‘Black & White’ fades into grey

Boston Ballet’s contemporary piece pushes bounds but loses grace

Boston Ballet Performs Black & White

Opening Night: 
May 20, 2010 7 PM

Boston Opera House

Jiri Kylian’s Black and White closed for Boston Ballet’s 2009-2010 season. It was a familiar return from its initial premiere with the Boston Ballet in 2005. With the exception of its performances in Boston, the pieces have only been performed in the Netherlands. Although back by popular demand, considering its contemporary avant-garde style, Black and White is still a unique addition in comparison to the other more classical pieces of the Boston Ballet season.

The ballet is comprised of five works: No More Play, Petite Mort, Sarabande, Falling Angels, and Sechs Tanze. Kylian is credited with the creation of a masterpiece. The works are described as incorporating the ideals of surrealism and minimalism into contemporary ballet. The pieces are also said to challenge sexual politics and redefine sexual identity.

However, due to a blind focus on solely these elements and negligence on basic ballet fundamentals, the Thursday night opening performance of Black and White offered, yes, a new modern style, but unfortunately was void of the beauty and masterful technique characteristic of ballet.

Petite Mort is praised for its innovative usage of swords or foils in ballet. Set to Mozart’s Piano Concertos, six men appear and dance with swords in hand. Allowing for some leniency considering we had dancers on stage and not swordsmen, the usage of the swords was off and uncoordinated and overall distracting. It was a waste of talent to hand swords to skillful dancers and fail to utilize their natural grace and coordination. The idea may have had more appeal if the execution was carried out well.

Another prop utilized in two of the pieces was a framed 18th century dress on rollers. Both dancers and ballerinas appeared behind them—thus the claims to challenging sexual politics and refining sexual identity. These framed dresses did add a dark, eerie feel to the pieces leading up to intimate sexual interactions between dancer pairs. However, unlike the use of coy innuendos, the crass explicit sexuality contrasted with the usual enjoyable flirtatious demureness.

Sarabande is renown for its use of synthesized noises along with Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2, in d minor. The unsynchronized clanking sounds of the foils were nothing compared to the shrieks of the added synthesized sounds. It was difficult to focus on the dance with the sheer displeasure that came from such loud, unpleasant accompanying noise.

The dance portrays the very primitive—literally think primate—journey of man. Kindly, I will suggest that the noise may aurally parallel the primitive state of the dancers.

Falling Angels was a piece for women. Of the five pieces, this one stood out the most in representing the unity and harmony among the women. The ballerinas were no doubt talented. It was quite beautiful to see their perfectly curved muscles and joints move in such a way to embody togetherness to one another. The choreography seemed to resemble a more lyrical, hip-hop feel.

Finally, Sechs Tanze closed the show. A lighthearted piece—Sechs Tanze—is said to display Kylian’s sense of humor, think the crew of Monty Python learns the art of ballet. The show ended on a dreamy note with bubbles blown onto stage and into the audience.

The standards of contemporary ballet should be increased to not only challenge themes, techniques, and musical styles, but to also uphold a certain level of basic grace and poise trademark to what ballet is. Contemporary ballet should, in my opinion, aim to improve the dance by pushing the ballet into further spheres of influence but also maintain its beauty.

Kylian did aim to challenge many of the metrics of traditional or classic ballet, but in a way stripped away the beauty and magic that gives power to the dance of ballet. Black and White is named to represent a black and white sketch, but leaving the show, I deeply missed the deep hues and richness of color.