Boston Ballet winds up its first ever all-virtual season with a program that offers not only four filmed premieres created for the company, but also short documentaries featuring behind-the-scenes glimpses of the making of each piece. Titled “Process & Progress,” the program is composed of new dances by acclaimed European choreographers Nanine Linning and Ken Ossola, both creating their first works for a North American company, plus pieces by genre-busting dancer/choreographer Lex Ishimoto and Boston Ballet principal dancer John Lam.
The roughly hour-long “Process & Progress” brings home the creativity and ingenuity that has arisen from pandemic conditions. “It’s nice to finish [the season] with this,” says company artistic director Mikko Nissinen, “to show the process of how we dealt with this year and how we want to move the art form forward.”
All of the new works were created in Boston Ballet’s studios, and two were filmed at the Citizens Bank Opera House. But Lam’s “moving pARTS” for eight dancers was filmed in the Ashmont and Alewife MBTA stations as a public art project for the City of Boston, with video production by Bearwalk. “The main dance took place at the Ashmont Station,” says Lam, whose 17-year tenure makes him Boston Ballet’s most senior dancer. “I love the architecture and how it opens up like a stage.” The work unfurls as a metaphor for humanity’s shared journey, reimagining our routine movements from here to there as moments to experience something new.
“moving pARTS” is Lam’s third piece created for Boston Ballet and reflects his growing interest in the medium of film. He says the work highlights the desire to connect and move together, celebrating “the commonalities in our differences,” something needed now more than ever.
Lex Ishimoto’s “What Happens If…,” a work for nine dancers set to the music of Kurtis Sprung, marks the 2017 “So You Think You Can Dance” winner’s first choreography for a professional company. Fresh off William Forsythe’s “The Barre Project” with Tiler Peck, which showcased his distinctive movement style and technical skill, Ishimoto was a former Boston Ballet School trainee in 2015 and member of BBII in 2016. He quarantined in March with one pod of Boston Ballet dancers to create his work, whose title reveals his intent to explore beyond the traditional confines of classical ballet. “I really wanted to challenge the idea of what ballet dancers can do,” he says. “What happens if you try, if you play, if you dissect movement and turn it upside down?”
Nissinen calls it “a little bit of a mash-up” of ballet, contemporary dance, hip hop, and other vocabularies. “He brings elements from different kind of works. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.... The guy’s so talented. He has grown incredibly as an artist and a dancer.”
In their debuts choreographing for a North American company, both Linning and Ossola worked entirely remotely. Linning connected with the company via teleconference from her home base in Amsterdam. Celebrated in Europe for her highly physical and visually provocative large-scale productions, Linning was scheduled to make her United States debut with a new work for Boston Ballet in 2021 — until the pandemic hit.
“I had been talking with her for 10 years about doing a work for us, and this year was going be it,” says Nissinen. “But with COVID, that didn’t happen, so I asked her for a film project, and she has blown me away left, right, and middle. It’s sort of modern art meets theater meets dance, visually delicate and delightful and so emotional.”
The work for 11 dancers is set to the final 12 minutes of Francis Poulenc’s one-act opera “La Voix humaine,” portraying a woman receiving a phone call from her lover, who tells her he is leaving her. The project allowed Linning to meld her passion for dance and opera while opening a “new chapter in my art” working with film as the primary medium. Nissinen says Linning’s dance vividly captures the isolation and despair so prevalent in society right now.
Ossola also reflects the particularity of the moment with his new work, “Zoom In,” set to Arvo Pärt’s contemplative “Fratres.” A long-time performer with Nederlands Dans Theater before turning to choreography, Ossola says his new work was a chance to connect across an ocean, zooming in on such universal elements as intimacy, integrity, human connection. In addition to the film for “Progress & Process,” a virtual reality version of “Zoom In” also is being made, and Nissinen says he hopes to feature a whole series of similar projects next year.
“Twelve months ago when I was talking about this coming year and focusing on making dance films, I had this pit in my stomach,” Nissinen says. But he adds, “I can’t believe the creativity and output that we’ve done exploring these genres [which] are here to stay in some format for the audiences of the future.”
BOSTON BALLET’S “PROCESS & PROGRESS”
May 13-23, www.bostonballet.org
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.