If you look up at the corner of the grandiose London Coliseum, the venue for one of the Boston Ballet’s fiftieth anniversary shows, you will see a number of statues of lions, shackled and restrained. Now I have never been a huge fan of the ballet, and for me that image embodies why. Ballet dancers are almost unquestionably the most physically powerful individuals across any career, sporting or otherwise. Yet my experience of ballet is that a lot of what is performed is overly contained and controlled. I can appreciate the skill and level of technique taking place, but I look at these individuals who could do almost anything with their bodies and feel like I am watching something relatively soulless.
Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen discusses in the programme his belief that “art is a window into the future.” Watching the first act, Serenade, I was somewhat underwhelmed; the ballet was traditional and fundamentally enjoyable, but some of the ensemble moments lacked a basic cohesion, and there seemed to be little emotional depth to the piece. Ashley Ellis’ command of the stage and engagement with her character was a joy to watch, but on the whole the piece felt slightly directionless and passive.
Thankfully after this fairly uninspiring opening, the performance suddenly burst into life. Afternoon of a Faun followed and was enchanting in its simplicity. Altan Dugaraa’s depiction of the young animal was precise and primitive. The piece was short but his inspired portrayal captured the innocent curiosity of the faun superbly. Proof that less is sometimes more.
Then the following piece proved that, whilst less is more, more can also be… well more. Plan to B was choreographed by the highly sought-after Jorma Elo, and depicted the pace and agitation of the society we live in. Lit by the glare of an over-sized television screen on one side, the piece runs at a frenetic pace, pushing the boundaries of shape and movement commonly expected in ballet. Flavours of hip hop and street dance seemed to be infused within it, but the control and precision of the balletic form remained. What this created was a truly breathtaking spectacle that moved at breakneck speed.
While I felt that all the performers in it were exceptional, a mention must go to Lia Cirio, who combined an almost unnatural style of movement with faultless poise to create something at once controlled and free. This was the ballet I had been hoping to see, the lions finally free from their shackles. There was a passion and turmoil about the whole piece that kept the audience gripped because it was something they related to on an instinctive human level. It was beautifully raw.
So it was a shame when the final piece slightly reverted back to the more traditional style. There was some nice work and it had more substance than the opening piece but it didn’t explode with the impact of Elo’s work
What the Boston Ballet has done is inspiring and the company is an eclectic mix of dancers who work well together. Their commonplace ballet is good and they are all exceptional dancers, but it doesn’t make you want to jump up off your seat and beg for more. Elo’s work is alive and real, it struck a chord with the audience en masse demonstrated by the uproarious appreciation of it. I believe that Nissinen’s company does offer a glimpse through a window into the potential future of a mesmerising style of ballet. But they are on the precipice of something stunning which, if they are bold with it, could be perfection.
The Boston Ballet is playing at the London Coliseum until the 7 of July. For more information and tickets, see The Boston Ballet website.