading couples provided the audience with some remarkable moments, especially when Cirio and Khozashvili unexpectedly appeared from behind the set in a lift with perfect timing, exactly mirroring Button and Yocum.

Cirio and Khozashvili’s pas de deux, set to Liszt’s piano transcription of the powerful “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem, was the highlight of “Resonance.” Their intricate lifts and partnering technique were seamless. The ballet has no discernible plot, but Cirio and Khozashvili conveyed incredible emotion in the piece, which is Latin for “weeping,” just through their expression of Martinez’s choreography and the music.

Cirio and Khozashvili dancing together is a moment in time. There is great significance in every movement. Somehow one of the most poignant moments was the two suddenly standing absolutely still and just staring at each other for a few seconds. A magnetic force draws them together, and the audience can feel the electricity.

It was a great night for both Cirio and Khozashvili. From the second Cirio opened the show with her distinctive silhouette shadowed against the diagonal backdrop, she was fully present and strong, unwavering in balance and technique. Khozashvili’s finest moments were his leaps with great ballons and silent landings, and his beautiful arabesques. It is clear why he danced a principal role in every opening night of the season.

For Cirio, the second piece, “Belong,” was another moment to shine. She and Principal Eris Nezha danced Vesak’s brief 1973 pas de deux with ease. The choreography is intimate and tender, but the dynamic between the two dancers, who are rarely partnered in ballets, was not obviously romantic. Still, they conveyed a deep connection, especially wowing as Nezha lifted Cirio in various positions but still keeping her center of gravity in one place.

The music and mood of “Belong” felt slightly outdated, but it still captured a sensual beauty. Though it was not the most remarkable piece in Mirrors, “Belong” is a fascinating exploration of movement, well executed by the two principals.

The opening night of Mirrors was a significant performance for Boston Ballet. It proved that Boston has the creative talent for contemporary ballet, and dancers fit for the job. It is a refreshing and brilliant way to end the 2015-16 season, promising exciting possibilities in the season to come.

Boston Ballet will perform Mirrors at the Boston Opera House through May 28. For tickets, visit the Boston Ballet webpage.

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer is a freelance journalist and Gordon College graduate.