By James Foritano
Boston, MA – “Every piece has its own flavor, and they’re all good,” pronounced Madeleine as we assembled our gloves and hats and scarves and coats to join the duck-walking crowd on the aisle, directed and encouraged by ushers whispering urgently the best route to avoid the crowded lobby, to exit onto the urban sidewalk of a cold spring.
Again, we were weaving in and out of traffic. But for three balletic dramas, each questioning and celebrating the conundrums of being human, we had been free to fly from our seats, albeit with wings of wax vulnerable to scorching, even melt-down…
Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations” opened a three-part program by teaching our wings to soar to Gaetano Donizetti’s dreamy, sprightly, symmetrical melodies from his 1843 opera, “Don Sebastien.”
The vigor of the music belied our modern stereotypes of the classical as bland, of the romantic as naïve. And the dancers inhabiting Donizetti’s lively, questing inspirations with quick-silver turns seemed to grasp myriad opportunities to soar or slow, improbably, just before the musicians in the orchestra pit announced them!
Were these dancers magicians, throwing their physical wit into a yet uncomposed future? Or, perhaps, airy figments springing contemporaneously from Donizetti’s heated imagination?
Alas, they were neither magical nor ethereal beings, but simply supremely grounded practitioners of the physical and imaginative traditions of balletic dancing. Lest we forget, one female dancer, center stage front, swathed in delicate pink, withdraws her wooden-toed ballet slipper as quickly from the stage as if she’s been burnt while mouthing to the audience a rounded “OWW!”
If Balanchine’s inspiration is all soaring grace and split-second balance with a soupcon of humor, the final piece in this threesome, “Cacti” is a medley of spices from tart to torrid; the salt of humor as unsubtle as an open shaker, the ‘wings’ of the dancers more chicken than eagle’s.
Alexander Ekman’s dancers doff their gender defining blues for ‘boys’ and pink for ‘girls’ costumes to suit up, equally, in desert beige; they forsake also the spacious stage of the “Donizette Variations,” for elevated cubes of private stages on which they pose and preen in hectic variations then lug around to pile into enigmatic structures that dissolve, with much grunting and heaving, just as they seem to build towards some intended finish or beginning.
How the same core de ballet dancing “Cacti” achieved a transformation from the mostly floating, twirling spirits favored by Balanchine to Alexander Ekman’s rough and ready hybrids — part dancer/acrobat/stage-hand — is a wonder.
Equally a wonder is how we spectators achieve a transformation of liking for flavors so distantly related. Perhaps a bridge or tutorial from one vision to the other was the middle piece, the eponymous “Wings of Wax,” by choreographer Jiri Kylian.
Kylian’s vision is at once dark and light, knotted and smooth as befits its birth in our conflicted and wary late 20th century. It’s as inventive as Balanchine’s classical choreography, but more restless, more lower body, than the classical emphasis on the bodices and chests of toned athletes.
Openings for escape, quickly grasped, rather than demonstrations of aerial prowess showcase the virtuosity of the dancers who plunge rather than prance in a world where assuming a low profile is requisite just for the pleasure of being.
A roving, ever-present light casts a searching, circling beam from above, and the only landscape, a lone tree, is inverted, roots uppermost. Still, even in darkness, wings pulse vigorously if guardedly, interrogation turns from bleakly judgmental to questing as moments of hope spark renewal.
And finally, this tutti-frutti of strong flavors is all good — or so says Madeleine, and I concur.
(Boston Ballet’s presentation of “Kylián/Wings of Wax” continues through April 2 at Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston, Mass. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 1 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.bostonballet.org.)