BALLET REVIEW Pure movement, pure beauty

Bella Figura’s inventive choreography taps into the core of ballet

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Altan Dugaraa, Sarah Wroth, and Yury Yanowsky perform in Boston Ballet’s Bella Figura.
courtesy of Gene Schiavone, boston ballet

Bella Figura

Boston Ballet Company

April 30, 2011

Boston Opera House

Tearing myself away from campus during the MIT150 open house to watch Bella Figura was a difficult feat. But as I watched the ballet, I knew it was a worthy sacrifice. I glued my eyes to the stage, completely blown away by the beauty of movement and the emotions that the dancers imparted to the audience.

As the curtain rose up, a white stage with a card saying “THE” on the floor in front and several stools at the back were revealed. Two white screens barred the exits at the two sides of the stage, meaning that the dancers would never leave the stage during the performance. They would give their absolute best, and indeed, the second detail was electrifying. Apart from the unconventional choice of music (think techno), the choreography was equally refreshing. The ballet featured explosive jumps, kicks, shakes, and snaps as well as playful and seducing hip-swinging and body waves. One of my favorite parts was when nearly all the dancers lay scattered on the floor and were brought back to life by the two female dancers left standing. These “reawakenings” involved a short routine between revived and reviver, harmonious and alive. And the performances of the male dancers were stunning, especially that of John Lam, whose movements seemed to obliterate the limits of the human body and elevate its beauty to a new level. His solo was sensational; I have never seen a body stretched out tautly in a leap so beautiful. This segment ended on an enigmatic note: as the music turned suspenseful and the lights dimmed, Lorna Feijóo appeared in a white dress and performed an extremely dramatic routine with head-banging, jerky, and ferocious movements. The ability to let her ballerina body loosen to carry such wild movements while remaining in a state of absolute control and awareness is the mark of a mature and flourishing dancer.

The second segment, choreographed by Helen Pickett, was undoubtedly my favorite. Pickett, inspired by “love, vulnerability and passion,” seemed to breathe into the choreography of the ballet a touch of femininity and tenderness that can reach the audience in a way that I never thought possible. Part I, “Layli o Majnun,” was based on a poignant tale about two young Persians who fell madly in love with each other but were prevented from getting married. Majnun (John Lam) hence descended into Madness (Sabi Varga) and died in the wilderness, heartbroken and eternally separated from his lover, Layli (Misa Kuranaga). The ballet started with Lam and Kuranaga performing a succession of moves, and then the stage darkened as if swallowing up the couple into an abyss of despair and misery. The chemistry of the two dancers as their bodies intertwined thoroughly expressed the feelings of yearning and desire, while lifts and slow mid-air splits conveyed the agony experienced by the two lovers.

Part II, “Tsukiyo,” originated from a Japanese fairy tale (“The Woodcutter’s Daughter”) about a woodcutter who discovers a fairy in the stem of a bamboo tree. He and his wife raise her as their daughter, and she turns into a magnificent lady. The ballet describes the moment when the fairy turns 18 and has to return to the moon, parting with mortal romance. Kathleen Breen Combes transformed into an ethereal beauty so fragile, so delicate and perfect. Lorin Mathis, her partner in this pas de deux, danced with her ever so gently, expressed in every touch, every lift. At a few points during this piece, I felt as if Combes would fade away into nothingness, but Mathis’ tender, yearning touch managed to pull her back to our world. Tears ran down my cheek as I was mesmerized by the purity of love that transcends time and space. The poignant orchestral music by Arvo Pärt was the perfect complement for this piece.

Perhaps I invested so much emotion into “Tsukiyo” that I couldn’t really comprehend “Tabula Rasa.” The choreography was powerful, but a stage flooded with flashing blue lights and energetic music seemed like an anomaly when presented after the first two mini-pieces.

Revealed at the end of the production, Bella Figura by Jirí Kylián was what everyone had been waiting for. And it was worth the wait: for the opening, Rie Ichikawa, held above the ground by someone behind the curtain, looked as if she was struggling to break free from a black hole. Varga danced with contorted movements at the other side of the stage, as if he were restrained as well.

Manipulation of stage curtains played a huge role in Bella Figura. The curtains moved in all directions to create different windows and focuses on stage. Once, the curtain closed completely, leaving on stage three dancers — topless and wearing only red puffy bottoms — who then danced an impeccably synchronized and sensual routine. There had been a buzz before the premiere about the partial nudity, but I think it was sheer brilliance. At many points during the ballet, I couldn’t recognize the genders of the dancers, which lead me to understand Kylián’s wisdom: the dance boiled down to pure beauty of movements of muscle and joints, and nothing more.

The highlight of the production features two female dancers dancing while kneeling at center stage, focusing their movements only on their upper bodies. They were phenomenal; the arm and torso movements on top of the lower body covered in red garments created an illusion of human beings’ rebirth, coming into existence out of fire.

The production came to an end, but it left us — the audience — hungry for more. Thank you, William Forsythe, Helen Pickett, and Jirí Kylián for your hauntingly beautiful creations. The ballets reached the deepest place in my heart and hopefully others’ as well.