Arts ballet review

A beautiful chaos

The Boston Ballet Company presents “Artifact”

Boston Ballet Company 
Choreography by William Forsythe
Boston Opera House
Mar. 5, 2017

Adela and I leave 15 minutes later than I’d planned and walk-jog down Mass Ave towards the Central red line T stop, shoulders hunched against the wind. At Downtown Crossing, we take the stairs two at a time. The sky is the bluest I’ve seen in awhile.

Inside the Opera House lobby, it’s warm, verging on stuffy, and filled with gilded yellow light. We fight our way towards the box office. The theatre is filled with cliques of young businessmen and -women, old couples, and a few scattered families, puffy jackets crammed under seats, hazy conversations, and champagne.

A hush settles gently over the audience. I glance up, confused: the house lights are still on. A woman painted head to toe in pale grey is walking slowly, purposefully across the stage. The stage lighting is harsh, shadows settling in the muscles of her legs, a sharp contrast from the soft yellow light we, the audience, are bathed in. I feel disoriented. If I turn my eyes from the stage, I know I’d be able to see my neighbors’ expressions. There’s a lack of privacy that’s almost uncomfortable.

The lady in grey disappears from view, and we’re finally plunged into forgiving darkness, but the typical rustles of the audience settling in are strangely absent. A lady in Victorian dress enters and begins to speak. “Step inside.” A single pianist accompanies her. “I think I hear…you say dust…I mean soot, you think.” She baffles with clearly articulated words and sweeping gestures. A man with a megaphone enters. In his button down white shirt and fitted suit pants, he reminds me of Chris “Petey” Peterson of admissions blog fame. His words are jumbled but carry a strangely authoritative tone.

I don’t know what’s going on, and yet somewhere in my subconscious I think I do. Suddenly, the stage is crowded with dancers. They move in units across the stage, filling it with green shadows and military precision. With only the music of the single piano in the pit, we can hear the tap and thump of the pointe shoes clearly, even from our seats in orchestra left row W. The dancers’ movements are a part of the music; neither accompanying the other but rather complementing. The curtain falls. I notice my eyes hurt. I think I’d forgotten to blink.

Silence. We wait in darkness, trying to comprehend.

A violin plays two strident double stops. The famous Chaconne from Bach’s Partita no. 2. The curtain rises on two pairs of dancers dressed in a vibrant ochre. Their movements follow each other like the subject and answer chasing each other in Baroque counterpoint. The lighting is even harsher than before, casting the dancers as forms of shadows and light, barely human. Suddenly the curtain falls with a thump. A moment later, it rises and the stage is filled with golden dancers. It falls. It rises. They dance. Falls. Rises. Dance. Falls. Rises. Dance.

The house lights brighten slowly. Adela and I gulp in half-formed sentences. “Oh my god.” “It’s just…” “Amazing.”

The house lights are still on, but the dancers have returned, and they clap.

Part III is almost entirely spoken word. I think I prefer the music from parts I and II, but this is certainly nothing like anything I’ve seen before. The woman in Victorian dress and the man with the megaphone face each other in red chairs. The dancers cluster behind them. The lighting is softer than before, almost natural. The woman is holding a paper. She glances down and begins to argue, almost rapping. The dancers chant. “One and two and three and four and…” The man suggests they take it outside. “I said dust.” “You meant soot.” “I said dust, but I meant stone.” They leave, arguing like an old married couple. The dancers face each other in two straight lines and begin a simple routine, counting aloud in eight-bar phrases. The curtain falls.

Part IV. The piano begins to play, and the curtain rises. The dancers are dressed in green once again, and the lighting is harsh. The woman in Victorian dress steps out, followed by the man with the megaphone. She proclaims. He denies. He proclaims. She argues. The dancers fill the stage. I still have no idea what’s going on. He says, “step outside.”

The curtain falls. The house lights flicker on. Adela and I turn to each other. “I have no idea what just happened. That was incredible.”

“Artifact” is a ballet full of chaos and confusion and blatant violations of tradition, yet settled with musically classical undertones, the impeccable technique of the Boston Ballet Company dancers, and comforting synchrony of movement. Even the venue — the lavishly gilded, French- and Italian-inspired Opera House — contrasted with simplicity of the costumes, minimalist set, and strong lighting to create a sense of unbalance in a traditionally high society environment. Above all, “Artifact” is an incredibly aesthetically appealing piece of pure art. Even without consideration of its intellectual implications, it’s undeniably beautiful, engendering conversation and thought without need for conscious argument, gaudy scenery, or elaborate costumes. It is, without a doubt, the best ballet I’ve ever seen.