Mirror Mirror On the Wall Who’s the Fiercest of Them All?

Boston Ballet in Karole Armitage's Bitches Brew; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in Karole Armitage’s Bitches Brew; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Even though Swan Lake is still on, Boston Ballet’s Mirrors has also opened and like Odette and Odile the shows’ “personalities” could not be more different.  While Swan Lake is a classic story ballet, Mirrors is a quartet of pieces including two world premieres and a piece four decades old that still resonates today.  Part of why I write about the ballet is to share my love of it, and to encourage everyone to see something they have never seen before. Just as the Bach Cello Suites were well suited for music lovers.  This whole program is a “musician’s program”.  From a duo of pianos to Miles Davis, the music is as interesting as the dancing.  Boston Ballet provided tickets for me to be able to write about Mirrors. As always, all opinions are my own.  Please note that this was the cast for May 7th and that casts change for different performances.  I love to see the different casts do the same pieces but cannot always make time to see multiple performances.  Casting info (always subject to some change) is available on the Boston Ballet site here.

Lia Cirio of Boston Ballet in José Martinez's Resonance; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Lia Cirio of Boston Ballet in José Martinez’s Resonance; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Mirrors opened with Resonance, a piece choreographed by José Martinez and danced to the music of Franz Liszt played by a duo of pianists, Alex Foaksman and Freda Locker.  The world premiere of Resonance was in February, two years ago for Boston Ballet’s Close to Chuck. Resonance gives the audience so much to absorb by both their visual and auditory senses.  The lighting is like the strongest Instagram filters playing with what you see and what you don’t.  At some point you find yourself drawn to the shadows of the dancers as the dancers themselves seem to drift away from the spotlight. Resonance in its entirety has a modern beauty; it was not the kind of beauty that is delicate, frilly and ephemeral.  It was a clean, simple and strong kind of beauty.

Lawrence Rines, Patrick Yocum, Dusty Button, and Bo Busby of Boston Ballet in José Martinez's Resonance; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Lawrence Rines, Patrick Yocum, Dusty Button, and Bo Busby of Boston Ballet in José Martinez’s Resonance; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

You expect to see the dancers move, and the do. Dusty Button is an orb of electricty and her movement seems to flash through the space like the flicker of a strobe light. Lia Cirio‘s dancing in Resonance has a clean, precise, but soft beauty that I have never noticed in her dancing before. More unexpected, is the shifting of the space and the sound.  The walls shift throughout the piece. The set and the costumes are simple but the movement of the space, the music and the dancers creates something complex and powerful.  In addition to the duets, the quartet of Maria Alvarez, Ji Young Chae, Anaïs Chalendard and Seo Hye Han, danced so well together playing off of each other’s movement and staying sychronized despite their slightly different styles and varied statures. In this first piece corps members Lauren Herfindahl and Marcus Romeo caught my attention as well and Herfindahl continued to do so throughout the program.  I think in the coming years they will be ones to watch!

Lia Cirio and Eris Nezha of Boston Ballet in Norbert Vesak's Belong; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Belong is a stunning duet performed by Petra Conti and Eris Nezha.  I don’t know if it is the choreography and the pieces as a while, but like Lia Cirio in Resonance, Petra Conti seemed to have a joyfulness in her dancing that I haven’t seen to that extent.  The music for Belong is a peculiar mix of orchestral and synthesizer sounds by the Canadian worldbeat band Syrinx. The duet is close and comfortably intimate. The airiness off the movement almost feels like a skydiving ballet and the audience is falling with them. Petra Conti and Eris Nezha could be flying through the air together but are so connected and focused on one another that they don’t even notice. The duo are perfectly grounded by one another. Belong has some unique and beautiful lifts that the pair perform without missing a heartbeat.

Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky's Smoke and Mirrors; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky’s Smoke and Mirrors; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Smoke and Mirrors is choreographed by Yury Yanowsky who just retired from dancing with the Boston Ballet company last year. It seems that Yanowsky doesn’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement from the company because he has been busy playing with smoke and mirrors. This piece is seamless and doesn’t feel like a début at all. It is richer and more precise more masterpiece than début.  Whereas, Belong has unique lifts, Smoke and Mirrors takes the next step by creating a whole new way of lifting. Dancers have corsets with loops that can be used like handles, which changes the fulcrum for unique swings, lifts, and held positions.  The piece feels apocolyptic but then mid-way there is a sense of hopefulness that emerges both with the music and movement.

Anaïs Chalendard and Sabi Varga of Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky's Smoke and Mirrors; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Anaïs Chalendard and Sabi Varga of Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky’s Smoke and Mirrors; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Sabi Varga and Anaïs Chalendard stand out as their movement together is so strong and tight.  Chalendard does these slightly mad tic-like movements perfectly and then transitions back to beautiful, long flowing lifts.  John Lam and Ji Young Chae are another duo of exceptional dancers with amazing connection. Lam’s isolations are sharp and perfectly timed echoing his partner Ji Young Chae.  Isaac Akiba demonstarted a new level of control and depth to his dancing in Smoke and Mirrors.

Ji-Young Chae and John Lam of Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky's Smoke and Mirrors; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Ji-Young Chae and John Lam of Boston Ballet in Yury Yanowsky’s Smoke and Mirrors; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Both John Lam and Ji Young Chae impressed in both world premieres.  John Lam has such perfect lines and elevated jumps.  He dances as if dancing is like breathing for him. It seems so natural yet is so polished.  Ji Young Chae shows a new side of her dancing in Bitches Brew.

Boston Ballet in Karole Armitage's Bitches Brew; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Boston Ballet in Karole Armitage’s Bitches Brew; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Bitches Brew, as jazz lovers will easily figure out, is danced to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.  The music is fierce with just an occasional hint of that classically velvety sound that jazz has. Bitches Brew is choregraphed by Karole Armitage, who has been dubbed the “punk ballerina”.  This piece is punk meets jazz meets fierce femininity.  The “main character” of the piece was danced by Ji Young Chae who had mask-like facial expressions and long flowing hair.  In contrast with the other dancers who had tightly swept back hair with blunt cut coloured bangs.  The dancers all look like they’ve been dipped in mercury and then dipped again toe first in various bright colours up to their calves. Armitage worked with fashion designer Peter Speliopoulos, former senior VP of Design for DKNY to design these gun metal lycra leotards. The exception is Ji Young Chae who is literally darker with no added colours and edgier in her movement.  Her character is less playful, but has a fierce beauty.  It isn’t easy to identify who is who underneath all those bangs, but Ashley Ellis‘ personality shines through her pink bangs and the wit and sass matches the neon pink she is wearing.  It is also interesting to see Misa Kuranaga among the sea of “bang shakers”.

Ashley Ellis and Dusty Button of Boston Ballet in Karole Armitage's Bitches Brew; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet
Ashley Ellis and Dusty Button of Boston Ballet in Karole Armitage’s Bitches Brew; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

The music has jazzy ramble with no clear destination and the piece seems to just roll along with the music notes.  I love that the wings of the stage are all along the back with dancers coming straight forward onto stage and skipping back away.This piece really highlights some of what Boston Ballet excels at.  I love the pantomime, tradition, and hommage to the historic ballets and Boston Ballet does them well, but not every company has room for the individuality that Boston Ballet has.  It is this celebration of the individual that allows Boston Ballet to excel in some of these contemporary  (and can we say mid-century modern for ballet?) pieces.  Bitches Brew is definitely hard to put into words.  You’re better off just going for the experience yourself.

All performances of Mirrors take place at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111). Remaining performances are:

  • Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 7:30 pm
  • Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 7:30 pm
  • Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 1 pm
  • Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 7:30 pm
  • Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 1 pm
  • Friday, May 27, 2016 at 7:30 pm
  • Saturday, May 28, 2016 at 1 pm

Tickets start at $35. For more information, visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955.

Mirrors performance length is approximately 2 hours with two intermissions.

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