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The Institute of Contemporary Art is not the only place to catch a stimulating piece of contemporary performance art these days. Boston Ballet’s current program “Close to Chuck” brings to the Boston Opera House stage a questioning of the term ‘relationship’ in many definitions of the word. Carried on the graceful athleticism of Boston Ballet dancers, the collaboration of dance, design, and performance captivates the audience with experimentation of boundaries in modern relationships as well as interactions between artistic style and mediums.
The program is a trio performances from three separate choreographers: “C. to C. (Close to Chuck) reborn” by Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo, a world premier of “Resonance” by José Martinez, and “Bella Figura” by Jiří Kylián.
The curtain rises. Soloist, Sabi Varga touches the shoulder of concert pianist Bruce Levingston on stage right and the night commences.
Light on the stage erupts revealing the intertwining relationships inspiring “C. to C. (Close to Chuck) reborn”: Levingston playing Phillip Glass’s “A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close” in front of a backdrop of cells of swirled paint forming a photorealist montaged self portrait by American artist Chuck Close. Jorma Elo’s choreography is a celebration of an enduring joining of these artistic forces going back nearly fifty years. Glass and Close met in Paris in 1964. On his first meeting them at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York in 2004, Levingston suggested Glass compose a musical portrait of Close. This was agreed upon given Levingston play the result.
The dancers maneuver on and off the stage in between bouts of Elo’s calculated movements. His choreographic and stylistic choices are a testament to Close’s enduring spirit. Close suffered a rare spinal aneurysm in 1988 that left him in a wheelchair but did not stop him from working. Elo chose to have the dancers switch between streamlined leotards and physically unwieldy skirts crafted of vinyl strips forming smaller portraits of Close, an abstraction of Close’s logistical limitations. Elo interprets the spirited geometry of Close and within and between the adjoining grids of swirled paint in his portraits in angularity of arms, straightened battements, and quick changes in weight and direction. With the skirts or not, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Whitney Jensen, Jeffrey Cirio, John Lam, and Sabi Varga performed with resilience in a breathtaking show of might and artistic ability.
The curtain closes as the six dancers form a rising diagonal leading up to a single touch on Levingston’s shoulder, bringing the viewer back to the inspired connection: strength found in collaboration, artistic or otherwise.
“Resonance” is Jose Martinez’s (current artistic director of National Dance Company in Spain’s) first commission piece for a North American company. Working with designer Jean-Mart Puissant, Martinez attempts manipulation of the viewer’s experience of sight and sound. The nineteen dancers and two pianists (one on stage and one in front of the stage) are brought in and out of focus with the steering of right-angled partitions and shifts in focus on and off the stage. The intention is there but the idea comes to an awkward realization with moments of sheer confusion for the audience. Choreography leading up to large shifts in focus lack directional momentum, taking away from a comprehensive view of Martinez’s creative efforts.
Stepping away from its faults, “Resonance” presents a commentary on modern relationships in private and public settings. At separate points in the performance the audience is voyeur to a tense standoff between Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili. Tense space is tempered by romantic swoons of bodies when the ensemble recombines in newly formed spaces. The large leaps of the men were amplified into large-scale shadow dancers on the on the gray panels of the partitions. Dusty Button and Lia Cirio are valiant heroines leading the women in rhythmic and swirling lines showcasing their elegant power.
In the closing act the audience is treated to a vibrant performance of Jiří Kylián’s “Bella Figura” (“beautiful figure”). The curtain comes up presenting a stage with dancers moving independently of each other in silence, as if on break during rehearsal, under a suspended clear box holding a nude manikin. The curtain closes, warm baroque tonal chords swell, and light illuminates two separate boxes on the black fabric of the curtain.
Sabi Varga balances on his shoulder blades and the hands of a supportive dancer in a contorted ball. He writhes and reaches out towards the audience but remains within the confines of the box of light. Parallel to Varga, Rie Ichikawa goes between silently screaming inside her suspended bed of light and running to reach out towards the audience only to be caught by her own hand. Here and throughout the remainder of the performance, the audience is confronted with a powerful visual exploration of relationship to one’s creative abilities.
The visual props—the nude manikin, shifting strips of light, transitionally framing curtains, revealing costumes, and fiery cauldron— artfully enhance the avant-garde movements in response to the shifts between full string section and lone playful harpsichord steps. In light of the night’s theme of beauty in relationships and creativity, the vulnerability and humor in “Bella Figura’s” focus on the individual is both poetic and spellbinding.
In complete silence except for the cackling fiery cauldron, Petra Conti and Varga throw the ever-smallest bit of weight from side to side as they walk off stage. Curtain Closes.
Lorraine Rubio is a Staff Writer and the Arts Editor for The Hub and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram @Ohno_Lolo.
Ben Danner is a free lance photographer and graduate student at Harvard Divinity School.