After Programme 1’s Balanchine awesomeness, the Boston Ballet’s Programme 2 brought – post-Balanchine awesomeness! Specifically, William Forsythe’s The Second Detail (1991) and Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia (2001). Then there was some non-awesomeness, but more on that later.
Forsythe’s stage is set with chairs along the back, and at the front is a placard which says “THE”. What the…? At the end, a dancer kicks the placard over, so I guess it was laden with significance, but I couldn’t think of any without straining my brain (if “the” is at the front, is everything else “second detail”? Is the dance a “definite article”?).
But I happily ditched the question, because the dance was the thing. The good thing. The stage and the costumes are spare, all slate tones and sleek leotards. According to Roslyn Sulcas in the New York Times, there are quotes from several Balanchine works in Second Detail, but the connection I made was simply to the last Balanchine of Programme 1: Symphony in Three Movements. In both pieces, characters and individual relations aren’t that important: the focus is on the formations, the larger dynamic patterns. But where Symphony was Balanchine channelling the brassiness of Broadway and the pep of cheerleaders, Second Detail was Forsythe channelling… what, exactly?
Hmm… it reminded me of dancers on TV shows. There’s a lot of sleek and rhythmic formation dancing, ballet technique spiced with cheeky wiggles and juts, and Thom Willems’ stuttering score – chunks and smears of sound laid over unpredictable down- and offbeats – has the synthesised, highly “produced” feel of a mid-80s Jam and Lewis album. The final number even features the corps clustering around a contrasting woman in white, who gets down, rolls her hips and lets rip a bit, like a soul singer fronting a backing group. And then I got it: Second Detail is Forsythe channelling Solid Gold, the American chart show with its famous dance group. Filter their lippy aerobic energy, sexy syncopations and 80s gloss through Willems’ oddbeats and into Forsythe’s high abstraction, brilliantly dynamic configurations and skewy ballet style, part high-tech part off-the-cuff – and frankly, what’s not to like?
Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia is an altogether more introspective affair, a suite of small-scale dances to piano music by György Ligeti. It is exquisitely constructed, tapping the music’s wayward lines and irregular rhythms. Some of it is elegant neoclassicism, but it’s more interesting when it gets odder and more awkward: upside-down postures, strange inversions and rewinds, sticky-out limbs. “Polyphonia” accurately indicates a compositional style of overlapping, interweaving voices, but it also suggests “polyp” – and there’s certainly more than a hint of sealife here, the dancers evoking anemone fronds, crustacean clusters, drifting creatures. Polyphonia has already been seen in London several times (it’s in the Royal Ballet rep), but it was well worth seeing it again.
Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura is considered a great work of art by some – by many! – and I cannot fathom why. Is it me? Partly, of course. But not just me. Kylián has publicly ranted against critics, London critics in particular (specifically, Financial Times critic Clement Crisp, but he doesn’t name names) for their – I mean, our – professional and personal failings. So perhaps I am part of a milieu that, for whatever reason, does not or cannot “get” his work. Keep that in mind, while I have a quick rant.
Bella Figura is beautiful, but hollow. Not just beautiful: sumptuous. And not just hollow: vacuous. The stately music (Pergolesi, Vivaldi and others) casts a shroud of antique seriousness over the proceedings. The dance style sticks “gestural” inflections – flickery feet, shivers, open-and-shut-mouths and meaningful looks – onto classical lines and flows, and the actions are linked together in what to me feel like simply enchaînements: that is, movements linked together. One thing after another. Meanwhile, there are grandiloquent poetic conceits at work in the staging. The rise and fall, opening and drawing of curtains frames and reframes the stage action – a device that is swollen with significance, but curiously inconsequential. There are topless numbers (for both women and men), crimson skirts, portentously raised shoulders that are, portentously, lowered again. At the end, the stage is flanked by giant cauldrons of flame. Like the dance, they look strikingly beautiful and highly symbolic, but what are they for? I saw hot air, and smoke.
Rant over. Obviously, I didn’t get on with Bella Figura, but maybe I just don’t “get it”. Anyway, you don’t need to take me at my word.