Boston Ballet Opens the Season with Obsidian Tear

The outdoors are still calling with its crisp late fall air, but it is time to start sharing our weekends with the finest of Boston’s arts. This past weekend, my husband and I went on a date to celebrate  Boston Ballet’s new season which opened with Obsidian Tear.  (The program – based on a music of two most prominent Finnish composers, from the past and the present, – was also a celebration of upcoming Finnish 100th independence).

Obsidian Tear is a duo of powerful contemporary works: North American premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear (co-production with Royal Ballet of London, set to music of Esa-Pekka Salonen) and world premier of Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius by Boston Ballet’s own resident choreographer Jorma Elo.

Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

The evening opens with orchestral performance of Sibelius’ famous short work – symphonic poem Finlandia.  It is a remarkable piece of music to set the stage for the evening.  I could almost “see” the darkened Finnish landscapes and “feel” the thick snow under my feet.  I am ready for the forces of nature to take over the stage.  In fact, the very name for Obsidian Tear (as I learned from the program notes) takes inspiration from the epic geological journey of the volcanic rock, obsidian, and is a metaphor for the many emotional and social forces attacking human life.

On stage that evening – we did see a powerful duel.  Was it a slice of a particular country or a community we were supposed to recognize? Or a glimpse into some futuristic utopian community? McGregor (“finest choreographer alive”, according to Boston Ballet’s artistic director Mikko Nissinen) fully embraces the ambiguity of contemporary dance.   As we watch the performance, he wants us to go on our own “individual journey” reflecting our own life experiences.  He even purposefully leaves the pronunciation of Obsidian Tear ambiguous – so you can do a bit of a “work” and decide for yourself: is it a “tear” as in weeping or a “tear” as in ripping apart?

Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Did we know what was behind the complex movements of nine male dancers on stage last night – at every moment of the performance?  Absolutely NOT! Did we enjoy the meditative self-journey that is at the core of contemporary dance? Yes! And without even realizing it – for moments at a time – we were in absolute sync with what was happening on stage.  (And the rest of the time – we just enjoyed the power of human body in the capable hands of the choreographic force that is Wayne McGregor!).

The music for the second piece of the evening- Fifth Symphony by Sibelius – felt like a “national anthem”, in parts, to its Finnish-born creator Jorma Elo.   Elo transferred the feeling into his ballet, recreating the contrasting Finnish nature via a series of dramatic and intimate configurations of the company’s dancers.  (Creating a contemporary composition for the full company was a special challenge of this work!)

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

This second program of the evening was just breathtaking in the beauty of its “classical” lines.  It is a full company piece, but I was mesmerized by my favorite stars – Lia Cirio, Junxiong Zhado, John Lam, Misa Kuranaga.  Some may say Fifth Symphony was a more “predictable” contemporary work, but I loved it – and the combination with purposefully ambiguous Obsidian Tear was a brilliant way to open the season for Boston Ballet.

Which piece of the evening will you claim for yourself?

Here are some facts about Obsidian Tear and its creator Wayne McGregor to help you prepare for the experience:

– McGregor, resident choreographer of Royal Ballet of London, first worked with Boston Ballet in 2013 when he staged his 2006 ballet Chroma for the company.  We saw it in 2015 and still have memories of “geometric” explosions created by 10 dancers. 10 years is a long time in the life of a prolific contemporary choreographer.  The style much evolved: I saw  more “rawness”, and less boundaries in everything.

– Music (by the renowned Finnish composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen) was the inspiration for McGregor’s work.  For Obsidian Tear he juxtaposed composer’s two contrasting pieces: intimate Lachen verlernt for solo violin and the grand symphonic poem Nyx.  McGregor likened Salonen’s music to a “dialogue between myth and modernity that seems simultaneously both ancient and of the future.” You can read more about the mythological origins of Nyx on the Boston Ballet’s website.

– In realizing his stage vision, McGreggor is joined by lighting designer Lucy Carter, and by renowned fashion director Katie Shillingford. The stage designs have been created by McGregor himself (“We’ve kept it simple: a huge wooden floor, no sidelights, the wings are totally out. A glowing strip of orange floor light suggests a volcanic source, but also a sense of  threat. It’s a scenography that is deliberately bold and declared, but because of that, the body in the space is also exposed and vulnerable.”)

– The nine male characters  on stage are dressed in ready-to-wear designer clothing—the first-time a ballet has been “styled” instead of “costumed.” Fashion director Katie Shillingford approached the project like a fashion shoot by selecting pieces from the Spring-Summer 2016 collections by fashion designers including Vivienne Westwood, Craig Green, Hood By Air, and Assaf Reeb. (“Pretty much all of the garments were available for the general consumer,” said  Shillingford)

– Outside of his work for the Royal Ballet and companies around the world (from New York City Ballet to Paris Opera Ballet), McGregor directed opera at La Scala and Milan, staged for movies (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of  Fire”) and has his own company that does about 100 shows a year.

Remaining performances of Obsidian Tear are daily in Boston Opera House from Wednesday, November 8th through Sunday November 12. (Note a post-performance talk after Wednesday, November 8th, show.)

All performances of Obsidian Tear are in Boston Opera House.We thank Boston Ballet for inviting us to see the performance. Tickets start at $35. For more information visit


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