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DANCE REVIEW

Boston Ballet gets creative with its virtual-season finale

Boston Ballet in John Lam's "moving pARTs," filmed at the Ashmont and Alewife MBTA stations
Boston Ballet in John Lam's "moving pARTs," filmed at the Ashmont and Alewife MBTA stationsBearwalk Productions

At the beginning of 2021, Boston Ballet was still hoping to present two live programs at the Citizens Bank Opera House in May. That didn’t prove possible, but the company is nonetheless ending its 2020–21 virtual season on a creative note with “Process & Progress,” a 50-minute program offering four official premieres plus brief commentaries by the choreographers. It’s enough to whet your appetite for the 2021–22 season, not to mention what Boston Ballet might go on to do with dance films.

Ken Ossola and Nanine Linning are making their North American debuts in “Process & Progress”; Ossola’s “Zoom In” and Linning’s “La Voix Humaine” were choreographed via Zoom and filmed on the Opera House stage in April. Ossola is well acquainted with the company, having staged Jirí Kylián’s “Bella Figura” for the Ballet. Set to the violin-and-piano version of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” “Zoom In” is notable for its narrow, deep performance space, the 10 unmasked dancers’ close-fitting corsets and briefs, some imaginative lighting, and the way the dancers occasionally zoom toward the camera. The choreography itself — three solos, four duets, group unison, now writhing, now reflective — is enjoyable but less distinctive.

Ji Young Chae in Nanine Linning's "La Voix Humaine"
Ji Young Chae in Nanine Linning's "La Voix Humaine"Ernesto Galan, courtesy of Boston Ballet

“La Voix Humaine” is a black-and-white film set to the final 10 minutes of the Jean Cocteau/Francis Poulenc opera. Ji Young Chae portrays the woman having one last telephone conversation with her lover, who’s about to marry another. Hemmed in by a spider-web set and menaced by 10 dancers in black-and-gray camo, Chae conveys the woman’s agony and desperation. At one point her face and arms get covered in black fluid; at another her white nightdress turns to black and her escorts appear in long white outfits. She grows increasingly isolated; by the end, she’s imprisoned by her own hair. Chae is exquisitely tortured, but it’s the cinematic concept and execution that suggest a mind cut off from human contact and losing control.

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Lex Ishimoto’s “What Happens If. . .” had an unofficial premiere last month at the virtual Boston Ballet Ball. Barely in his 20s, Ishimoto is already a household name. From 2010 to 2012, he played the lead role in a national tour of “Billy Elliot the Musical.” In 2015, he trained at Boston Ballet School and the following year was accepted into Boston Ballet II. In 2017, he appeared on the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and was voted America’s Favorite Dancer.

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Ishimoto has explained the title of his 5½-minute piece as “What happens if we push the boundaries of dance?” But boundaries are scarcely visible as his nine masked dancers, dressed in pale sleeveless tops and pajama-like trousers, move in generic contemporary fashion to a rhythmic, jazzy score by Kurtis Sprung. It’s a modest effort for a company that specializes in choreographers — Kylián, Jorma Elo, William Forsythe — who really do push the boundaries of dance.

“Process & Progress” concludes with Boston Ballet principal dancer John Lam’s “moving pARTs.” Filmed in the Ashmont and Alewife MBTA stations in conjunction with Bearwalk Cinema back in November 2020, this eight-minute work is set to the Catalan Christmas carol/lullaby “El cant dels ocells” (“The Song of the Birds”). We see the eight masked dancers, in street clothes, ride the Red Line and then, costumed in basic black, begin to dance. Lam’s gestural choreography, adeptly keyed to the siciliana lilt of the music, has a tender elegance that reminded me of Nacho Duato, and the dancers, however few or many you see at one time, always suggest a single organism. The superb editing puts you all over the station, creating a rhythm of its own. At the end, with the dancers back in their street clothes, the piece signs off by having the electronic train info board read “moving pARTs 8 min.” With this piece, at least, Boston Ballet is on the right track.

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PROCESS & PROGRESS

Presented by Boston Ballet at bostonballet.org through May 23. Streaming $30. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org

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


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