A Third, A Musical Third and a Balletic First: Boston Ballet’s North American Premiere

In music, a third is a beautiful thing.  It is a simple little interval that hops from do (c) to mi (e). It comes in majors and minors and we hear them in old nursery rhymes and popular music.  In John Neumeier’s The Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler, the choreographer takes things that we take for granted when listening to music and highlights them through movement.

In this North American Premiere, Boston Ballet performs The Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler intertwining music and movement even more closely than any other ballet I have seen.  When you get lost in music, it washes over you and takes you out of a time and space.  The Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler does more than that.  With John Neumeier’s choreography you  are at once lost in the music and also completely present as the dancers’ movement highlights the symphony itself.  It is an emotional journey of sight and sound.

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There are themes in movement as there are themes in the music that appear and reappear throughout the symphony.
There are themes in movement as there are themes in the music that appear and reappear throughout the symphony.

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The dancing asks you to hear the themes in the music.  The dancers ask you to join them in absorbing the music by bearing witness to the power, the tenderness, the playfulness as well as the emotions that each of these moments evoke.

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There are moments of tenderness throughout the piece that sing with the music and even without a story tug on your heart strings.
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A head on a shoulder or a full embrace. It is something everyone can relate to and feel.

Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler is an orchestral performance as well as a ballet. It is as if you are listening to the symphony with a close friend or family member.  You are sitting with someone who loves music and wants to share the experience with you. They lean in and whispers to you “Do you hear that sadness coming from the strings?” “Doesn’t this sound like the moment just before sunrise?” “How playful is this part, doesn’t it just make you want to do a little jig?”

The movement is literal sometimes and other times the melody alludes to a mood or a moment.
The movement is literal sometimes and other times the melody alludes to a mood or a moment. The legs reverberate here as the vibrato from the instruments rises from the orchestra pit.

There are times when you can actually see the vibrato of the instruments in the dancer’s bodies. You see crescendos and all the dynamic notations that sit atop the musical staff.

Anaïs Chalendard, Paulo Arrais, and Lasha Khozashvili performing a spectacular lift.
Anaïs Chalendard, Paulo Arrais, and Lasha Khozashvili performing a spectacular lift.

John Neumeier’s choreography includes some unique and spectacular lifts and human pyramids but there are also classic ballet partnering moments. This careful weaving of contemporary and new with classical and familiar makes the audience experience rich and effortless. This truly is a performance to be experienced with the heart and the senses while you let the mind have a night off. Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler is divided into six movements with titles, but I chose to ignore the titles and in fact, I didn’t look at them or read about them before the performance.  As I mentioned before, John Neumeier, created Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler as a completely new form of work. The emphasis was on the expression without words. As soon as we read those words in the program, it becomes much harder for us to let go of them.

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Erica Cornejo and Lasha Khozashvili in a spectacular turning lift.
A beautifully executed more traditional lift with Bradly Schlagheck and XXXXX
A beautifully executed more traditional lift with Eris Nezha and Dusty Button.

The only time that the performance really pushes the boundaries for the audience is when the music is taken away. The vacuum it creates as the music disappears can be a difficult one to fill. The dancers movement and breath are the only thing to fill the Opera house. Anaïs Chalendard, Paulo Arrais and Lasha Khozashvili fill the void but this movement without music forces the audience to gain a greater awareness of themselves in the space as well. This silent Night is the fourth piece within Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler and it offsets the final two magically.

Boston Ballet’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler will be performed at the Boston Opera House through November 1st only.  This is an extremely intense work for the company as well as the orchestra.  Catch a performance while you can. Participating in a live performance is priceless, but if you are on a budget you can find some tips here for discounted tickets.

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