Contemporary comparisons with the Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet’s ‘Parts in Suite’ provides a study in contemporary ballet
Parts in Suite
Boston Opera House
March 9 – April 7
With Parts in Suite, Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen has put together a masterful study of contemporary ballet. The triple bill showcases three of today’s most prominent choreographers — Jorma Elo, Justin Peck and William Forsythe — each faced with the challenge of bringing shape to sound through a non-narrative work. This grants us the rare opportunity to compare and contrast their unique takes on George Balanchine’s classic charge, to “see the music, hear the dance.”
Elo sets the eponymous first piece to the music of the “Bach Cello Suites.” The curtains open on cellist Sergey Antonov, who plays the first few movements to an empty stage. Here, the music takes precedence — setting the tone before the dancers slowly appear to fill its gentle melody. Elo’s movements are primarily classical, but topped off with modern flourishes, such as a lift cantilevered precariously by one leg, or a sudden sharpness of movement. It is in these flourishes that the relationship with the music becomes clear — they are motivated by the melody, responding instinctively to however it wafts across the stage. Elo’s choreography for large groups demonstrates this relationship best, where embellishments that appear only briefly in solos or pas de deux now ripple across a chain of connected dancers. Paulo Arrais and Derek Dunn were particularly effective envoys of the choreography, able to blend its classical and modern elements most seamlessly.
If Elo’s response to the music is a natural, organic one, following its every suggestion; then Peck’s In Creases provides a rational, mechanical one. Within the driving, rhythmic score of Philip Glass’s “Four Movements for Two Pianos,” Peck’s dancers are like cogs in the machinery of the music. They interact with one another in regular, repeating patterns, but the movements are not in the least mundane — instead, Peck continuously finds captivating new ways to interface the dancers with one another. At one moment their movements evoke the turning of gears; at another, the tension of pulleys; at another, the steady climb of a ratchet.
The final piece is Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018; where Elo’s or Peck’s movements might have followed a system of rules, Forsythe’s are typified by chaos. This comes from his unique collaboration with the music, in that while Elo and Peck choreograph to pre-existing scores, composer Thom Willems created his specifically for Pas/Parts. Hence, while the others must be motivated by the music, in Pas/Parts, it is unclear if it is the music or the movement that comes first.
It is for this reason that I actually found myself wanting more from the dancers for the first time that evening. Willems’s music is extremely severe sounding, for all intents and purposes, like a train falling off a cliff. It is in fact quite beautiful, with a screeching rhythm that he expertly holds just at the point of collapse. Forsythe’s wild and arrant movements are hence the perfect counterpoint to this. However, several times, I found the dancers to be too safe and subdued in their interpretations, unable to push back in quite so equal measure. But one exquisite exception was Chyrstyn Fentroy, who danced with such a vital mixture of precision and abandon that she evoked visions of Sylvie Guillem, Forsythe’s long-time muse.