BALLET REVIEW Dances with words

Creativity roams free as Elo Experience challenges the boundaries of the traditional

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Larissa Ponomarenko and Jeffrey Cirio in Elo Experience.
courtesy of gene schiavone, boston ballet

Elo Experience

Boston Ballet Company

March 24, 2011

Boston Opera House

As I sat nervously in my seat in the enchanting Boston Opera House, many thoughts about Elo Experience raced through my mind. Would I be able to comprehend his work with my limited knowledge of ballet? Would I know what he is trying to say? But Elo’s words dissipated my concern: “I hope the audiences come with no expectations. I want them to arrive at the theatre with open hearts and open minds.” So I sat up straight, put on my glasses, and immersed myself in the magic of movements that were about to happen on stage.

Jorma Elo is a prominent choreographer who has worked with a diverse array of ballet companies, from Basel Ballet (Hungary) and Alberta Ballet (Canada) to Finnish National Ballet and Netherlands Dance Theatre. He finally became a resident choreographer at Boston Ballet in 2005, and his seventh work here, Elo Experience, is a performance that represents his lifelong exploration of ballets. The two lead dancers, Jeffrey Cirio and Larissa Ponomarenko, act as narrators, stringing together his works over the years. It is truly a spectacle to be able to witness how the emotions, energy, and flow of movements change with each piece that represents a different period of artistic inspiration.

The first half of the ballet was the more connected, captivating, and exhilarating part. The ballet began with Cirio, the male lead, slowly pushing a light-filled box from stage left to stage right. The light penetrated through the darkness, revealing the dimensions of the stage. Cirio began the dance with body waves and robot movements (think Michael Jackson with much greater momentum and flow). Ponomarenko, the female lead, then came out and danced with Cirio. The playful yet harmonious movement of this duo drew laughter from the audience. The curtain then pulled up, revealing a row of dancers dressed in black who danced an impeccably synchronized routine. My favorite scene was when the dancers gathered in a triangular formation and, as one, gave Cirio a hand to help him stand up. They were so connected as a group that every motion Cirio sent out to the nearest dancer seemed to send a ripple of energy and movement to the furthest dancer. Ponomarenko then said something perplexing: “She likes moonlight.”

The color of the screens surrounding the stage then changed to blue, an apt choice resonating with “moonlight.” The eight dancers, clad in skintight blue leotards, dazzled the audience with seemingly impossible jumps, spins, and leaps. It was if every muscle in their bodies was breathing, talking to the audience through the threads of the fabrics.

When Ponomarenko and Cirio returned, they continued their dialogue. Cirio asked himself: “Does she like sunshine or does she like moonlight?” The group of male dancers replied: “You exceeded the speed limit.” Cirio continued the conversation: “How fast was I going, officer?” The dialogue then stopped and the third section ended with Ponomarenko asking “Does she like sunshine or moonlight?” The audience was kept in suspense.

“Lost on Slow” and “Plan to B” were the next two pieces. In “Lost on Slow,” a set of six dancers — three males and three females — danced to the music of Vivaldi under a glowing warm yellow light. The movement changed from sharp, doll-like choreography to fluttering or trembling motions. The sophisticated element of modern dance in Elo was wonderfully presented by “Lost on Slow.” The type of movements embedded in “Plan to B” couldn’t be more different. With arms spinning, legs swinging, and up-tempo music, “Plan to B” flowed with energy and power that made me move in my seat.

One cannot help but wonder how the story between Ponomarenko and Cirio progresses. In the seventh act, “Pas,” she spoke in Russian; I wish I knew what she was saying — I could hear some laughter in the audience. The story became increasingly confusing. They kept arguing over whether she liked moonlight or sunlight. He surprised her from the side of the stage, but she had a fright. Time for intermission.

I quickly returned to my seat to figure out what exactly Elo was trying to say through Ponomarenko and Cirio. The ballet continued while the light was on and people were returning to their seats. The perplexing dialogue sounded like a puzzle from an MIT Mystery Hunt: Cirio said “Red two, green three, blue four,” and Ponomarenko replied with “Red yes, green no, blue maybe.” And then she began to sing my favorite Nat King Cole number: “Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars.” At this point I decided to stop thinking too much and focus exclusively on the dance.

The four works presented in the second part of the ballet included “Double Evil,” “In on Blue,” “Lost by Last,” and “Brake the Eyes.” Each work gave me a different kind of emotion. “Double Evil” was accompanied by a sensational red screen; “In on Blue” was more melancholy, provoking a sense of yearning for something that has been lost. “Lost by Last” had a certain air of intensity and mystery, expressed in the music and the occasional explosive movement. “Brake the Eyes” provoked a sense of freedom with very contemporary movements and choreography.

Elo Experience is indeed “a beautiful living, breathing masterpiece,” as suggested by Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen. The movements presented are organic and grounded, a deep contrast to the expected ethereal nature of a ballet. It might be complex and difficult to comprehend — especially to the audience, who has never seen Elo’s works before. My best advice is to discard the jumbled thoughts in your head and enjoy the beauty and energy of movements of the dancers on stage. As Elo is thoroughly aware of the personal potentials of Boston Ballet’s dancers, this is truly the best of what each dancer has to offer.