Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen indicated that he wanted the company’s second programme at the Coliseum to show more “in-your-face aggression and excitement” than the more neoclassical opening programme. His choices are works made in the last thirty years by living choreographers. Some (but not all) of his selections work brilliantly. He has the right idea but the wrong sequence. The programme opens with a storming account of William Forsythe’s The Second Detail, and moves on to a fine account of Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, familiar here in a recent production by the Royal Ballet. But the evening runs badly out of steam in Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura, billed as the emotional heart of the programme but failing to register much impact. If the running order had been reversed we would have left on a tremendous high. Nevertheless, the company was very warmly received.
One of the virtues of the group is that it really does look like a company that dances together all the time, a cohesive group with a common appetite and attack. In The Second Detail, the corps dancers surge forward with the same energy and purposefulness as any of the principals. Their good qualities are their energy, appetite for space and no-nonsense directness.
These were shown to good effect in a very clear and streamlined reading of Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. Wheeldon is acclaimed as one of our best hopes for the future of classical choreography, yet there is little consensus about what his best qualities are. But his Polyphonia is the work that is probably most admired.
This work for four couples may be his career equivalent of Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, a work where he achieved an ideal balance of invention, elegant abstraction and emotional undertow. It was very cleanly danced and the cast looked well able to cope with all the knotty intricacies of the tricky Ligeti score. But there was some emotional aspect which seemed to be slightly lacking. There’s a female solo, the only time the woman is left alone in the work (done by Ansanelli and then by Stix-Brunell in the Royal Ballet performances) which seemed a key point in it, implying something mysterious, melancholic, elusive. Though it was well danced here the emotional impact of that moment was diminished, the atmosphere somehow lacking.
Perhaps these qualities lay behind the lack of resonance of the final work on the programme, Kylian’s Bella Figura, made in 1995 for NDT. Emotional resonance may not be the company’s strongest point. The work is set to a collage of Baroque music. This programme does not have an orchestra in the pit, so perhaps here recorded music also limited the impact of the work. Or perhaps Kylian’s work from the 1990s has not worn so well as Forsyth’s for a London audience. The cast of nine works hard but it is not a rewarding experience.
We should remember them instead for a terrific account of The Second Detail. Here a cast of fourteen powered their way through Forsythe’s aggressive rewriting of the language of ballet, legs slicing through the air to the crunching accompaniment of Thom Willems’ soundtrack. The legs of the women are not just lifted: they fly up to the six o’clock position as if rocket propelled. The women look cool and reserved in their high necked pale blue costumes but these are open at the back to give a sudden sexy flash of flesh. The dancers look thoroughly at home and in command of the material, and seemed to relish every step. They eat up the great spaces of the Coliseum stage.
This was what the ballet future looked like in 1991 when it was made for the National Ballet of Canada. Forsythe was taking ballet steps, bending and shaping them to create an aggressive, energetic new form. When you see a performance this good where the performers seem completely at one with the material it makes Forsythe’s recent changes of direction all the more frustrating. If only there was more where this came from. Nevertheless we should be happy to see Boston Ballet’s performances of it. I hope the company return to London, and if they do, I hope they bring some other Forsythe work.