Boston Ballet

Mark Morris' "Maelstrom," Jorma Elo's "Sharp side of Dark," & William Forsythe's "In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated"

The Wang Center for the Performing Arts
Boston, MA

October 1, 2002
By S.E. Arnold

If taken as ingredients, the works and the performances of Maelstrom, Sharp side of Dark, and In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated manifest a providential recipe for the Boston Ballet.

Appropriately, Maelstrom, choreographed by Mark Morris, establishes the "something-is -brewing" key by opening the 2002-2003 season of the Boston Ballet. Set on seven couples to the Op. 70 (#1) Piano Trio by Beethoven, the contemplative rather than agitated mood of Maelstrom - given its music, the deep burgundy and formal looking evening wear costumes of the ladies, the autumn sun set lighting, and its transparent choreography - seemed more like that of a Nocturne or a Serenade than a whirlwind. In fact, with dancers falling and laying on the floor, the long gowns worn by the ladies, and the recurring reaching gesture, for example, one fancied references to Balanchine's Serenade. The choreographic emphasis on lines and shapes or poses, space-consuming formations, ladies moving to softly textured music, males leaping in grand entrances at load tuti moments suggest that Maelstrom, like Serenade, is about ballet. Yet, while Serenade portrays a dream-like memory of ballet's dream scenes, Maelstrom points to and poetically describes a particular feature of its own movement. For example, the canonic 'writing' characteristic of Morris, exemplified in such works as Prelude and Prelude or Grand Duo, for instance, formalizes frenzy. That is in Prelude and Prelude, for example, the counterpoint proceeds in the bodies of the dancers arranged in lines, and, hence, open to view. In Maelstrom, however, the counterpoint unfolds on clustered and clustering dancers, hence, wrapping the lines and obscuring them from view. Instead of order, one sees a maelstrom of overlapping rhythms- rhythms like the voids and shapes generated by ever forming and dissipating clouds.

Sharp side of Dark, choreographed Jorma Elo to a string trio arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, transports a viewer into a world haunted by baroque obsessions. Designed by the choreographer, the massive architectural sets, which neatly exploit the size and production capabilities of the Wang Center, feature great sculptured columns that tower into the fly space and spread from main drape to backdrop. Only the three bold and staggered, instrument laden horizontal bands halt the rearward advance of the columns. Additionally, two gigantic multidimensional shapes, one square and one circle, sink from the flies threatening the dance space below. It is a dimly lit, silent, and oppressive world, a world where time smuggles itself in on the measures of music and its accompanying rhythms of light. The light, whether in glaring cones or distant hazes, scores, fails to banish the gloom.

Diminished by the set and the gray of her unitard, a lone and barely visible female silently begins the dance. Her body ripples like the mordent embellishments that flavor Baroque music. One thinks that the near impossible flexibility, characteristic of the lexicon of this piece, meets with the overpowering sets and the gray costumes to render the eight dancers (four each male and female) insubstantial. In Sharp side of Dark the dancers become ghosts trapped in a Parenisian dream. Rather than a rational working out of an artistic idea in this fearful context the Theme and Variations process, whether composed by Bach or not, manifests a neurotic obsession for the endless telling and re-telling of the same story. In Sharp side of Dark, Elo tells and re-tells the same male/female duet, and like the set and the lighting, it becomes oppressive. Finally, the Sharp side of Dark stops. It stops on a variation of the beginning; at curtain close a lone female dancer, perhaps, the dreamer, stands motionless and silent and still a prisoner of this fearful dream.

Where Sharp side of Dark overwhelms the sense of sight, In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreographed by William Forsythe, overwhelms the sense of hearing. Composed by Thom Willems to mimic the urban environment, the high octane, turbo-driven, and muffler-less sound of the score successfully alienates what one hears from what one sees. The rather arbitrary title does little to guide the understanding to what one sees, thus deepening the gap wedged by the music between sight and sound, between cognition and involuntary reaction- such as plugging one's ears or fleeing. Yet, it is comforting, because it seems doubtless that what one sees depicted in the dance is a rivalry episodically exercised by groups, individuals, or groups supporting individuals. Performed by a cast of six female and three male dancers, the augmented ballet lexicon offered each opportunities for virtuosic display. Each delivered.

Whatever the critical response the three works on this double inaugural concert inspired, it was, nevertheless, clear that the Boston Ballet has changed. Based on the evidence of the dancing, the production values, the intellectual, and aesthetic challenge of the evening's pieces the Boston Ballet is highly motivated, sharply focused, and well led. And, this is just the beginning!


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Edited by Marie.

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