October 28- November 7, 2021
By Steve Sucato
Kicking off Boston Ballet’s 2021-22 virtual season, reSTART was a bit of a throwback to the type of programming many dance companies offered up during the early part of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It featured the company dancing outdoors and in the studio, along with a previously recorded performance in South Korea by company dancers Soo-bin Lee and SeokJoo Kim.
Filmed outdoors in October at Boston Common and Boston Public Garden, the premiere of choreographer Yin Yue’s “A Common Moment” that opened the digital production, was a rarely seen view of one of the nation’s top ballet companies. A cross between a sophisticated flash mob and an outdoor Hollywood production number, the ballet, set to jazz music from Quincy Jones and Alice Coltrane, had 39 of the company’s dancers letting loose on vistas of green grass and white cement.
Un-masked and performing in pants, shorts and sneakers, the dancers began the ballet spread out across an expansive lawn space. Moving en masse from side to side with sweeping leg kicks and high arcing arm movements, Yue’s Broadway-esque ballet choreography, captured in wide-angle camera shots and close-ups, fit nicely on the company. Their joy at finally being and dancing together after their long pandemic layoff was unmistakably evident.
The scene then switched to four men and two women shooting arms and legs out from a line that stretched across a bridge overlooking a small dark water pond. In a nearby clearing below them, Ji Young Chae, Tyson Clark, Haley Schwan and My’kal Stromile formed two male/female pas de deux couples where the women were lifted by their male partners and swung high, low, and around them.
Cut together to appear as if Yue’s ballet had simultaneously broken out at multiple locations at once, the film was a tantalizing, non-stop dancing tour of Boston Public Garden and Boston Common.
Throughout the film, the camera caught glimpses of passersby who stopped to take in the dancing as if suddenly being confronted by a celebrity sighting.
The ballet rounded out with the full group on a large cement expanse continuing in Yue’s lively choreography that had them circling their arms and slapping at their heels, dancing around a gazebo, and finally, coming together in calisthenic-like movement on the side of a grass hill.
From the carefree frolicking in Boston’s outdoors, the virtual production’s second dance offering took the virtual viewer to South Korea and a recorded pas de deux of company dancers Soo-bin Lee and SeokJoo Kim in a contemporary ballet version of the act one balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
According to reSTART’s host, artistic director Mikko Nissinen, the recording was essentially new corps de ballet dancer Kim’s audition tape and now introduction to Boston Ballet’s audiences. What it turned out to be, however, was proof positive of the embarrassment of dancer talent riches the company possesses from top to bottom. The pair, who are destined to be future company stars, were radiant in the pas de deux. With seeming natural chemistry between them, their giddy, impassioned, technically skilled, and elegant performances were a highlight reSTART.
Next, was an excerpt of resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “Ruth’s Dance,” filmed at Boston Ballet’s Clarendon Street studios in October.
Performed by Addie Tapp and Lasha Khozashvili, the pas deux, danced to J.S. Bach’s Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54, had the feel of music box dancers in hyperdrive. Turn-filled with legs flying high, counterpoint pirouettes, and ballet positional poses, the contemporary ballet excerpt served as juxtaposition to Geroge Balanchine’s classic ballet Apollo (1928) that came next.
Danced to Igor Stravinsky’s composition, “Apollon Musagete”, the 30-minute ballet, also filmed in-studio in October, depicted Apollo (Paulo Arrais), the young god of music in Greek mythology, being visited and instructed by three Muses. They were his half-sisters, Terpsichore, Muse of dance and song, portrayed by Lia Cirio who carried with her a lyre, Calliope, Muse of poetry, danced by Viktorina Kapitonova who carried a tablet, and Polyhymnia (Chyrstyn Fentroy), Muse of mime, who carried with her a mask representing the power of gesture.
Considered the first ballet to gain Balanchine international recognition, Apollo is one of his earliest masterworks and in my opinion one of his earliest attempts at movement experimentation that strayed from the classical ballet language of choreographer Marius Petipa and his contemporaries’ works.
The ballet began with Arrais as Apollo, holding a lute-like instrument and windmilling one arm a la The Who guitarist Pete Townshend in concert. He then took deliberate steps in a circle while looking off into the distance as if expecting the imminent arrival of his Muse half-sisters.
One by one the Muses arrived to dance and instruct Apollo. The choreography for the ballet mixed classical ballet formality and technique, with zany duck walking steps that jittered the dancers across the stage like player pieces in a 1970s electric football game.
Balanchine’s familiar ballet played out per usual with Kapitonova as Calliope the first to appear. She silently mouthed poetry as she danced in front of an indifferent looking Apollo. Former Dancer Theatre of Harlem principal dancer Fentroy as Polyhymnia came next. Performing high leg lifts and arabesque poses with the finger of one hand pressed to her lips, Fentroy was delightful in her solo that ended with her ecstatically throwing both arms above her head and then being surprised and embarrassed by her actions. Apollo, equally surprised, threw out his arms stiffly in front of him in a stance that said to her “stay back.”
Cirio as Terpsichore rounded out the Muse solos moving across the stage on pointe and pawing at the stage with one foot like a trick horse while plucking at her lyre to get Apollo’s attention. A solo by Arrais followed that exalted manly beauty. Athletic jumps and turns ended with him reclined as the index finger of one hand reached out toward Cirio in a pose reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting “The Creation of Adam.”
After a playful duet between Arrais and Cirio, the entire cast came together for one final scene that saw the three women acting like a team of horses that pulled Arrais behind them, and then them leaning on Arrais’s back, each lifting out one leg behind them at differing heights.
Equal to the best performances of the ballet I have seen, the cast embodied the mythological image of Greek immortals.
The program concluded with the “Grand Défilé” to music by P.I. Tchaikovsky. Another way of saying ballet’s most grandiose bows, the “Grand Défilé” saw the dancers in horizontal lines parading forward toward the camera to bow. Their bows not only thanking those that watched reSTART, but thanking all those who have given their continued to support the company.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.