On March 23, Boston Ballet celebrated the calendar arrival of Spring with a program of three contemporary mini-ballets featuring George Balanchine’s 1964 Donizetti Variations, Jiri Kylián’s 1997 Wings of Wax, and Alexander Ekman’s 2010 Cacti.
While I am a big fan of classical story ballets, I am becoming more and more comfortable with interpreting contemporary choreography and creating a story for myself when none is “officially” offered. As Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet’s artistic director of 16 years, has told me during the program’s dress rehearsal, “Ballet is a living art form, not a museum”. Whether or not you agree with this statement, Wings of Wax is a great program for anyone interested in experiencing a contemporary dance, whether you are new to it or are a long-time admirer.
THREE CONTRASTING WORKS
Our evening (we saw Friday, March 24 show) started with Balanchine’s light-hearted Donizetti Variations – the most “classical” of the three works, set to the music of Donizetti’s “Don Sebastian” (1843). The piece was originally created for New York City Ballet’s 1960 program “Salute to Italy,” in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Italy’s unification.
It was followed by Kylián’s highly emotional Wings of Wax: Eight dancers are defying gravity under the branches of an inverted hanging tree, eventually breaking into four couples dancing every possible human emotion. Set to the score of the selection of musical giants from different centuries (Bach, Biber, Cage and Glass), with a beautiful set design by Michael Simon, Wings of Wax represented for me the very essence of contemporary ballet: clean classical lines are combined with extreme emotions danced with the gravity defying fluidity. My husband was mesmerized by Wings of Wax as well: it was his favorite ballet of the evening and Kylián is now his favorite choreographer!
The third piece of the program, Ekman’s Cacti is an ultra-modern blend of spoken word, music, dance, and many other things that I would like to keep as a surprise for you. Musical score includes Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, and Mahler performed by Boston Ballet Orchestra, with an addition of the string quartet playing onstage, sometimes improvising, while walking amongst the dancers. The dancers are also members of the “human orchestra” as they create rhythms by drumming on their bodies and props.
The cacti do play a role, but you will just have to figure it out for yourself.
WHY THESE THREE
Nissinen explained that the three ballets in the program create an “aura, an experience in the theater.” The first piece – Donizetti Variations “cleanses” the feelings and takes the audience exactly where the Boston Ballet’s artistic director wants them to be to see the heart-felt Wings of Wax. And then they are ready for the “refreshingly different journey of Cacti,” he says.
WILL BOSTON BALLET TURN INTO A MODERN DANCE COMPANY?
Story ballet fans have nothing to worry about. “We are a ballet company of the future,” Nissinen said during the post-show audience talk on March 24. “We have an incredible breadth of dance talent…[and] we need classical ballets to properly train our dancers….This is as far as I intend to push [the repertoire]”.
There will be more Kylián and other modern choreographers in Boston Ballet’s future, but there is Sleeping Beauty coming up later in the spring and Romeo and Juliet has already been announced for 2017-2018 season.
Wings of Wax program is performed in Boston’s Opera House through April 2. It is 2 hours with 2 intermissions. For tickets (starting at $45) and show times, go to Boston Ballet’s website.
We thank Boston Ballet for inviting us to be a part of this celebration of Boston spring.