Review: Boston Ballet - Programme 2 - London Coliseum

Performance: 5-6 July 2013
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 5 July 2013

Boston Ballet 'The Second Detail'. Dancers: Lia Cirio & Jeffrey Cirio. Photo: Gene Schiavone

The excellent dancers of Boston Ballet were let off the leash for this second programme of their company’s all-too-brief summer trip to London. Having previously opened their 5-day season with a calling card as all-American as pom-pom waving cheerleaders at a New England Patriots game, they emphasised the company’s versatility in a complete transformation to master three superb examples of European contemporary dance (albeit accepting that one piece was choreographed by an American made more famous by his work in Germany and another by a Brit in New York)!

It was also an evening full of meaning and emotion but bereft of any story. Here was dance fulfilling – at very different levels – a simple contract with music and visual design and not as the means of driving a narrative.

The Second Detail was created by William Forsythe in 1991, during the middle period of his 20-year residence with the Ballet Frankfurt, although it was not made on his own dancers in Germany but as a guest choreographer for the National Ballet of Canada. It epitomises Forsythe’s playful, athletic deconstruction of ballet, rearranging the classical language into his own Olympian (faster, stronger, higher) whirlpool of kinetic energy. Every movement is familiar but stretched beyond the limits of what seems natural even for hyper-flexible dancers, their limbs and lines extended to the very limits of human capability. We could almost hear the hip joints popping with the strain.

The first issue to register is the anonymity of dancers in pale blue leotards matching the same neutral blue wash of the backdrop. The only embellishments were a row of 14 low stools at the back of the stage and a small board at the front proclaiming the definite article (‘THE’), which was kicked over to signal the end. Thom Willems’ score is melodically bereft but consistently arresting in pulsating rhythms that whip the action along. The choreographic structure is an extraordinary rollercoaster of layered movement as the ensemble breaks out into flowing sequences of tightly-coordinated solos and irregular groups performing harmonised and sequential motion. It is controlled and orderly but the dancers are also often angled at the vertiginous edge of balance. Some seem to be triggered into their movement by the touch of a colleague, while others remain enigmatically aloof. They take rests on the stools in random formations. The speed and energy of the group is dazzling and the company shines as a collective in this synchronised team dance.

Christopher Wheeldon created Polyphonia for New York City Ballet in 2001, aged just 28 and within a year of retiring as a dancer. The emotional sensitivity of several interwoven pas de deux, laced through nine movements of virtuoso piano music by György Ligeti, earned Wheeldon a slew of awards so early in his career. Following the ebullient sparks of the opening work, it provided a chilled-out, meditative contrast and was danced with a quiet, elegant passion by the four couples. It is the only one of these three works to be familiar here in London, since Polyphonia is in the repertory of The Royal Ballet, and the Boston dancers stood up well to the comparison.

Jiri Kylián’s Bella Figura has been partnered with The Second Detail in the Boston repertoire since they were jointly premiered by the company in April 2011. Boston is the only American company to perform this highly stylised and sublime work of art, with bodies like sculptures poetically translated into movement. It felt like a Peter Greenaway film, an atmospheric allusion perhaps emphasised by a poignant Baroque soundtrack (including work by Pergolesi and Vivaldi); yellow flames leaping from two onstage braziers; the opening vista of two naked “corpses” encased in plastic, suspended above the stage; and the billowing red trousers worn by topless men and women.

The partial nudity is as innocent and inoffensive as Titian’s Venus, although perhaps the Baroque influence of Bella Figura should bring to mind the sensual muscular textures of the same subject painted by Rubens. Kylián’s own set design creates spatial diversity through the manipulation of curtains to mask and then reveal different parts of the stage. As with the two preceding works I deliberately refrain from naming any particular dancers since it is the whole entourage that so successfully delivers the beauty crafted by this great choreographer. At one level it is so unlike Forsythe’s opener, but essentially both ballets are celebrations of beautiful bodies and what they can achieve.

With such a short stay, we didn’t get to see the Boston Ballet in all-out classical mode but this dynamic triple bill, showcasing work by three masters of contemporary ballet, demonstrated the company’s impeccable credentials as a world-class purveyor of modern dance theatre, and one that can stand in the very highest rank.

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK.

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