Theater & art

dance review

Boston Ballet explorations pay off in ‘Edge of Vision’

Whitney Jensen and John Lam in dress rehearsal for Jorma Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites.”

michele mcdonald for the boston globe

Whitney Jensen and John Lam in dress rehearsal for Jorma Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites.”

‘Edge of Vision,” Boston Ballet’s current program, could as easily have been called “Made in Boston,” since all three pieces are company commissions: Lila York’s “Celts” (1996, reprised in 1998 and 2001), Helen Pickett’s “Eventide” (2008), and Jorma Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites” (a world premiere). Pickett has described her inspiration as “the magic hour” between day and night, and there’s a twilight feel to “Celts,” so perhaps that’s the “edge of vision” connection. But it’s “Bach Cello Suites” that will be worth a second and third look.

Pickett reworked “Eventide” for the Vienna State Opera in 2013. For this 2015 incarnation, she’s made further tweaks, in some cases going back to the original concept. She describes the first part as being “more social,” in the “beautiful red light” of a “gorgeous summer night.” The second takes place in just “a sliver of light”; the third is set in “deep night, the cosmos.” Benjamin Phillips’s backdrop for part one is a deep-red sunset panel, for part two black with a sliver of red, and for part three an abstract painting that suggests a blue-silver-gray birch forest. Pickett is a former dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt, and all three parts are lit in the Forsythe fashion, which just adds to the twilight aura.

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The score is Eastern-flavored minimalism: “Offering,” from the Philip Glass/Ravi Shankar album “Passages” (the 2008 version had music by Michael Nyman here); “Ramy,” from the Jan Garbarek album “Madar”; and finally “Meetings Along the Edge,” again from “Passages.” In 2008 there were five couples; now there are four, backed by an ensemble of 10 women whose long slit metallic skirts have been replaced by simple gray leotards.

Saxophone is prominent in both “Offering” and “Ramy,” and Thursday night’s cast echoed its sinuous lines. In the opening section, which suggested a nightclub, the dancers paired off and did slinky duets: Erica Cornejo with Irlan Silva, then Seo Hye Han with Paulo Arrais and Kathleen Breen Combes with Sabi Varga. Whitney Jensen was sultry and smoky in the second part, tempting Silva and John Lam before dismissing first the one and then the other to have the stage by herself. The upbeat third section, its roiling Glass music conjuring the finale of Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room,” dispensed with any pretense to narrative in favor of gratifying solo turns. In its latest form, “Eventide” is enjoyable, if not quite magical.

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Bach’s “Suites for Unaccompanied Cello” have inspired choreographers from Rudolf Nureyev and Jerome Robbins to Mark Morris and Heinz Spoerli. Elo, Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer, chose the first two suites, transposing sections of the second one and omitting the final gigue. The five men and five women move in unison and imitation, their feet pointing the music and their bodies paying tribute to Baroque dance forms, with the occasional Balanchine homage and trademark Elo gestures like 45-degree revoltades and hands framing the face. There’s also the trademark Elo lighting, which in this case is filtered through a spooky overhead lattice that rises, falls, and tilts.


Thursday’s couples made subtle distinctions. Varga and Petra Conti were courtly and sweet in the first allemande, Conti illustrating a trill with a neat gargouillade. Arrais and Lia Cirio were stop-and-start jittery in their sarabande, though they wound up with their heads on each other’s shoulder. In the prelude to No. 2, Lasha Khozashvili and Dusty Button seemed to be working through an estrangement. Seated downstage left, the cello soloist, Sergey Antonov, tore through the prelude to No. 1 (to which there was no dancing); thereafter he underlined the character of each section without calling attention to himself.

The wrinkle in “Bach Cello Suites” — at least on Thursday night — was the presence onstage of Elo himself. He appeared before the gigue of No. 1 to single out Jeffrey Cirio, and subsequently to instruct him. Later he disengaged Breen Combes from Cirio, whom she was partnering. In the final sarabande, he did a tormented solo, then pulled Breen Combes out from the group and had her kneel. Eventually they walked off together. Is he the choreographer? Time? Death? (Elo’s role will be taken by other dancers in some subsequent performances.)

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“Celts” does not ask such questions; it has never pretended to be more than a “Riverdance”-inspired crowd pleaser. This version omitted the generic section titles of the 1996 original; I didn’t miss them, but I was sorry the company didn’t include the encore solos to the blasting bagpipe rock of Brittany’s Dan Ar Braz. Still, Jeffrey Cirio sneaked some snappy entrechats into his leprechaun prancing, Khozashvili and Lia Cirio cavorted as a couple in red, Khozashvili led a quintet of red-mini-kilted warriors, and Eris Nezha and Button portrayed a high king and a tribal goddess, or perhaps a mortal and a selkie, as they mated and he fell asleep, exhausted, while she tiptoed away. The piece teeters on the edge of tourist stereotype, but here, as in the rest of the program, any shortcomings in concept and choreography were redeemed by the dancing.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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