Category Archives: Boston

Motion without Emotion at Boston Ballet’s All Kylián

bsn-bllt-kylian

I’m backed up on all fronts, so this will be relatively short, but I was compelled to write some comments on Boston Ballet’s All Kylián which I caught last Sunday. By now Kylián’s genius is so apparent that it hardly needs to be even mentioned, and so the attention shifts to Boston Ballet’s execution. I’ve purposely avoided seeing some of their recent Kylián performances due to my palpable disappointment in their lack of understanding when I saw them perform his work a few seasons ago, but I thought I would give them another try since by now they’ve had a few more Kylián programmes under their belt.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Boston Ballet’s mastery of Kylián has grown at all. The most egregious illustration of this was in the first work on the programme, Wings of Wax (1997). The work is perhaps more virtuosic than usual, and is full of grand jetés, arabesques, and rapid synchronized turns with the arms in the fourth position. It’s also quintessentially Kylián, and the quote from the reviewer at the Netherlands newspaper NRC Handelsblad that is included in the documentary on the choreographer is particularly apt: “Kylian creates magic through movement – it is never predictable, never forced and yet it is almost impossible keep track of what is going on”. Kylián’s ability to pack a single work full of surprises yet still be completely cohesive continues to astonish (this is a work that I would be happy to watch on repeat for months on end), and his well of creativity seems limitless. Perhaps this density causes difficulty for the dancers, because although I don’t doubt that the choreography was executed accurately, there was a distinct lack of emotion throughout. The performance was hampered by a hyper-emphasis on athleticism, and although movements were executed with aplomb, they lacked the attention to detail Kylián’s works demand: each movement must have a trajectory, with a distinct beginning (origin), continuation (progression), and ending (conclusion). I would argue that the main emotions behind virtually all of Kylián’s works are those of melancholy and longing, none of which were apparent in this performance. I rarely felt any intention behind any of the dancers’ movements: is that rapid leg movement meant to be a flutter, a shimmer, a quiver, a spasm? This constant lack of communication gave an overall effect like that of So You Think You Can Dance? and other TV dance competitions, as incongruous as a Broadway singer belting out a Schubert lied, and equally unsatisfying. Of the dancers Whitney Jensen’s cool and controlled performance was the most in-line with Kylián’s aesthetic, although Lia Cirio’s intensity was an almost-acceptable substitute.

The second work Tar and Feathers (2006) is also quintessentially Kylián, although more recent, more contemplative, and more experimental. The work features samples of a dog snarling (at times synchronized with a dancer miming the sound), improvised piano, and bubble wrap. The work is much more foolproof than Wings of Wax in that much of it consists of slow transitions from one pose to another, so worked better for the Ballet overall. Despite inventive movement and some interesting trio choreography (such as a male lifting up a female who simultaneously lifts up another female), the work feels less cohesive than Kylián’s other works: the bubble wrap isn’t explored enough to become fully integrated into the work, (cf. the green apples in Sweet Dreams from 1990), and the staging of the Beckett poem, which has five dancers with bright red lips and tutus made of bubble wrap miming in a pseudo-sign language, was rather too obvious (much like the Lightfoot/León’s “Shutters Shut”, set to the Gertrude Stein poem “If I told him” from the NDT2 performance from a few years ago), as was the ending, in which a dancer tiptoes off stage to the amplified sounds of bubble wrap popping underneath her feet.

The final work, Symphony of Psalms, dates from 1978 and is one of Kylián’s earlier works, and one of the first he created after becoming Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater. From his note on the work from his official site (which incidentally was unveiled at the very end of last year and which is a treasure trove for any Kylián fan) it seems he has a personal affection for the piece, but as a work it does feel more like a preview of the greatness that is to come as opposed to being fully satisfying in its own right. No doubt the work was included because it plays to the company’s core strengths (i.e. classical ballet) more than the other, more-modern works, but the work has a formalism that toes the line between “classical elegance” and stiffness, most apparent in the handling of the eight couples as they move across the stage. Symphony of Psalms is interesting as an early work and in the hands of a truly capable group could prove to be more worthwhile, but the Ballet’s combination of soloists, principals, and corps de ballet members felt incohesive and even core movements, such as when the women move forward with knees bent, heads down, and palms stretched forward, felt mechanical and disengaged.

While I applaud any efforts to bring Kylián to a larger audience, when the end result is as mixed as Boston Ballet’s it becomes impossible to support them without deep reservations. I’m happy at the thought of audiences becoming introduced to Kylián for the first time. However, for myself, although I’ve been content to rely on videos of Kylián’s works as opposed to seeing performances live locally, I think I’m going to have to make more of an effort to plan my vacations around seeing his works done further afield by groups with a deeper understanding than Boston Ballet’s.

Advertisements

Madcap Comedy of Errors

I finally got myself out of the house to catch the last performance of Propeller Theatre Company’s touring production of The Comedy of Errors at the Huntington, directed by Edward Hall. I was hesitant to go because I’m generally leery of productions of Shakespeare (or opera for that matter) that try to shoehorn in a contemporary setting or genre. In this case the contemporary setting was a sort of amalgam of Mexico and Texas and the genre was slapstick, but since the play was Shakespeare’s highly farcical comedy the approach certainly wasn’t at odds with the text.

For the most part the setting worked well, imbuing the proceedings with a colorful zaniness. The production supplements the text with occasional anachronisms (mostly in the form of asides) with references including (in the Boston edition anyway) mentions of Sarah Palin as “a devil woman” along with the Bruins’ recent Stanley Cup win, but they don’t overly distract. Casting Doctor Pinch as a gospel tent revivalist was an inspired stroke, although purists may decry the completely interjected singin’ and dancin’ gospel number that sticks out just a bit too much from its surroundings; but it’s a fun and flashy moment that is in keeping with the flow of the production in spirit, if not in pacing.

The same could be said for the production as a whole. Although the cast is uniformly appealing and the scenes are full of laughs, in general the staging feels somewhat haphazard, freely mingling bits of slapstick, mime, and comedic sound effects willy-nilly. This is madcap comedy, very much in line with Monty Python where the true hits are accompanied by occasional bits of dullness, and everything in between. The comparison to Monty Python seems particularly apt, given the company’s apparent actor-created approach to productions.

But to overanalyze seems petty, and after some initial slowness of exposition the rest of the production zips along. It’s interesting to see how American critics can’t seem to help focusing beyond the visceral appeal, whether it be Brantley’s condemnation of the slapstick when the production hit New York in March in which he makes way too much of the policeman/nightstick and the evangelist/lighted sparkler gags as symbols of “physical abuse”, or The Hub Review’s over-analysis of the fact that they’re an all-male troupe, when in reality (for this production at least) the “drag queenery” serves the same perfectly obvious and prosaic function as it does with Monty Python: that the female characters are simply much funnier when it’s the boys playing the women. (Just to round out the reviews, I suppose I should also mention Don Aucoin’s “review” in the Globe which, as so often the case these days, is content to recap rather than actually review Comedy, although to be fair his review of Richard III is better.) The British critics, perhaps since Shakespeare permeates their country more fully than ours, seem to do a better job of just enjoying it for what it is, and in the end I was certainly won over. I’m not convinced that their slasher-movie take on Richard III would equally successful, but I’m much more interested in seeing it. Even though I’m too late for that, hopefully they’ll went their way back to Boston before too long. And in case anyone is curious, the current productions have returned to London and are playing at the Hampstead Theatre through July 9.

Subdued La Bayadère at the Boston Ballet

Just some quick notes on Boston Ballet’s La Bayadère which I saw last night. I was excited to see James Whiteside in the lead male role of Solor, having enjoyed him immensely the two other times I had seen him (in “Le Spectre de la Rose” and the Bluebird Pas de Deux), but I found that the fizzing energy and intensity he had brought to those shorter appearances was curiously missing from this longer work. Even his leaps which were usually so confident seemed restrained. Ah well. His all-American looks were also working against him a bit, although the design team’s choice of costume and lack of makeup didn’t help there either.

His Nikiya was Misa Kuranaga, another soloist at the Boston Ballet who I have enjoyed watching over the years, and she was one of the strongest performers of the evening. Her solo and death at the end of Act II were particularly affecting, and perhaps one of the only truly emotional moments of the night (although the staging for the adder bite moment could have had more of an impact). However, her duets with Whiteside, although technically precise, lacked fluidity and through line.

In this case their performance was hindered by a series of atrociously bad violin solos in Act III. I’ve complained about Boston Ballet’s violin section previously and lately they were doing much better, but this is the absolute worst I’ve heard them. The violins flubbed notes throughout the evening, made all the more obvious by the impeccable playing by the rest of the orchestra, but I’m astounded at the lack of quality control for the violin solos, such an obviously exposed part of the score. This was literally the worst violin playing I’ve heard in a professional setting in all my years in Boston, or most anywhere else for that matter. I really hope the Ballet recognizes this problem this time, because it seriously detracts from what is happening on stage.

One of the iconic sequences of the work is the Entrance of the Shades at the beginning of Act III, and the corps de ballet didn’t disappoint. Technically the dancers are proficient, but too often, particularly as the temple dancers in Act I, the corps feel like they’re performing drills in a ballet class. But although Thea Singer, in her review for the Globe, felt their performance in the Shades sequence failed to completely transport, I found it to be quite successful in its still, almost Zen-like (or should I say yoga-like?) concentration and focus.

The second act is the real crowd-pleaser, though, with its sequence of divertissements. The highlight here was easily newcomer Adiarys Almeida in the role of Manu, who dances with a water jug on her head while two young girls (the sweetly playful Saho Kumagai and Fiona Wado-Gill) tease her by pulling at her skirt. Almeida’s relieved pose and pleased smile as Manu whenever she manages to successfully balance the jug was utterly winning, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her. And Jeffrey Cirio (literally) glowed in the virtuosic role of the Golden Idol. Special mention should also be made of the quartet of ballerinas in Act II and the Three Shades in Act III, particularly Kathleen Breen Combes (who I unfortunately always seem to manage to miss in meatier roles).

All in all an enjoyable evening, if not one for the ages. I don’t have much interest in the upcoming Elo evening, but will probably catch the Kylian work (despite being paired with a work by William Forsythe who I loathe) and the Balanchine/Robbins evening. So far along with the Globe’s review the only review of La Bayadère I’ve seen is wickedlocal.com. For background info on the ballet Wikipedia proves to be as indispensable as ever.

Roni Horn at the ICA and Tomb 10a at the MFA

Two quick mini-posts to follow up on my last post. I’ve ended up seeing almost every new exhibit at the ICA, and the most recent was their survey of Roni Horn that I caught on the last day it was open two weeks ago. Enjoyable though it was, the works as a whole felt curiously uninvolving. Perhaps because Horn is a conceptual artist whose concepts feel “safe”, neither daring nor innovative nor electrically charged. There are some moments of surprise and reaction, but on the whole the exhibit felt rather too suburban and neat. Perhaps this is most epitomized by her treatment of Dickinson, in which she’s content to restrain the poet’s words in cold metal bars, acknowledging her quiet, solid strength but without allowing any of her passion to be felt. I agree with much of Sebastian Smee’s review for The Boston Globe, and I also wholeheartedly second his appeal for the ICA to give us a change of pace from these fairly benign exhibits and explore more visceral areas of the art world. The accompanying exhibit, of Mexican artist Dr. Lakra, proved to be the more interesting one overall, although certainly less easy to swallow.

I was also happy to see the MFA’s The Secrets of Tomb 10A: Egypt 2000 BC (today’s the last day). The exhibit is highly entertaining and at times moving, although it follows the same obvious path as most exhibits of ancient relics do, which is to emphasize the functional usage of the artifacts over their artistic value. Smee, again providing a cogent review in The Globe, particularly laments the exhibit’s presentation of a 4000-year-old mummy’s skull, which emphasizes the scientific anaylsis of it more than the skull itself.

On that visit I also checked out the museum’s Durer exhibit. The works are quite amazing, although some background on the various techniques used would have been helpful. And to round things off, here’s Smee’s review of the exhibit for The Globe.

Better late than never? Betrayal

Catching up on a few events that have come and gone, but that are still worth mentioning in retrospect.

First up, Another Country Productions presentation of Pinter’s Betrayal. I’m not a huge Pinter fan, but he doesn’t seem to be done that much in the States so I thought I’d check out this production despite it being of one of his less-idiosyncratic works. The play itself does turn out to be a fairly standard account of marital infidelity, despite its reverse chronological presentation.

As for the production itself, the group emphasizes its use of the Meisner Technique, a form of method acting that apparently focuses on actors being attuned to and thus responding more “naturally” to the others on stage in order to give the work a more spontaneous, real-life quality. I’m not sure how much the production suffers as a result, but there were several elements that stuck out a bit and could be due to the less-scripted approach. One is that the staging was largely static and repetitive, and often a couple would begin a scene on opposite sides of the room, then one would cross over and they would sit, then the other would get up and move to the other side and sit, and then the first would follow the second and sit. Appropriate to the scene and perhaps marginally more “realistic”, but more traditionally planned staging would avoid such repetition and consequently keep the audience more engaged. A more specific questionable moment that can perhaps be attributed to the company’s approach is the kiss at the end of the play marking the beginning of the affair, which was not in the original script and seems out of place. Given the inherent artificialities of a play’s script in and of itself, and Pinter plays in particular, it seems that striving for a more realistic approach seems a bit nonsensical.

More generally the production had other drawbacks as well. The contemporary music played between interludes did little to mark the rewinding of time and sounded like the director had just plugged in someone’s iPod. The actors were perfectly serviceable, although as with many “chamber” plays this one really requires actors of the highest caliber, particularly because it is full of typically Pinter-esque long pauses that at the worst in the hands of lesser actors just bring the play to a screeching halt. Lyralen Kaye as Emma proved to be the weakest link, partly perhaps because she affected a British-esque accent that, as many Americans will do, flattened out the intonation and made every sentence sound monochromatically earnest. All in all still worth seeing, but not the most successful production of a difficult play.

As for reviews, The Hub Review also laments the production’s lack of subtext, although I disagree with his assement that “Wayne Fritsche is far too meek and arch as cuckolded husband Robert”. He comments that “there’s a cruel, even nasty streak in this character that Fritsche seems unable to convey” that I thought Fritsche brought out quite well when I saw him, although at times it bordered on mere whingeing. Boston Lowbrow provides another look also. And here’s the Wikipedia article on the play.

Boston Ballet’s Ultimate Balanchine

[Yes, it’s been awhile, mea culpa, mea culpa. Work has kept me burnt out for the most part, but warmer weather has brought renewed energy, and now a backlog of posts.]

Just got back from the Boston Ballet’s Ultimate Balanchine. I had recently realized I hadn’t seen them all season, and after reading Alastair Macauley’s warm review in the New York Times my interest was piqued.

The evening started off a bit slowly. The young women who introduced the first piece, “The Four Temperaments”, set to music by Hindemith, executed the steps with precision but little understanding: high kicks lacked style or personality, pelvic-leading steps forward were pointless, and the beautifully geometric shapes Balanchine’s choreography sculpts out of the dancers’ legs, arms, and body were lifeless. The notable exception was Tiffany Hedman, who, for lack of a more-appropriate word, is a simply lovely dancer whose limitless grace combined wonderfully with the intentionally awkward positions. The piece is full of memorable choreography, and although Yury Yanowsky seemed unfocused, particularly at the beginning of “Sanguinic”, Isaac Akiba was simply fantastic both technically and emotionally in “Melancholic”, and Jaime Diaz also provided a strong performance in “Phlegmatic”.

“Apollo” doesn’t seem to be high among anyone’s favorites, and the piece does depend a fair amount on the the eponymous male role. Carlos Molina’s performance lacked character, too often slipping into generic classic ballet “hero” mode, but his muses (which included Rie Ishikawa and Whitney Jensen) were all memorable and their looks formed a nicely contrasting trio. It seems Kathleen Breen Combes was replaced at the last minute, I think by Lia Cirio, although I didn’t catch the announcement at the beginning and I forgot to check for postings in the lobby. But whoever it was who danced Terpsichore brought an athleticism to the role that was refreshing, so much so that it would just be curmudgeonly to complain of the slight lack of subtlety.

In “Apollo” the orchestra’s string section had similar problems as I’ve heard in the past, namely a stringy quality and lack of ensemble, partly due no doubt to the difficulties of amplification. This, unfortunately, was carried into the final piece, although to a lesser degree, “Theme and Variations” to music by Tchaikovsky. The piece is a quick ‘n easy crowd-pleaser, full of eye-catching classical ballet moments. As the male soloist Nelson Madrigal was a bit glossy, but his performance was assured and wholly enjoyable, as was that of his partner, Erica Cornejo, as the female soloist. The corps de ballet, both male and female, provided a steady wave of energy that culminated in a rousing finale and much applause.

The Boston Ballet has put together an evening that’s notably well paced, and the programme was so consistently engaging that I’m sorely tempted to catch one more performance, particularly since some dancers that I was interested in seeing weren’t on tonight. Stay tuned …

In addition to the previously mentioned review, here are links to reviews from The Phoenix, The Boston Globe, and The Boston Herald.

Minmalism and Post-minimalism at Boston Conservatory’s New Music Festival

Whoops. I meant to post about Boston Conservatory’s New Music Festival in advance, but the first concert was tonight. You can find details here about the rest of the concerts, and I’ve included a copy of the schedule below. A range of selections including some classic stuff, so should be fun for newbies and long-time fans of the genre alike.

THE BOSTON CONSERVATORY
new music festival 2009
minimalism / post-minimalism

concert 1
thursday, november 12 seully hall 8:00pm
ACME
AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY MUSIC ENSEMBLE
michael nyman string quartet no.2
michael torke chalk
nico muhly stride
ingram marshall entrada

concert 2
friday, november 13 seully hall 8:00pm
terry riley in c
steve reich new york counterpoint
evan ziporyn hive
steve reich eight lines

concert 3
saturday, november 14 seully hall 8:00pm
marcus balter torus
john adams gnarly buttons
steve reich tehillim

concert 4
sunday, november 15 seully hall 6:00pm
john adams hallelujah junction

concert 5
sunday, november 15 seully hall 8:00pm
john luther adams qilyuan
ramon humet mantra II
joseph celli snare drum for camus
steve reich music for mallet instruments, voices, and organ
louis andriessen workers’ union