Gallop, don’t saunter, to see Boston’s Ballet magnificent three-piece production “Wings Of Wax”, featuring works by Balanchine, Kylián, and Ekman, running at the Boston Opera House until April 2.
The show opens with a luminous plain blue background that showcases 11 dancers in the sweetest pink and blue costumes (courtesy of the Miami City Ballet). George Balanchine’s pleasing choreography to the music – romantic excerpts from Gaetano Donizetti’s final opera, Donizetti Variations – provides a sense of innocent joy touched with comedic moments. We are served a mix of playful trios and duets, the highlight of which is the delicate grace of principal dancer Misa Kuranaga with her outstanding duet partner soloist Junxiong Zhao. Interesting postscript: Donizetti Variations is one of the first pieces the Boston Ballet ever performed back in the ‘60s. It remains a delightful confection.
The second piece is Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax. In contrast to the plain stage in the opening performance, the curtain opens on a large upside-down leafless tree hanging from the rafters by its roots and circled in never-ending rotations by a huge spotlight. The 8 dancers are all in black and the lighting comes from piercing spotlights, mostly from above. The score – a passionate quilt of selections from Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, John Cage, Philip Glass, and J.S. Bach – showcases the stunning musicality of Kylián’s choreography.
The movements of the dancers are odd and beautiful and often it is hard to distinguish among the limbs of those who are dancing together. In one section, the women move in almost imperceptible slow motion while the men weave among them with a desperate energy. In another the women are like marionettes as the strings of the instruments are plucked. When the dancers speed up, the circling spotlight circles more quickly. The choreography uses unique angles and unusual balance, but the end result has a startling and fresh lyricism.
Following the second intermission, we are treated to Cacti, the giggle-out-loud 2010 work of Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman. A hilarious if deprecating voice-over combines with selections from Joseph Haydn, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Andy Stein, and Gustav Mahler. Our very thoughts are cleverly ridiculed just as we think them – from our impressions of the gender-erasing costumes to any post-modern deconstruction we might be tempted to apply. There are pompous words of wisdom as well: “We are not dancers, nor musicians, but members of the human orchestra.”
With individual platforms as their props, the 16 dancers use them as a stage, a percussion instrument, and then later as building blocks. Dressed like topless samurai, the dancers laugh as they slap themselves squatting on the platforms. At one point they bring in pots of cacti which are brightly lit until they tumble. The dancers have removed their dark sashed pants and now appear naked in leotards that match their skin colors. It is a disconcerting “look” – and utterly unique. The evening ends in wit and wonder.
Kudos to Principal Guest Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron and the Boston Ballet Orchestra for their superb performance of this broad range of selections, including the onstage presence of a string quartet during Cacti. The entire evening is delectable, and its accessibility makes me hope that the Boston Ballet will use it as an opportunity to reach out to those who don’t get to see much ballet, including the younger generation.
Photos from Rosalie O'Connor