Emotion, Drama and Beauty: Boston Ballet’s Obsidian Tear

Boston Ballet provided tickets to Obsidian Tear for my review. 

I am a researcher by nature.  I like to know the background and history and meaning of things.  On the other hand, sometimes I like  go to the ballet without any hints of what I am about to see.  I want to experience it in the moment.  So, I headed into the Boston Opera House with an open mind and heart ready to see Boston Ballet’s season début: Obsidian Tear and the world premiere of Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius.

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Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

I did get a spoiler when I heard a radio spot on NPR talking about Obsidian Tear (as in rip). I had been reading it as tear (as in little drops that fall from your eyes). Upon further investigation, the program said you could decide for yourself and so I would.

This was Boston Ballet‘s first performance of the 2017-2018 season.  Boston Ballet’s year always begins with something new and exciting before they take the audience back in time to a classic for Nutcracker season.  The performance wasn’t impeccable but it was pretty close!  The dancers are back in full force with veteran Boston Ballet dancers Paulo Arrais, Paul Craig, Roddy Doble, Lasha Khozashvili, Laurence Rines, Irlan Silva, Matthew Slattery, Patrick Yocum, Ashley Ellis, Misa Kuranaga, Lia Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, John Lam, and Junxiong Zhao among many others.

The first “dancer” in Obsidian Tear is actually guest conductor Daniel Stewart. The performance begins with the conductor and the orchestra performing an overture to Obsidian Tear. I love this because it allows you to settle into the space and remove yourself from the outside world. You begin to make room in your body to take in something new that you are about to hear, see and experience. Obsidian Tear is an all male piece which provides the opportunity for unique lifts and partnering.  Boston Ballet newcomer Patric Palkens débuts with veteran dancers in this piece as well.  The music starts off weepy, but it is quickly clear to me that this piece is more about the tear (rip) than the tear (cry).

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Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

In Obsidian Tear, there is a coming together of two parts in the opening movement but as the dance continues there is a sense of separation, of removal, of taking a symbiotic or perhaps parasitic relationship and ripping one part from the other.  The movement begins with tenderness but devolves and becomes ferocious and harsh.  I got a sense of someone cutting out a part of themselves. Whether it is the head separating from the heart or a physical removal of a parasite of some sort I don’t quit know.  As one side grows the other is pushed out until eventually it disappears completely.  The result of this action is yours to ponder, but the dance reveals the outcome. We are constantly at battle with ourselves are we not?

As for the costumes, the simple black and red palate reminds me of a runway show. The stark colors show off the different silhouettes in each outfit.  The costumes gave the dance dimension beyond the movement without interfering with it.  Designers Vivienne Westwood, Craig Green, Telfar, Christopher Shannon, Julius, Gareth Pugh and Hood by Air were brought together in this one piece creating one seamless fashion line.

Obsidian Tear is a co-production with The Royal Ballet. The world premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Obisidian Tear was May 28th, 2016 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

The Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, was beautiful and playful.  I saw it as a tongue in cheek piece, but with none of the slapstick of other comedic ballets.  The Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius was the dance equivalent of someone walking through the Louvre and dragging their hand along the wall tipping all the paintings and the perhaps hanging a few upside down or side-ways.

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Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Choreographer Jorma Elo took familiar grande moments of ballet and gave them a new point of view.  Classic moments when dancers leap across the stage or pose in unison, or when partners perform dramatic lifts were tweaked.  He stretched the movement out or tipped them on their side.  Classic art is a wonderful thing to witness, but classic art from a new perspective is even more magical. As I learned recently in the context of photography, we see things from the same angle all the time. Our heads are on top of our shoulders and we rarely flip sideways or upside down for a new point of view.  But, when artists force us to do so we can’t help but smile or have an enlightening moment.

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Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Principal Ashley Ellis was a wonderful conductor of the playfulness on stage. She set the tone for the piece.  As I have mentioned before, I love seeing the principal dancers together in pieces like this.  Typically you will see one or two of the principal dancer in a single performance, but they each have their own dance “colour” and together they make an amazing collage. John Lam and Misa Kuranaga had some incredible lifts that seemed to defy both gravity and reason while still creating something beautiful.  At times Misa Kuranaga, Lia Cirio and Kathleen Breen Combes were a unified “power corps” but within their partnering with John Lam, Paul Craig and Junxiong Zhao they still had their individual ballet voices shining through.

All performances of Obsidian Tear take place at the Boston Opera House.  Performances run through November 12th and tickets start at $35.  Obsidian Tear is approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.

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