Step Outside & Get Lost in Willliam Forsythe’s Artifact: Boston Ballet will be Remembered for This

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MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA.

We just got back from a visit to MASS MoCA and if you have never been, you need to go.  If you have been, you know what it feels like to walk through this unique museum of contemporary art.  The setting is an old textile mill along the river.  It is a very long and slightly maze-like building with rooms of all sizes showcasing art of a variety of different media.  MASS MoCA is a museum for art lovers and those who are “afraid” of art. The space and types of work they have on display works for humans of all ages realists, surrealists, optimists and pessimists alike.  Unlike a more traditional art museum or gallery that has the wing with art from a certain era or region, walking through MASS MoCA feels less like a lesson and more like a day dream. Artifact is just like that.  It is beautiful and philosphical.  It wavers from whimsical and humourous to serious and thought-provoking.

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Isaac Akiba, John Lam, Daniel Cooper, and Lawrence Rines of Boston Ballet in William Forsythe’s Artifact. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

I was provided tickets for review to Boston Ballet‘s performance, which is the North American premiere of William Forsythe’s full length Artifact. It is a spoken word piece, a ballet, a concerto, an artwork all in one.  The music, a compilation of compositions by Eva Crossman-Hecht, “Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D Minor” by J.S. Bach, and a sound collage by Forsythe, had hints of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto and Elgar’s Cello concerto as well.  There is silence as well as beautiful melodic moments but the silence never feels awkward. It is there to help you take it all in and prepare you for what is coming next. At times, the music takes on a tantric monotone sound and the movement is highlighted.  At other moments the dancers become the music.

Many contemporary ballets are jarring to the senses with cacophonous accompaniments and awkward movements.  Artifact is none of those things.  There is grace and beauty and although there is no storyline per se there is a clear progression from preface to finale.

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Seo Hye Han and Paul Craig of Boston Ballet in William Forsythe’s Artifact. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

The precision of Forsythe’s choreography was clear and perfectly executed by the Boston Ballet Company.  The dancing was flawless as was the musicality.  Forsythe’s work leaves no room for error in both musicality and artistry. Boston Ballet recently promoted several of their dancers, but in a ballet like this the strength is in the group more so than the individuals.  Soloists and principals are dancing side by side with the corps that is usually their backdrop.  It is refreshing.  There are still some stunning work by soloists and gorgeous gravity defying duets but the are more tightly knit into the larger group dances.

The audience is represented on stage by various characters. Caralin Curcio was mysterious and powerful as the woman in grey.  Curcio silenced the room and drew us out of our daily chit chat as the performance began.  Dana Caspersen’s performance as the Woman in Historical Dress was quite extraordinary as a narrator, conductor, and main character of sorts with an unbelievable difficult ‘script’. Nicholas Champion partners with Caspersen perfectly as the Man with Megaphone intentionally shuffling alongside his diva mumbling loudly and unclearly through his megaphone.

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Boston Ballet’s Reina Sawai and Nicholas Champion in William Forsythe’s Artifact. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

I found the lighting a little dark in Part I (-IV) but it was no doubt intentional giving the dancers an intangible two-dimensional feel with the movement of their arms and faces highlighted in particular.  Part II, which comes after Part I-IV, was like a sunrise.  The stage was glowing.  Keeping the audience intrigued and perhaps slightly confused a dark skrim would drop periodically throughout the dance.  Almost like waking up in the morning and then drifting back to sleep.  Do you wonder what you are missing behind the dark screen as the music and movement continues or do you let go and create your own reverie?

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Stager Kathryn Bennetts, choreographer William Forsythe, and Boston Ballet in rehearsal for Artifact; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

If an artists tells you his work is about a ballet being a ballet you take his word for it.  This is a performance, like many of the more contemporary works, that you want to absorb, inhale, and feel, but not overthink.  The plays on word, rhythm and movement not only talk about life on stage, but to me they also spoke to the dance we do through the everyday of our lives. I believe that the arts are incredibly powerful and important and if there is ever a time to put a spotlight on experience, memory and perception, this is that time.  Do you hear what she said? Do you see what he sees? Did you think what they thought?  Did she say what she meant? Did he mean what he said?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again.  Contemporary ballets are some of the most exciting works.  If you are new to contemporary pieces Artifact is an excellent first experience because it has so much beauty for all the senses.

All performances of Artifact 2017 take place at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111):

Thursday, Feb 23 at 7:30 pm
Friday, Feb 24 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Feb 25 at 1 pm
Saturday, Feb 25 at 7:30 pm*
Sunday, Feb 26 at 1 pm
*Post-show talk with Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen and artists

Tickets start at $35. For more information, visit bostonballet.org or call 617.695.6955. Artifact 2017 is approximately 2 hours with one intermission.

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