By James Foritano
Boston, Mass. – The “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler,” choreographed by the renowned John Neumeier and performed on Thursday, October 22, by the Boston Ballet on the stage of the Boston Opera House, brought the audience repeatedly to their feet with cheering, clapping and foreign-sounding cries of approval.
I, on the other hand didn’t award my approval until what looked to me like an overcrowded stage gave way gradually, mercifully to fewer dancers with more space.
My parsimony, approval wise, was probably more a matter of personal esthetics, than expert judgment. I’ve seen traffic cops respond to an impossible glut of traffic at rush hour with absolutely balletic virtuosity, urging on and calming heated horsepower with memorable command. But is it art, or traffic control?
At least a million dancers, with helicoptering arms and sharp knees and elbows, brought death-defying precision to Neumeier’s interpretation of the first movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony. I held my breath for their safety but didn’t levitate myself.
Thankfully there was more to suit my taste. When only a score or less of dancers took center stage, Neumeier was mesmerizing rather than coldly measuring. One, specifically me, could feel their glances pushing and pulling their bodies into mysterious alignments and equally mysterious repulsions that looked and felt self-willed rather than choreographed.
This ‘feeling’ movement between duo’s, trio’s, septets, etc. was all the more satisfying to one who often has trouble interpreting the psychological tensions that glances and bodily attitudes are supposed to signal to an audience of dance, however ambiguously.
Are they pained or pleased, attracted or repelled are the questions I’m often left with after ‘speaking looks’ are exchanged by sentient bodies in motion. But when Neumeier’s spare choreography tuned into the romantic turns of Mahler’s slower music I felt also comfortably attuned, suspended, even, in a space where blood runs thicker than thinking, so to say.
As I trooped out just before the exiting crowd overwhelmed this still dreaming spectator, I even forgave, in perspective, the boisterous athletics I witnessed, cringing, as Neumeier introduced his path-breaking ballet. After all, I reasoned generously, Mahler’s music was anything but sedate in the first brassy movement of his path-breaking symphony, only turning in later movements to a delicate etching of the human voice onto a skein of violins and woodwinds.
(The Boston Ballet production of the “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” through November 1 at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston, Mass. For more information, visit bostonballet.org.)