Until recently — Sunday, to be exact — the only ballet I had ever seen was “The Nutcracker.” Twice.
So, truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect when I was offered the opportunity to attend Boston Ballet’s “Shades of Sound,” a brand new production made up of three wildly different works: Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma,” and the company premieres of George Balanchine’s “Episodes” and Hans van Manen’s “Black Cake.”
But the idea of a Sunday afternoon catching up over brunch with my friend D, following by a girls’ afternoon at the ballet, sounded so delightful that I couldn’t pass it up.
When the dancers came out for the first work, “Chroma,” I was initially startled by the simpleness of it all. Clad in what were essentially flesh-toned tank tops and booty shorts, dancing against a stark white stage, the dancers (looking rather androgynous) truly “pushed the physical limits of the human body,” as the Boston Ballet puts it.
It was very modern and abstract — there was no storytelling, per se, outside of little vignettes performed by duos and trios of dancers to music scored by Jack White from The White Stripes.
The whole thing was so interesting to watch — aggressive and beautiful at the same time, with movements more forceful and jerky and fast-paced than you might expect in a ballet. More like Cirque du Soleil. And without the distraction of frilly costumes and tutus, you could see just how insane ballet dancers’ bodies are with every muscle flex and ripple.
(Quick side story: I was surrounded in the theater by cute little old ladies, and every time one of the dancers contorted his or her body, the ladies would gasp and exclaim “Oh, my!”. Their running commentary was hysterical. Kind of like watching the ballet with the two grumpy old guys from The Muppets, except not so grumpy.)
Anyway, “Chroma” was so unexpected and startling that the second work, “Episodes,” felt somewhat tame (or perhaps it was simply slower?) in comparison. Although it was visually striking, with the dancers clad in black and white dancing against a neutral background. To my untrained eye, it felt more like classical ballet.
The work is comprised of four short pieces set to separate music, yet the one that stood out for me was “Five Pieces,” which featured a duet by principals Dusty Button (best.name.ever) and Lasha Khozashvili. The highlight was when she wraps her arms around his waist, clinging to him upside down, her legs in two 90-degree angles above his head, which looked (as Jeffrey Gantz from the Boston Globe pointed out) like antlers.
The third work, “Black Cake” was fun, kind of blurring the lines between a ballet and a play as it followed six high-society couples in three very distinct pas de deux and one waiter in a party scene full of flirtatious ballroom-style dancing and celebratory champagne drinking (my kind of party!). In keeping with their roles, the dancers were wearing heels, not ballet slippers, and beautiful black cocktail dresses.
The dancing itself was not as powerful as in “Chroma” but it was engaging (loved that they interacted with the audience) and it was the perfect way to close out the show and a lovely ladies afternoon at the ballet. Although it did leave me craving a glass of champagne.
All performances of “Shades of Sound” take place at the beautiful and historic Boston Opera House from now until March 29. Tickets start at $29. For more information, visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955
Disclaimer: I was provided complementary tickets to this performance, but all thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.