Not Just Another Night at the Ballet: Boston Ballet’s Thrill of Contact

Hoots and whistles and standing ovations, oh my.

I wasn’t at a Sox game. I was surrounded by people in their Boston Opera House finery. All this madly delighted crowd appreciation was for the Boston Ballet’s “Thrill of Contact,” the final show of the season.

It’s spectacular.

As Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen says in a press release,

Thrill of Contact is a cool collection of dance in diverse artistic voices ranging from the iconic masterpieces of Balanchine and Robbins to exhilarating works that push our art form forward. This program is a culmination of the fascinating choreography and outstanding artistry our company has presented all season long.”

I’ve loved modern dance since college, when many of my friends were in the Drama/Dance Department and thus I frequently attended dance productions. Much of college is a blur, but those performances? I remember them all like it was yesterday.

I used to see the no-longer-extant Snappy Dance Company and other modern dance around the Boston area. While I’ve seen less and less dance in the past several years, I still yearn for it. 

So it was to my shock and delight on Saturday night that after an initial piece that was classical ballet and quite lovely (George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations), the scene changed with fremd, the world premier of this captivating piece choreographed by Jeffrey Cirio. The dances before and after were excellent, interesting, athletic, beautiful, and – in the case of the last one – downright funny.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

But if you go to the ballet for any reason this season — and be aware that the season ends this coming weekend — go to see fremd (the word means “alien” or “strange”). If you are at all like me, with even the slightest craving for modern dance, this will scratch that itch. Yes, this is called a ballet, but it’s not at all what you might think of when you think of ballet. 

How to describe fremd? It’s fluid. Mechanical. Inventive. Innovative. There is an element of control, and an aspect that is very much not in control, or in and out of control. The main dancer controls the stage, and the others, who also control each other, parts of a machine trying to stay in sync.

It isn’t an uncomfortable piece, but there is what I can best describe as a remote sense of unease in the piece–a “dis-ease” that never feels threatening or awkward, for us or the dancers, but the parts must conform.

The German spoken-word poet whose voice rings out above the electronic beat does possibly contribute to that tiniest inner alarm bell.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

fremd also reminded me vaguely of running, of a track workout.

In short, the feeling of happy relief I got from seeing this piece is still with me. I have a curious craving to go back and see it again, and maybe again.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

fremd was followed by The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, called “the most difficult ballet ever performed(pnb.org), which premiered in 1996 with the Frankfurt Ballet. Four dancers were on stage, the two women in green with funky flat tutus that were like lily pads, the men in purple, the backs of whose costumes never failed to startled me. Of the two male dancers, one had powerful muscular legs, like a shot-putter (I realize I keep bringing this review back to track and field comparisons, but there are unavoidable — it was a very athletic evening of ballet).

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

Photo credit: Boston Ballet

The dancer with the ultra powerful legs had a stunning way of dancing on air. He didn’t exactly dance on air, but whenever his feet left of the stage, something very curious happened: Time slowed, or even came to a stop, and he was airborne, doing more footwork in the air than possible by the laws of gravity. He had demonstrated it in an earlier peace, but it was in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude that it became even more obvious. I couldn’t figure out how he did it. Have you seen the German film Run Lola Run? You know when they speed up the film or slow it down when Lola runs? It was a bit like that, watching him dance: He was weightless.

Set to the final movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, this magnificent display of classical technique celebrates physical mastery and precision…Intensely physical, the ballet is known as one of the most challenging to execute; it is an 11-minute burst of energetic and elated movement. The dancers’ powerful performance is a visible triumph as they seek exactitude as artists.

The final piece, Jerome Robbins’ The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody) is a classic comic ballet from 1956. A commentary on human behavior, set at a piano concert, it’s very funny.

photo credit: Boston Ballet

photo credit: Boston Ballet

 Here are some behind-the-scenes videos, a trailer for “Thrill of Contact,” and another little video for you: 

Behind the scenes: Misa Kuranaga on George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations https://vimeo.com/126753178

Thrill of Contact Trailer: https://vimeo.com/127794407

Rethink Ballet: https://vimeo.com/126335931

Boston Ballet Institutional Video: https://vimeo.com/116565470

And now: The remaining shows of the season. This Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Go. Please. You’re welcome.

  • Thursday, May 21, 2015 at 7:30PM
  • Friday, May 22, 2015 at 7:30PM
  • Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 1:00PM and 7:30PM; Pre-Curtain Talk prior to 7:30PM performance
  • Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 1:00PM
  • Tickets start at $29. For more information, visit www.bostonballet.org or call 617-695-6955.

Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own. 

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