Join the Boston Ballet for an Elegant Night of Dance, Music, and… Comedy? A Review of 'Shades of Sound'

Elizabith Costey ’16/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga in Chroma. Photo  Credit: Igor Burlak Photography/ Boston Ballet
Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga in Chroma. Photo Credit: Igor Burlak Photography/ Boston Ballet
When one thinks of ballet, one traditionally thinks of soft classical music, elegant ballerinas and gentle, floating movements. However, the Boston Ballet’s production of Shades of Sound dove much deeper into the talent and skill of its dancers, choreographers and musicians. Shades of Sound was a brilliant compilation of three separate performances, all of which displayed a keen sense and balance of musicality, expression, and dance.
The ballet opened with a performance of Chroma, choreographed by Wayne McGregor. The performance is a tempestuous whirlwind of motion and sound. Piece after piece dancers pushed the limits of the human body. The male dancers lifted their partners in the most impossible ways, weaving their partners over and around and between them as the ballerina stood in hyper extended penchés. Despite their remarkably beautiful physical feats, the dancers were hard pressed to match the intensity of their musical “accompaniment”. The strength and raw energy of the dancers was masterfully exemplified by the constant intensity of the music. Scored by Joby Talbot and arranged by Jack White of The White Stripes, its no wonder the music alone had the power to carry its audience to another world. Tempestuous and passionate the score rang through the Boston Opera House, demanding more and more of the dancers. Chroma ended with a frenzied piece including all of the dancers on stage in a turbulent scene of lifts, jetés, pirouettes and anything else imaginable. Chroma is a production tempered on the turbulent, but intricate balance of vision and sound, the power of the score and the power of the performer.
Photo credit: Boston Ballet in George Balanchine's Episodes. Photo Credit: Rosalie O'Connor/ Boston Ballet
Photo credit: Boston Ballet in George Balanchine’s Episodes. Photo Credit: Rosalie O’Connor/ Boston Ballet
After a brief intermission, allowing both the dancers and the audience to catch their breath, the Boston Ballet opened its curtains, but this time to Episodes, a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine. Episodes, while perhaps more stylistically classical than Chroma, is equally intense to witness. For the first time during this show the ballerina’s don their pointe shoes and perform classical steps and motions to a masterful score by Anton Van Webern. However, the audience begins to notice that in each individual piece, there are certain things that are… off. Not technically incorrect, but off. Feet are intentionally flexed, arms are surprisingly rigid, one or two dancers move in a different direction than the rest of the dancers. These subtle, modern accents on classical ballet forms make Episodes very dynamic and even unnerving to watch at times. The audience feels there is something off, even though they know nothing is a mistake. Balanchine use of cannons and fugues in many of the dances in Episodes emphasizes this feeling, while also adding a new dynamic and depth to the performance. Balanchine’s Episodes is a wonderfully elegant piece that requires great skill and musicality from the dancers. Each beat in the music is accented by a sharp, distinct movement- each movement, by a sharp, distinct beat in the music.
The last of the three performances in the Boston Ballet’s Shades of Sound is a playful and comical ballet entitled Black Cake, choreographed by Hans van Manen to the music of Tchaikovsky, Janáček, Stravinsky, Mascagani, and Massenet. Gone are the pointe shoes, as this humorous ballet takes the audience to an upscale party with six impish and flirtatious, high society couples and a waiter. Compared to Chroma and Episodes, Black Cake uses fairly elementary ballet form and is more focused on the comedic and theatrical aspect of the ballet. The performance opens on the six couples getting ready for the party. Following the opening number, are three duets between three of the couples. The first two duets display humorous aspects to the couples’ relationships but also elegant partner work and dance technique. The last of the three couples to perform, however, glaze over the elegant dance and skip right to the comedy. Black Cake only becomes sillier as the couples drink and celebrate, interacting with the audience and chasing after the waiter. Hans van Manen’s Black Cake, while not as intense or intricate as Chroma or Episodes, was highly entertaining and a cheerful ending to a superb show.
Dutch National Ballet in Black Cake. Photo Credit: Angela Sterling/ Boston Ballet
Dutch National Ballet in Black Cake. Photo Credit: Angela Sterling/ Boston Ballet
Shades of Sound was a compelling compilation of three very different ballets. Yet, despite the differences, and perhaps even because of the differences, the Boston Ballet’s production of ‘Shades of Sound’ was a wonderful success. From Wayne McGregor’s mind-blowing Chroma, to George Balanchine’s elegantly modern Episodes, and finally to Hans van Manen’s delectably comic Black Cake, the Boston Ballet amazed and entertained dance lovers of all ages.
Boston Ballet’s Shades of Sound is playing at the Boston Opera House until March 29, 2015. Get your tickets to this incredible performance.

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