In 2016, Boston Ballet entered into a five-year partnership with William Forsythe that brought us “Pas/Parts,” “Artifact,” and, in 2019, “Blake Works I” and the world premiere of “Playlist (EP).” The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted that collaboration, but the program the company opened at the Citizens Bank Opera House Thursday reprises “Blake Works I,” and follows it up with the world premiere of “Blake Works III (The Barre Project).” Rounding out this energetic and engaging “MINDscape” bill is the world premiere of resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “Ruth’s Dance,” a tribute to his late mother.
Forsythe set “Blake Works I” to seven selections from British singer-songwriter James Blake’s 2016 album “The Colour in Anything”; the Paris Opera Ballet premiered the piece in July 2016. Blake’s tempos are moderate, his mood is wistful, his lyrics are enigmatic and often unintelligible. The centerpiece of the 30-minute work, to the title track, is the tender, teasing, occasionally turbulent duet between Chyrstyn Fentroy and Lasha Khozashvili. Elsewhere, Forsythe pushes the classical envelope; in “Put That Away and Talk to Me,” Jasmine Jimison, Lawrence Rines, and Haley Schwan are basic ballet one moment, pelvis-pumping boogie the next. Fentroy and Lia Cirio show off for each other in “I Hope My Life”; the guys show off for us in “Two Men Down.” The finale, a wistful duet for Cirio and Patric Palkens to “f.o.r.e.v.e.r.,” ends with the lyrics, “How wonderful you are,” as if Forsythe were thanking both the art form and his 20 performers.
“Ruth’s Dance” is a five-part work set mostly to movements from Bach’s double keyboard concertos played live by a chamber orchestra and pianists Freda Locker and Alex Foaksman. The cast comprises an indefatigable tutelary spirit (Palkens); couples in red (Viktorina Kapitonova and Paulo Arrais), purple (Michaela DePrince and John Lam), and blue (Addie Tapp and Khozashvili); and an ensemble of eight men and eight women.
As he did in his neoclassical “Creatures of Egmont” and “Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius,” Elo fills the stage with canon and counterpoint, symmetry and asymmetry, in imaginative groupings, while paying welcome attention to port de bras. It’s all gracious and generous — at times too generous; there’s nothing unworthy of Balanchine here, but Balanchine would have edited. Less is more in a brief, jittery solo for Lam, and in a pas de deux set to the chorale-like opening aria from Bach’s Cantata No. 54, where Tapp and Khozashvili are, by turns, genteel and spiky in a kind of mating dance.
Forsythe’s choice of title for “Blake Works I” suggested there’d be more to come. In 2020, he created “The Barre Project (Blake Works II),” a Zoom collaboration with Tiler Peck, Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack, and Roman Mejia. “Blake Works III (The Barre Project)” is a live-performance adaptation of that work for Boston Ballet. The barre appears in the background but doesn’t feature in the angular, animated opening duet for Schwan and Benji Pearson to “Lindisfarne I.” Thereafter the piece is largely a succession of acrobatic solos for Derek Dunn, Daniel Durrett, My’Kal Stromile, and Ji Young Chae. It’s Chae who makes the most of the barre, especially in her solo to “Lullaby for My Insomniac,” where she treats it like a partner, gyrates, shimmies, flirts, leaves, and comes back.
Midway through, a filmed segment shows three sections of a barre in close-up, with hands working them as if playing a keyboard. The closer, to a pounding “200 Press,” has a sinuous salsa turn for Chae and Stromile; otherwise, it’s back to solo bodies in nonstop motion, Schwan and Pearson joining in at the finish. Even as these dancers prove they can do just about anything, the barre reminds us where it all came from.
”Blake Works I” and “Blake Works III (The Barre Project),” choreographed by William Forsythe. “Ruth’s Dance,” choreographed by Jorma Elo. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through May 15. $39-$164. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.