With a new pop-up initiative, Boston Ballet is taking its artistry out of Citizens Bank Opera House and into the streets, hoping, as artistic director Mikko Nissinen says, “to meet people where they are,” bringing them together and challenging preconceived notions about ballet.
Premiering Aug. 6 at the Blue Hill Avenue Open Street event in Roxbury, it’s called ÜNI Public Art, a multimedia pop-up installation in a portable, one-of-a-kind dome structure. Nissinen calls the free, immersive audio visual experience of art and dance “sculptural and futuristic.” The dome allows for 360-degree viewing. “It’s almost like a planetarium experience,” he says. “A very different, very engaging way of looking at dance. . . . You really have to experience it to truly understand it. We’re trying something really unique.”
Content for the installation is anchored by 30 minutes of dance films, some created for the new structure. The films include sections of Ken Ossola’s “Zoom In,” John Lam’s “moving pARTs,” William Forsythe’s “The Barre Project (Blake Works II),” Stephen Galloway’s “DEVIL’S/eye,” “Sugar Plum Dream,” created in collaboration with principal dancer Chyrstyn Fentroy, and Nanine Linning’s “La Voix Humaine.” Nissinen says, “When you see Linning’s [piece] in this format, it blows your mind. How much beauty can one person handle?”
In addition, a short film previews an upcoming documentary by NBC Universal Boston on Boston Ballet’s Citydance program. Material runs on a continuous loop, so visitors can pop in and out at any time, with room for up to 20 visitors at a time.
ÜNI Public Art is an extension of Boston Ballet’s ÜNI web portal, which offers access to dance films and international collaborative projects free to anyone with access to the internet. At the core of ÜNI is the idea that dance should be inclusive, welcoming, and available to all, with a focus on highlighting underrepresented voices. Via ÜNI Public Art, Boston Ballet aims to connect ballet to larger audiences, especially those for whom cost is often a barrier to access.
Nissinen worked with the company’s strategic advisor Denise Korn and chief marketing officer Deborah Moe to develop and refine the idea of taking a pop-up venue out into the community. They partnered with MASARY Studios, an interdisciplinary collective producing art at the intersection of sound, light, and performance, often using complex digital media. “They were the experts at taking our idea and making it a reality,” Nissinen says.
MASARY’s design director Caleb Hawkins led the team designing the 18-foot-by-30-foot box-like structure, which arrives on site by truck and takes 10 hours to assemble. It encases a tilted dome for projections, with sound and lighting that synchronizes with what is being shown on screen. “Dome projections are nothing new, but for something to be pop-up flexible, with four projectors and sound and to go up in a matter of hours is definitely cutting edge,” Hawkings says. “And what’s within is unrecognizable from the outside. We didn’t want to give too much away, but wanted to create a sense of allure to draw people in and spark a sense of curiosity and wonder.”
“The rectilinear exterior fits in an urban environment, but . . . when you cross the threshold, it’s a journey from the outside reality to a very different space,” says MASARY Studios’ co-founder Ryan Edwards.
Following the debut, plans are in the works to host the installation in other locations around Greater Boston, including at the Radical Welcoming Block Party in Upham’s Corner, Dorchester on Sept. 17. Boston Ballet is currently in contact with organizations around the area that might be interested in hosting the pop-up.
“This is just a first date,” says Nissinen. “I hope this has a long life with different communities in many different ways. I hope people come and say, ‘Oh, that’s Boston Ballet.’ I want them to get to know us and want us to get to know them, creating together a bridge to the art form for the future.”