By James Foritano
Boston, MA – Are We Prepared for Classical Ballet?
That was the question I kept asking myself as I opened the gates of my perception, cynical, bleary, early 21st century perception, to take in a spectacle that had been first conjured on the stage of Moscow’s Maryinsky theater by choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov working with composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky on January 15, 1895.
First off, had I taken along my inner child, preferably a girl-child since squint as I might, I saw no trucks on stage and no sudden ambushes erupt from the quivering scenery? No, I hadn’t.
Well, maybe. Although the choreography has been adapted and added to by Boston Ballet’s Mikko Nissinen, it still resonates, movement by movement with Tchaikovsky’s moody, soaring music.
And while Rodgers and Hammerstein nailed it in their mid-century American musical “South Pacific” with the rousing song “There’s Nothin’ Like a Dame,” they got only the half of it. Put a French tutu on a ‘dame’ and multiply her by dozens, each in synch with the other, each bouncing on her toes, and you have a spectacle that can match quiver for quiver, the most delicate tremolo Tchaikovsky’s pen ever squirted onto a stave.
And there are moments also when the male dancers suspend one’s belief in gravity with bounding leaps, performing those quick scissoring movements with their legs as though it’s all a lark to them.
And though I was balancing on heaps of my late autumn clothing stuffed behind me in the seat, I too, could have been a stunt pilot, rolling over and over in the clouds to the gasps of my worshipful audience: “Mommy, look at me. I’m flyiiiiiiiiing!”
But the plot was where I really needed my inner child. “If they really were a troop of swans,” I kept saying to myself, “there’d be poop all over the stage!” Even bound in a trance by an evil magician,” my inner teen-ager wisecracked, “poop flows abundantly!”
“Lift a tutu or elaborate ball gown in a Kara Walker mural and what do you interrupt but the smelly trajectory of a turd … for Pete’s sake!” crowed my Artscope-wise adult!
We’ve become accustomed to looking on clothes and manners as elaborate forms of social disguise, as sneaky and nefarious as any dozen self-absorbed magicians bent on wrecking young romance. And all the 4,000 quivering crystal jewels on Odile’s costume only makes us more aware that we don’t have to go on stage or into fairyland to get double-crossed BIG-TIME.
I was sorry to be so busy entertaining these heterodox thoughts since the audience, including my own wife, were busy jumping to their feet with “bravos!” and “YOHOOOs!”
Did I lighten up for act three, when native dances of Prince Siegfried’s far–flung subject peoples took center stage? Yes, I did, and immeasurably. The youthful high spirits of the dancers looked just like those of the students jostling each other (and ourselves) on Boston’s student-heavy sidewalks. But, on stage, the effortless-seeming discipline of the corps de ballet, preserved the spontaneity without the bumps, bruises, stepped on toes. “Look out!” said every leap. “All is well,” said every landing.
And then, there was Lasha Khozashvilli’s uber-evil magician, Von Rothbart! Gloriously costumed in fabrics billowing so loosely they didn’t interrupt a one of his whip-like turns, floating leaps, Von Rothbart projected a delicious intimation of his quaking, shaking delight in the coming misfortune of his two ‘pigeons,’ Prince Siegfried and Odette.
The live music swelling from the orchestra pit seemed to echo my delight. Or maybe I had just figured out that we are prepared for certain delights of classical ballet, and other delights, not so certainly.
Perhaps we will enjoy the neo-classical, the contemporary dance that Boston Ballet’s program, now twisted and wrinkled in my hands promises for the future season. Twists in taste, wrinkles in time can open onto surprising vistas.
(The Boston Ballet’s presents “Swan Lake” from October 30 through November 16 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston. For tickets, visit bostonballet.org.)