By Emily Kochanek – News Editor
I’ve never seen a ballet before comprised of three different ballets. No, not a ballet with three different parts, but a ballet with three completely separate ballet’s fused into one. As I researched Boston Ballet’s Shades of Sound prior to the show last night, I was brought a vague description of what seemed to be a complex performance. Walking into the Opera House, I was blind. The only names on the program I recognized was Jack White, Balanchine, and Tchaikovsky; quite the amalgam.
But as the curtain opened in that ornate theater, the stage produced a minimalistic, stark white background, a window peering into the dark backstage graced mid-stage. The corps assembled and performed the raw, contemporary piece of Chroma by Wayne McGregor. The movements were calculated and geometrical but organic; each dancer’s own style created a primal effect for each scene. The costumes were simple, like the set, but the chiffon used added to the natural movements the dancers gave to their performance.
The nuances of steps was notable throughout the production. Chroma, although organic, had the geometrical feel of flexed feet and legs. The second act, Episodes, reflected the nuances with more overt references to the angular styles of Graham while maintaining Balanchine’s classic style. The corps and soloists were dressed in traditional practice clothes: a black leotard and belt for the women and white shirt with black tights for the men. Although simple and primarily balletic, the use of angles throughout the piece offered a contemporary quality to the traditionalism of structured ballet. The most impressive duet was Kathleen Breen Combes and partner John Lam who wore white and black, respectively, and danced with an electrifying anguish between them.
After Episodes had finished, I started to wonder how Black Cake would fit into the current aesthetic danced onstage. Black Cake began with the corps dressed in sparkly dressed and sheer tuxedo tights. They waltzed, they trotted. Instead of slippers or pointe shoes the dancers wore character shoes, a high-heeled dancing shoe. What did this have to do with the other two acts? Not much, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
Usually I don’t think of ballet as entertaining; I see it as an expression of art. But Black Cake was hilarious. Although the first dance was more ballroom-esque, the following three featured duets with different characteristics. The first was a common love-interest duet, but the following two featured a couple annoyed with each other and the other a couple passionately in love yet passionately angry with one another. The choreography was delicate for the first, followed by a hilarious, deconstructed duet, and finished with a edgy and intense duet.
The final scene barely had dancing at all, but featured the glittering ballerinas drinking from champagne glasses and drunkenly stumbling after their waiter. There was even a moment when the corps began to speak on stage, something highly regarded as inappropriate in the dance world. But it added a sense of humor to the otherwise serious ballet. For the first time in my life, I had heard people audibly laughing during a ballet, and it was fantastic.
Although unorthodox, the three-ballet production of Shades of Sound was not only a refreshing break from traditional ballet but also a production that brought together three seemingly opposite shows together into one. The show continues until March 29 and tickets can still be purchased on the Boston Ballet’s website,.