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Boston Ballet

A Peek at a Dress Rehearsal

by Karen Barr

January 28, 2010 -- National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Canada

If you are planning to introduce someone to the world of ballet, pick a company featuring a mixed repertoire. It is a choreographer’s version of a book of short stories, different from a lengthy novella which contains lots of characters and plot twists. Be sure the program includes both classic and modern pieces which is the ideal blend for a ballet neophyte. A perfect combination of this formula is the Boston Ballet’s current mix.

It has been forty years since the Boston Ballet has been to Canada’s capital city and the audience is growing restless. Just before the dress rehearsal begins, the dancers walk on stage to stretch out tired muscles, rehearse small snippets of choreography, and receive last minute advice from Mikko Nissinen, the Boston Ballet’s artistic director.

The ballet opens with “Ballo della Regina” a work choreographed by the legendary George Balanchine, originally designed for the New York City Ballet, in 1978. It is a lovely piece in traditional classicism. The ballerinas clad in baby blue, soft pink and mauve evoke the sense of a clear spring day, even with the windy snow blown blizzard Ottawa is experiencing. The dancers are playful at times with light bursts of graceful energy as if their feet never really touch the floor. Nissinen himself once danced the male role in this piece and concludes that it is one of his favourites.

 “This work shows Balanchine’s relationship to music. It is also technically demanding and fresh,” he states.

The next work by Canadian choreographer Sabrina Mathews, entitled “ein vin viel,” is a complete departure. The stage is pitch-black, except for a dim spotlight on a piano, placed off to one side.  A man dressed in a black suit, enters the stage, sits down at the instrument and begins to play. Two barefoot male dancers appear in contrasting bright white pants and sleeveless white shirts. An untraditional duet begins, less graceful and more mechanical than classic ballet. The choreography involves mirror-style mimicry, repeating rounds of dance, and large movements. There are elements which seem free style in the sense that each is dancing their own solo, while on stage together. The dancers sometimes seem oblivious to one another’s presence, but other times hold hands while dancing. It is a visually stark piece, with forward thought and vision.

The performance is rounded out by three others works. The first two are from the Ballet Russes, a company that originated in Paris, with Russian exiles. Established in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev, the group which performed for twenty years, until his death, is considered the most influential ballet company of the 20th century. It became a cast of international dancers, composers and artists, many of whom became world famous.  Michel Fokine’s “Le Spectre de la Rose” and Vaslav Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of a Faun” are two glorious works that transport the audience to the glamour of Paris, once upon a time. Finally, the Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s work “Brake the Eyes” is modern, bold and exciting.

“My big thing with the Boston Ballet is to make it relevant to people and the times we live today. We have a serious commitment to contemporary dance and a very clear representation to what ballet is,” says Nissinen.

The Boston Ballet has always been known for both classical and neo-classical works. There is something for everyone in their mixed repertoire which appeals to audience members viewing their first ballet performance, and those who are life-long ballet lovers.

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