"Tonight we summoned spring"- Review for Boston Ballet's triple bill SHADES of SOUND.

by James Mahaffey

Recently I was invited by the Boston Ballet to review their triple bill Shades of Sound that features three distinct works: Chroma (choreographer Wayne McGregor), Episodes (choreographer George Balanchine) and Black Cake (choreographer Hans Van Manen). Summoning musical vibes from renowned greats like Tchaikovsky as well as modern day influencers like the White Stripes and boasting one of the “largest groups of Boston Ballet Orchestra musicians” ever this show is as much about sound as it is about dance. In order to paint a proper picture for fellow newcomers such as myself to the contemplation of ballet I would like to speak about what resonated with me.

Wayne McGregor - CHROMA  

I’m inspired by creative excellence, both the process and the end result, the artist and the song, film, painting or screenplay they create, regardless of the musical genre or creative discipline. When others flow and move with only the current, British choreographer Wayne McGregor swims with a tide of his own creation. He’s a force whose movements you’ve probably already experienced if you happen to like music, dance, film or visual art as this man’s work can be found everywhere and rightfully so. If you don’t believe me or the New York Times claim that McGregor is "doing some of the most exciting work on the planet" venture down this rabbit hole of awesome. Wayne McGregor is the choreographer for Chroma and this fact alone warrants a visit to the Boston Ballet. 

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015 

George Balanchine - EPISODES 

I’ve seen Episodes twice now and I have to admit the second time around I was prepared to not “get it” yet again. I was not looking forward to it. My first viewing was the dress rehearsal and I came away thinking the collective movement was too busy consisting of too many fits and jerks. This time it was completely different. Fits and jerks became rhythmic fits and perfectly timed bursts. I could not have been more wrong with my first interpretation. Episodes was in fact a presentation of dance where each performer displayed almost mathematical maneuvering and precise control of their body, literally not skipping a beat. It was during this energized performance, made even more fantastic by it’s musical score that I knew winter was ending and lost all worry it wasn’t.   


CONCERTO, OPUS 24 (Episodes)

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015 

Rarely an envious man am I, tonight my composure would be tested. Simultaneously embraced by five powerful women, experts in their craft, I have yet to be and here is where principal dancer Paulo Arrais found himself. Despite the initial appearance of this arrangement of bodies this short sequence was not necessarily about him and more appropriately about principal dancer Lia Cirio together with Maria Alvarez, Ji Young Chae, Corina Gill and Brittany Stone.

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015 

Quickly I surmised a suitable premise for this sight before me; playful troop occasionally grants a trusted friend to borrow their fellow sister in dance to earn his keep and then attempt to pay his way with passion rarely disturbing the troops pursuits. And in the time it took me to come to that premise the sequence was over. It was short, it was sweet, neither mishandled or overdone. It was perfect and I was filled with envy. 

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015 

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015 

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015

Hans van Manen - BLACK CAKE

"ASHLEY's MARCH" (Ashley Ellis and Lasha Khozashvili) 

Ashley Ellis could be described as a spoiled kitty or unconquerable lioness when she marches across the stage over coming Lasha’s resistance. Her hips twist precisely, each high step just as pronounced as the last, defiantly outstretched arms not to the sky, but more deliberately risen just above the shoulders like an aggressive swan. This stance alone, this quick struggle for power should be posterized as the new symbol for the equal pay and gender equality movements and every young girl should see it in action. 

Image by James Mahaffey ©2015 


Perhaps thats why “In 1996 the Dutch COC awarded him the Bob Angelo Medallion for "the way in which he portrays men and women, human relations and sexuality in his ballets and photography… which can aptly be named liberating in every way”. It makes sense that displays of human strength can be found even within the playfulness of this mostly lighthearted exchange. For the moment let me assume choreographer Hans Van Manen determined that this spirit must make this journey, to assert herself and pitch her own ideas to a typically less welcoming board of male executives and against the wishes of her male colleague (Lasha Khozashvili).

Pair a vivid imagination such as mine with an impervious display of individual progression such as her’s and anything is possible. Isn't that one of the perks of the arts?  

The audience has the right, if they also possess the ability, to wander between narratives and context in the vast depths of their mind. To be inspired and entertained without disturbing their closest neighbor. We can interact with what’s presented to us however we choose and after an historic winter, trapping most of us indoors for the greater part of a month I recommend an act of spontaneity to anyone this finds.  

Why not visit the Boston Ballet instead of heading to a movie sequel, prequel or 4th installment of a franchise that was best served with one telling? We all fall into the same routine at times. I do it myself. After all I'm just a man who was invited to review a ballet and thank the heavens I was. I left the ballet relaxed, yet invigorated and creatively inspired. This began as a creative assignment and who knows where it will end. Shades of Sound is light and airy, rambunctious and intense and because of this well designed concoction by Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen on this night we turned our nose up to an historic winter. The company danced, the audience agreed and together we summoned the spring. You have exactly three shows between now and Sunday to do the same.

written by James Mahaffey  james@tangibletransmedia.com @Tgbl_Transmedia

Boston Ballet
Shades of Sound: Chroma, Episodes, Black Cake 

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