Episodes with Mr. B: Boston Ballet’s Shades of Sound

Boston Ballet Principal, Dusty Button in motion.
Boston Ballet Principal, Dusty Button in motion.

Boston Ballet’s Shades of Sound, as I mentioned in my previous post, is a three course meal.  For me, watching Episodes, was like biting into something familiar but then not quite understanding what it was. Episodes was choreographed by George Balanchine (Mr. B) and premiered in May of 1959 with the New York City Ballet. Episodes is made up of four pieces. For, Symphony, Opus 21, Concerto, Opus 24, and Ricercata in Six Voices from Bach’s “Musical Offering”, the dancers are in a sort of “ballet school” uniform of theatrical pink tights, black tank style leotards and a ballet belt. Then there is an incongruous piece entitled Five Pieces, Opus 10, where principals Dusty Button and Lasha Khozashvili are still in black and white but seemed more in costume with a little bling and shiny lycra costumes.

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Balanchine’s Episodes danced by Boston Ballet in their Shades of Sound program: (left to right) Diana Albrecht, Junxiaong Zhao, Dawn Atkins, Matthew Slattery, Principal Whitney Jensen, Soloist Bradley Schlagheck, Lauren Herfindahl and Patrick Yocum.

I moved to New York (north of the city), from Canada, a little less than a decade after Balanchine passed away. Of course I knew of Balanchine, but I didn’t really know the force that was Balanchine until I moved to New York.  Going from watching my beloved National Ballet of Canada to now seeing New York City Ballet, I was introduced to a whole new vision; Balanchine’s vision. In high school, I had Allegra Kent as a ballet teacher and it was in her classes that I learned so much more about the dance and world of Mr. B.  Episodes took me through time and space and I felt like I was walking by a studio where Balanchine was teaching.  I could see repetition, corrections, and dancers marking enchainments in the piece.  For Balanchine, Episodes was about putting music into motion and painting a picture of this music that George Balanchine fell in love with: the orchestral works from Anton von Webern.

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Boston Ballet’s Diana Albrecht, Juxiong Zhoa, Dawn Atkins and Mathewy Slattery in Episodes.

It is true that in fact all three of the pieces in Shades of Sound have music that is not just danced to, but rather woven completely into each piece almost as an invisible corps de ballet performing on stage.  Just as an old painting is not only enjoyed for it’s beauty but it’s historical context that it shares, because Balanchine’s movement is so stylized, I think that is why for me it felt like a study of Balanchine.  The flexed feet reminded me of dancers marking movement in class.  I felt like if I were walking by the School of American Ballet (SAB) every day for a year, I would see little snippets of the class. Episodes felt like a time-lapse video of these moments.  Principal Whitney Jensen’s dancing glows.  She seems to have a spotlight on her and she brings a lightness and beauty to even the deepest penchée and partner work.  The men in Episodes also show a precision and strength in their partnering making each move seem effortless.  One of the dancers that really caught my eye for the first time is corps dancer Lauren Herfindahl.  Herfindahl had beautiful lines and I found her drawing my attention away from center stage to her dancing throughout Symphony, Opus 21.

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Principals Dusty Button and Lasha Khozashvili were in the second piece of Episodes, and somehow we went from strolling by SAB to some sort of jewelry or bank heist from Ocean’s 11. I suppose perhaps it’s what Balanchine saw in the music.  There is a sneakiness and urgency that comes out in Five Pieces, Opus 10.  Button and Khozashvili were not overshadowed by the drama in the music but rather rose to the occasion.  The duet had drama and humor and the partnering was flawless.

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In Concerto, Opus 21 Principals Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais were definitely the stars of this dance that began as a duo and ended with six dancers dancing as one. Cirio transforms herself so much in each piece she actually seemed to become a foot taller to match the iconic, tall Balanchine dancer.

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Ricercata in Six Voices from Bach’s “Musical Offering” reminds me of when ballet class goes to the center.  The elegant taller dancers in the corps are a perfect match for Balanchine’s choreography and Principals Ashley Ellis and Eris Nezha keep the simple narrative of the music moving forward floating in and out of the corps movement.

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Shades of Sound opened at the Boston Opera House on Thursday March, 19th and will run through Sunday, March 29th. Special performances include a Pre-Curtain Talk on Saturday, March 21st prior to the 7:30 performance and a Post-Performance chat with Mikko Nissinen on Thursday, March 26th after the 7:30 performance. Tickets start at $29.  For more information, visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955. For special seat upgrades, preview video clips and other treats visit Boston Ballet on Facebook.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. dancetoinspire says:

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    1. leahklein says:

      Definitely. I will check it out when I get a minute.

      Liked by 1 person

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