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Boston Ballet goes boldly in ‘Our Journey’

Boston Ballet in the world premiere of Nanine Linning's "La Mer."Liza Voll

Boston Ballet’s “Our Journey” begins with New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s “Everywhere We Go,” which he created for NYCB in 2014 to a commissioned score by indie-pop icon Sufjan Stevens. For the second half of the program, the company goes to the seas. Created in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and set to music by Claude Debussy, Dutch choreographer Nanine Linning’s world premiere, “La Mer,” is a cautionary tale about what we’re doing to our planet’s oceans. Thursday at the Citizens Bank Opera House, there was first much to enjoy and then much to think about.

Boston Ballet presented Peck’s “In Creases” in 2018, and his “Become a Mountain” was on the program BalletX brought to the Cutler Emerson Majestic Theatre this past February. Those were small-scale works; “Everywhere We Go” calls for 25 dancers and runs 40 minutes. Stevens created the score in dialogue with Peck; the nine sections have titles ranging from “The Shadows Will Fall Behind” and “There Is Always the Sunshine” to “The Gate of Heaven Is Love” and “Thanks to the Human Heart by Which We Live.” Janie Taylor did the costumes; the men’s leotards are gray on top and charcoal on the bottom, with a thin red waistband, whereas the women’s are hooped black and white on top and white on the bottom, with the same red waistband. Karl Jensen provides a complementary backdrop of simple but constantly changing geometric shapes.


Boston Ballet in Justin Peck's "Everywhere We Go."Liza Voll

From the start, Stevens’s music goes wherever it wants and Peck’s choreography follows suit. Played live by the Boston Ballet Orchestra under music director Mischa Santora, the score touches every base, from classical to jazz, minimalism, Broadway, and film. One moment Peck’s dancers are doing pirouettes and piqué turns; the next they’re forming and reforming like a kaleidoscope. The piece begins with three men standing and three lying supine behind them, like shadows, echoing their every movement. One recurrent pose finds everyone lying supine with a leg raised straight up. In another, a dancer will weaken and fall, only to be caught by a comrade before he or she hits the ground.


Of the three lead couples, Chisako Oga and Derek Dunn are the most classically energetic, Dunn throwing off double tours with aplomb, Oga zipping through chaîné turns. Lia Cirio and Lawrence Rines Munro are athletic and a bit goofy, Chyrstyn Fentroy and Paul Craig romantic and a bit conflicted, especially in “To Live in the Hearts We Leave Behind.” An unattached Haley Schwan is the mischievous upbeat spirit of the piece. “Everywhere We Go” does go everywhere, mostly basking in the sunshine. It’s fun to watch, right down to the false ending; but the real finale, dancers falling and being caught once again, doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t been before.

Linning is also familiar to Boston Ballet audiences; her “La Voix Humaine” was part of the company’s “Process & Progress” virtual program in May 2021. “La Mer” is set to Debussy’s tone poem “La mer” and the third of his “Nocturnes,” “Sirènes,” whose wordless vocals are sung live on stage by eight members of Boston’s Lorelei Ensemble. But whereas Debussy celebrates the ocean, Linning’s section titles underline what humans are doing to it: “Extinction,” “The Luring Call of Greed,” “The Great Wave,” “Deadzone,” “Oil Spill Song of the Sirens,” “Turmoil of Mankind” (not “Humankind”?).


Boston Ballet dancers, representing oceanic creatures following an oil spill, in the world premiere of Nanine Linning's "La Mer."Liza Voll

There’s a lot going on in the 50 minutes of “La Mer” — sometimes too much. Heleen Blanken uses digital codes to create a watery video backdrop that’s abstract and distracting; the real ocean, saturated with plastic and oil, might have been more effective. Interpolated into the Debussy score are electronic interludes from Cypriote composer Yannis Kyriakides; the initial whale songs are heartening, but the rest seems disruptive. Brandon Stirling Baker’s chiaroscuro lighting creates a dystopian undersea world; Yuima Nakazato’s costuming serves up everything from near-naked Venuses to sea-anemone-like Sirens, beached sea creatures all in black, a “Great Wave” of dancers in blue-black film, glossy-costumed oil-spill victims, and a closing group in sea foam and seaweed.

The dancing itself is mostly agonized writhing. The beached sea creatures freeze in their death throes. Wearing elemental flesh-colored leotards and tights, Soo-bin Lee, Viktorina Kapitonova, and Ji Young Chae offer variations on polluted ocean life, creeping, falling on their faces, limbs at weird angles. María Álvarez and Daniel Rubin have a clingy duet among the corpses. A swinging pendulum light sends creatures scurrying into the dark. Jeffrey Cirio, swathed in diaphanous white fabric, is cradled by the Sirens (some dancers, some Lorelei members). Set to the final movement of “La mer,” “Turmoil of Mankind” finds the Venuses rising from the sea and marine life swirling, schooling, teeming — or so the music would suggest. “La Mer” doesn’t entirely avoid the pitfalls of art that preaches rather than explores. But its heart is in the right place.



“Everywhere We Go,” by Justin Peck. “La Mer,” by Nanine Linning. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through April 16. Tickets $39-$194. 617-695-6955,

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at