Arts ballet review

Glimpse of the divine

Dance to surrender to

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Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in “Wings of Wax.”
Rosalie O’Connor Photography
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Lia Cirio and John Lam in “Tar and Feathers.”
Rosalie O’Connor Photography

All Kylián

Boston Ballet Company

March 7–17, 2013

Boston Opera House

Boston Ballet’s spring season began last week with All Kylián, a compilation of three pieces by the prestigious Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián.

In the first, Wings of Wax, a huge, bare tree hung suspended upside-down on stage, like the skeleton of an abandoned bouquet. I was reminded of Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, in which a tree floats in space towards a dying star. Throughout the performance, a single spotlight orbited unhurriedly around the tree, planet-like, subtly changing the lighting on stage. The rest of the stage was lit in a dark and dramatic manner, and the music was a hypnotic combination of pieces by John Cage, Philip Glass, and J.S. Bach.

The eight dancers were utterly captivating, and made me wish the curtain would never descend. They wore close-fitting black outfits with fragments of semi-transparent gauze, and they were so fascinating to watch — I know no better way to put it; I was utterly riveted. Their movements were dynamic, fluid, endlessly varied, and so practiced they seemed intuitive. They slid, balanced, twirled, and leapt, and used their bodies in unexpected and innovative ways. Sometimes the women would dance in tandem while one man pranced between them, sometimes a single pair of dancers would take the stage. These dances were like love duets — so emotionally charged it was as if the dancing pair were entangled in an inexplicably bittersweet story. For some moves, a dancer would quiver and spasm alarmingly, and her partner seemed to soothe her. The pairs moved such that their bodies were often entwined, and it was difficult to know how the movements were physically possible, or which limbs belonged to whom. There was no more than a heartbeat between one improbable movement and the next, so the best thing to do was simply to surrender and enjoy the visual extravaganza.

The second piece, Tar and Feathers, was more radical and theatrical. On the right side of the stage was an illuminated pile of bubble wrap, on the left side a grand piano supported on ten-foot stilts. Seated there, the pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama accompanied the orchestra’s rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 with her improvisations.

The six dancers were semi-nude, and the sporadic sound effect of a snarling lion elicited exaggerated expressions of fear on their faces, both of which reinforced the sense of the eerie and carnal. This effect was heightened by the partitioned staging — several times, my attention was engaged by a dancer at the side of the stage when I suddenly noticed a dancer in the middle of the stage, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere.

One dance move that particularly struck me was when a female dancer, held aloft, undulated like a mermaid. Another was when a female dancer stood astride two male dancers lying prone, who used their arms to raise their upper bodies and move forward, lunging like swelling waves, and lifting her up off the floor as if she were a dolphin-rider or charioteer. They then pulled on the dark material that covered the floor, pinching it upwards, making it appear as if the floor had the consistency of chewing gum.

The performance ended with alien-like dancers, in cropped black wigs and bubble wrap tutus, dance-miming to voice recordings of Kylián himself reciting Samuel Beckett’s poem What is the Word. To the left of the stage, a woman danced spastically, increasing the tension until the final climax, and then slowly releasing it with comic relief, by padding gingerly off-stage along a strip of bubble wrap.

The final piece, Symphony of Psalms, was set to Igor Stravinsky’s composition of the same name. The choral symphony was commissioned in 1930 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The stage backdrop was an intricate mosaic of gorgeous Persian tapestries, which were at times lit red, and the only objects on stage were high-backed chairs, which lent a regal air to the performance. The sixteen dancers wore sober-colored shirts and pants, or flowing pale dresses. Their dancing was more traditional, but equally displayed the immense agility, endurance and control of the dancers. The piece was spiritually uplifting, and it completed the evening on a peaceful note. We were left feeling we had glimpsed the divine.