Arts dance review

From Bach to the Rolling Stones

Boston Ballet opens its season with a diverse contemporary dance program

Fall Program

Boston Ballet Company

Oct. 25 - Nov. 4, 2012

Boston Opera House

When I first looked at the brochure for the Fall Program of Boston Ballet, I was intrigued by the fact that the first piece, Rooster, choreographed by Christopher Bruce, was set entirely to the music of The Rolling Stones in the ’60s.

“Quirky!” I thought. Indeed, Rooster is a unique, energetic and entertaining piece that features Christopher Bruce’s perspective of the world in the Swinging Sixties, the era of social and cultural revolution, the anti-war movement, and the rise of feminism.

Rooster starts with the song “Little Red Rooster,” a classic blues piece covered by The Rolling Stones in 1964. In this song, dancer Robert Kretz aptly morphs into a “little red rooster” by jolting his head back and forth, accentuating the forward jolts. His constant adjustment of his tie and slicking back of his hair mimic the distinctive preening aspect of a rooster and even his flamboyant suit provokes imagery of a proud, audacious rooster. The combination of literal movements, colors, and costumes worked exceptionally well in conveying the lyrics and the rhythms of the song.

On the other hand, the female presence is more emphasized in “Lady Jane” and “Ruby Tuesday.” In “Ruby Tuesday” in particular, Whitney Jensen, dressed in a flaming red dress, took my breath away with not only technical skills portrayed in her strong leaps, spins, and balance but also her incredible partnerships with the other four male dancers. Such partnerships successfully created incredibly fluid and organic movements that harmonized with the varying rhythms in the song, from the upbeat tunes in the chorus to the more relaxed tempo interspersed throughout.

The dynamics of the male and female partnership also change throughout the piece. “Lady Jane” portrays a more tender and compassionate relationship while “Paint it Black” is all about the excitement, sexual tension, turmoil, and revenge: “I look inside myself and see my heart is black / I see my red door and it has been painted black.” The symbolic red and black seen in the costumes and stage lighting set the perfect mood for the song and the choreography, preserving the meaning of lyrics within the movement.

The incredible choreography of Christopher Bruce, the technical skills and emotional depth of the dancers, and the extent to which all eight of the Stones’ tunes relate to each other and string together harmoniously into a single piece, make Rooster a stunning amalgamation of love, anger, passion and freedom.

Bearing stark contrast to an exuberant piece like Rooster is Awake Only, making its world premiere. Awake Only is set to a score of nine compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by organist Heinrich Christensen and pianist Alex Foaksman. While Rooster focuses on human relationships, Awake Only is a self-discovery journey where the main character, performed by Jeffrey Cirio, climbs on the “merry-go-round of his life” and sees his life flash before his eyes, witnessing all of his life experiences, the people he meets, and the impact of these interactions on his life.

At the opening of the piece, a little boy in pajamas enters the stage leading a young man in a body suit (Jeffrey Cirio) through his process of self-discovery, from his past (represented by the boy) to his future (represented by Sabi Varga, bare-chested and wearing tights). The act of the little boy holding Cirio’s hands, leading him around the stage, and Cirio, in turn, holding Varga’s hands and teaching him how to move, symbolizes the process of maturation; how our older selves learn from our younger selves.

The stage setting and the lighting create a dream-like illusion, allowing the dancers to transcend time and space. On the other hand, the movement of the dancers, in particular Jeffrey Cirio, transcends what I thought was physically possible. Elo’s choreography is undoubtedly challenging, requiring not only speed and strength but also great precision and balance. Nevertheless, Cirio gave a fantastic performance, and his emotional depth and maturity were also evident in his partnership with Kathleen Breen Combes, his character’s love interest. Their pas de deux is tender, delicate and breathtaking.

The program ends with William Forsythe’s piece The Second Detail, which I had the opportunity of viewing in 2011. This performance hit all the right notes as I last remembered it, from the explosive jumps, kicks, shakes, and snaps to the playful and seductive hip-swinging and body waves. John Lam’s solo was just as stunning, and Lorna Feijóo impressed the audience with her extremely dramatic routine of head-banging, jerky, and ferocious movements.

The Fall Program undoubtedly promises the audience a fantastic line-up of performances for this season with both contemporary and traditional choreography. I simply can’t wait.

The Boston Ballet’s next program is the Nutcracker, returning with all-new sets, costumes, and choreography on Nov. 23.