Thrill of Contact: Boston Ballet’s Season Finishes with Agility, Grace and Guffaws

Dusty Button in The Concert.
Dusty Button in The Concert.

This year, Boston Ballet gave their mixed bill programs titles to highlight a common thread among each of the varied works on the bill.  These titles gave you a sense of what to expect, but allowed the programs to span the decades and step in and out of different styles of music, dance, costumes, and choreographic works.  Thrill of Contact could have just as aptly been called The Need for Speed. This program has some of the most challenging choreography from both classics such as Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and contemporary choreographers as in Jeffrey Cirio’s fremd.

Balanchine's Theme and Variations
Balanchine’s Theme and Variations

I was invited to see Thrill of Contact by the ballet, but as always, all opinions are my own. I know I’ve said this before, but Thrill of Contact is another great opportunity for someone who has only seen the classical “story ballets” to try something different.  Watching Thrill of Contact, reminded me a bit of a lazy Sunday afternoon in a cushioned rattan chair on some grand porch, a chilled cocktail on the side table and a copy of The New Yorker in my hands and no plans for the rest of the day.

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Principals Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, part of Boston Ballet’s Thrill of Contact program.

When I go to the ballet and think about how to write about each program, throughout the program I take notes about what I see, how I feel, and ideas I have about ways to share the experience.  After seeing Thrill of Contact twice, I decided that it was definitely The New Yorker …and then, Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen stole my thunder.  After the show on Friday, during the post performance discussion, the very last question asked was about Jerome Robbins’ inspiration for The Concert. Mikko Nissinen pointed out how The Concert is “us”.  It is that cartoon-worthy cast of characters that come and go to the theatre, opera, ballet, and symphony.  So The New Yorker it is and let me explain a little bit more about what I mean.

Jerome Robbins The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody).
Jerome Robbins The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody).

The New Yorker has a wonderful mix of in-depth articles, contemporary prose or fiction, and then there are the famous New Yorker cartoons. There is always an article or two that you clip and copy to send to someone you know will truly appreciate it.  There are the cartoons you cut out and put on your fridge or your Facebook wall because you want everyone to share a laugh.  Thrill of Contact is kind of like that.  You want everyone to see The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude to talk about everything from the costume design to the meaning and motive of William Forsythe.  You want to discuss the intricacies of fremd.  You want to laugh together about the characters in The Concert.  You want to reminisce about the beauty and feeling of being swept away by the energy and grace of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.

Principal Misa Kuranaga in Balanchine's Theme and Variations.
Principal Misa Kuranaga in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.

Theme and Variations was choreographed by Balanchine in 1947.  It is a “tutu dance” that has gorgeous costumes and classic Balanchine dancing.  This is an extremely difficult and fast paced piece that I wouldn’t have realized except for a few imperfections that Friday night.  The choreography, as confirmed in the post-performance talk, is some of the most difficult to dance of any other piece, but because the dancing itself is so airy and light the audience is easily fooled.

Principal Jeffrey Cirio in Balanchine's Theme and Variations.
Principal Jeffrey Cirio in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.
Jeffrey Cirio choreographed fremd which premiered as part of Thrill of Contact.  Pictured here is Second Soloist Altan Dugaraa.
Jeffrey Cirio choreographed fremd which premiered as part of Thrill of Contact. Pictured here is Second Soloist Altan Dugaraa.

fremd premiered in this program on May 14th, 2015. fremd, in constrast to Theme and Variations has simple costumes and many influences in both style of dancing and choreography.  fremd is choreographed by Jeffrey Cirio who is also a principal dancer at Boston Ballet.

Principals John Lam and Kathleen Breen Combes in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude
Principals John Lam and Kathleen Breen Combes in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude
William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. (left to right) Principal Kathleen Breen Combes, Principal John Lam, Second Soloist Bo Busby, Principal Erica Cornejo.
William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. (left to right) Principal Erica Cornejo, Principal John Lam, Second Soloist Bo Busby, Principal Kathleen Breen Combes , Principal Misa Kuranaga.

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was choreographed by William Forsythe in 1996.  William Forsythe is known for his fascination with Balanchine’s style and for his ability to twist and reshape the movement vocabulary of classical ballet.

Principal Kathleen Breen Combes in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, part of Boston Ballet's Thrill of Contact.
Principal Kathleen Breen Combes in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, part of Boston Ballet’s Thrill of Contact.
The Concert choreographed by Jerome Robbins has the audience laughing out loud throughout the piece.
The Concert choreographed by Jerome Robbins has the audience laughing out loud throughout the piece.

The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody) was choreographed by Jerome Robbins in 1956.  It is a pantomime ballet with a wonderful cast of characters.  The acting is not overshadowed by the choreography or dancing though with both characters and choreography playing a starring role throughout.

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Boston Ballet’s Thrill of Contact is playing through May 24th.  Tickets can be purchased in advance here and you can find out more about discounts and group rates here.

Please note that for the performance on Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 there will be a Pre-Curtain Talk: Join moderator Russell Kaiser, Boston Ballet Assistant Artistic Director, with Principal Dancer Lasha Khozashvili,  and Company Members Dawn Atkins and Lauren Herfindahl prior to the evening performance to hear their insights on Thrill of Contact.

*This informal discussion is free for all the evening’s ticket holders and is held at Boston Opera House one hour before the 7:30 pm performance. Guest speakers subject to change*

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