Last week I had my very first trip to the Boston Ballet. My first trip to see any ballet since far too many trips to The Nutcracker as a teenager. I’ve been immersed in reading about ballet for months and I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see one live. I chose to attend the dress rehearsal so that I could bring my camera and maybe get a few pictures of the Boston Opera House and the dancers on stage.
When you think of attending a ballet, you probably imagine a super swanky crowd and a few dull hours of girls in tutus. But this performance is actually three short dances (with two intermissions) that provide a really fantastic set of modern and traditional music and choreography mixed together. If you’ve never been to a ballet, you’ll find there’s a lot more than you could have expected. This is a great show for a newbie.
First: the Boston Opera House. It’s nearly 100 years old and was completely restored in 2004. It’s got great history and it’s in great shape. (It’s the home not only to the Boston Ballet, but to many of the touring Broadway shows that come through town.) I could’ve stared at their light fixtures all day…
It’s not so big that the seats in the back feel too far away. The chairs were all in great condition, too.
The three ballets in Shades of Sound are all relatively modern. It began with Chroma choreographed by Wayne McGregor with music that includes orchestrations of The White Stripes. It premiered in 2006 and feels distinctly modern. Some may even call it more modern dance than ballet.
All three of the pieces, including Chroma, have specific costumes and sets to go with them. Chroma is perhaps the most distinctive, with its strange shapeless costumes and bright white background. It also has the most distinctive choreography. The dancers aren’t wearing toe shoes or tights. Their muscles are visible, if anything they’re often emphasized by their movements. It’s a very visceral and physical ballet, the steps vary from animalistic (several are very birdlike) to sensual to awkward. It ignores much of the typical masculine and feminine roles, and when the dancers break into groups there are often men dancing with men and lifting each other instead of just the typical male/female partnerships.
The bright white lights and sets meant I got my best pictures here, though I was sitting a little bit too close. (Note to attendees, sit at least 5 rows back if you want to see people’s feet.)
This was the piece I loved the most. The music was sometimes melodic, sometimes atonal, and the movement had the same mix of traditional and unusual. It was always unexpected and always interesting and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. If you’d like to get a little taste of Chroma, you can see this excerpt from the Royal Ballet.
After Chroma comes Episodes, the most well-known piece of the 3, dated 1959 and choreographed by George Balanchine to the music of Anton von Webern. The music is spare and distinctly modern, the dancing looks much more like a traditional ballet. There are toe-shoes and tights, but the typical ballet movements are punctuated with bursts of angular and blunt steps. The women often do a play on a doll, pointing their feet and knees in instead of out. There are several rounds, where one dancer starts a series of steps, then another starts it a few beats behind, then another, then another. The usual synchronicity of the corps de ballet is not what you’ll get here.
Like Chroma, Episodes has a few distinct segments with different pieces of music and different combinations of dancers. All the costumes are black and white and the sections range from more traditional to more modern. Each piece stands alone but they work together as well.
I couldn’t get much from my camera, it was a bit too dark for my lens, so here I’m borrowing lovely photos from my friend Nikki Myers.
Closing out the evening is Black Cake, originally performed in 1989. It’s choreographed by Hans van Manen and has a variety of music, including Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. Yet again, the performers are in different costumes and different shoes. This time the men are in head to toe black and the women wear black dresses in all different fabrics with high heeled shoes.
Much of Black Cake looks like a ballroom dance, there are bits of foxtrot and quickstep and waltz peppered all through it. The piece itself takes the conceit of a ballet that tells the story of a party or event, but plays with the idea by letting the party get a little bit out of control the way these things sometimes do. There’s a fighting couple, there’s a surly waiter, and everyone has a little bit too much to drink. A great way to end the evening with a little bit of lightheartedness.
I only took one picture because I thought they weren’t turning out. Big mistake. It’s not half bad given the light! Wish I’d had more, it was such a lively and delightful dance.
You can see a little teaser from Universal Ballet Korea that saves the best jokes but still gives you a feel for the dances.
You’ll have to hurry, Shades of Sound is only running until March 29th. Tickets start at $29.
Thanks to Boston Ballet for inviting me to their dress rehearsal!