REVIEW: Featuring virtual world premiere in studio, Boston Ballet presents luminous and vibrant ‘Celebrating Jorma Elo’

Since last August’s inventive Carmen, Boston Ballet has not brought new work to BB@Your Home until now.

Celebrating Jorma Elo not only introduces highly-anticipated new dance back in studio including a Jorma Elo World premiere, but launches a luminous montage of Elo’s innovative and exciting work over a fifteen-year history as Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer.  Introduced by Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet took to the studio to record Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, excerpts from Bach Cello Suites, and the world premiere of Story of Memory before presenting a vibrant montage of Jorma Elo’s brilliant past work. 

The Boston Ballet’s BB@Your Home’s Celebrating Jorma Elo continues streaming through Sunday, March 7.  Click here for more information.

Resident Boston Ballet Chorographer Jorma Elo on right with Boston Ballet dancers Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini/Boston Ballet

In masks and filmed under one studio light designed by Jon Gonda, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s fiddle-laden score lays the groundwork for this joyful and intense dance in Elo’s Plan to B filmed in February 2021.  Concise, surefooted, and sharp moves dominate this urgent and sweeping performance that feature Lia Cirio, Ji Young Chae, John Lam, Patric Palkens, Tyson Clark and an impressive solo by Tigran Mkrtchyan.

It is an upbeat, contemporary performance with pulsing movement as dancers slice the air and form seemingly impossible forms and shapes.  In purple coordinated leotard, Cirio and Palkens perform a duet with building intensity as Palkens carries and spins Cirio romantically before she hastens forward.

Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens Photo courtesy of Patric Palkens

A more intimate performance blooms with excerpts from Bach Cello Suites also taking place in studio February 2021 featuring music from Johann Sebastian Bach performed by cellist Ron Lowry.  Lia Cirio and Paolo Arrais dance romantically in shadow as an opaque backdrop softly burgeons into light.  This beautiful dance is further enhanced by the nature in which the two perform.  Arrais spins and handles her delicately in each movement before they embrace. 

Dialogue is rarely introduced into dance and it was fascinating to witness the world premiere of Elo’s Story of Memory and the sheer beauty of this piece’s compelling cinematography filmed in February 2021.  Dressed in alternately black and white, Viktorina Kapitanova and Tigran Mkrtchyan depict two people who struggle to understand one another.  It has moments of discovery, passion, fury, and mystery wrapped in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Nancy Euverink’s captivating scores.  Kapitanova and Mkrtchayan depict two struggling, determined people in an increasingly intense dance longing for understanding before coming to a stunning realization.

Tigran Mkrtchyan in ‘Story of Memory’ Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini

Surely it was quite a challenge to choose the highlights of Jorma Elo’s 15-year tenure of rich and revolutionary dance into one luminous montage.  It was about as monumental as it was writing about it having experienced only excerpts of some pieces in its one and a half hour timeframe.

A photo montage prefaces these particular highlights from Sacre du Printemps featuring James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes to the most recent production of Carmen with Lia Cirio and Victorina Kapitanova taken by renowned photographers Rosalie O’Connor, Gene Schiavone,  and Liza Voll.

Too many standout moments to count in this wide spectrum of work including various approaches to the same work at different times in the ballet’s history.  Each impressive interpretation brings a new dynamic to the performance.

An excerpt of Elo’s 2004 Plan to B kicks off this collection of works at the Wang Theatre featuring Sarah Lamb, Larissa Ponomarenko, Joel Pronty, Jared Redick, Raul Salamanca, and Sabi Varga drawing comparisons from its most recent interpretation.  Though both are impressive, but the newest version seems a bit more intense with sharper, more concise choreography.

Whitney Jensen, Bo Busby, and Jeffrey Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, photo by Gene Schaivone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Featuring solo pianist Bruce Livingston, excerpts from Jorma Elo’s C to C (Close to Chuck) Reborn filmed in February 2014 takes the audience into a dark, mysterious, and transcendent world.  C to C showcases the dancers’ athleticism and the human form as they move about in shadow to pulsing rhythms featuring Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Jeffery Cirio, Whitney Jenson, John Lam and Sabi Varga. 

Many of Jorma Elo’s chorography and works have a unique spirit, liveliness, and a seemingly freestyle nature.  In this Avant Garde piece, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, and Whitney Jenson’s swing like pendulums.  Certain moves seem to play with time as the dancers move swiftly in fast forward, rewind, repetition, slow motion, and then wild intonations to the music’s runaway urgency.  Similar unconventional moves are performed in Elo Experience.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jorma Elo’s ‘Bach Cello Suites’, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Elo Experience filmed in March 2011 opens with an audible laugh and dialogue.  It also has elements of avant garde work as a large group of dancers gather all in black.  Elo’s innovative choreography showcases freestyle, unconventional moves in an upbeat, lively setting featuring a compelling solo by Jeffrey Cirio.

Excerpts from Elo’s Brake the Eye from March 2012 is part of Elo Experience.  It is a playful and vibrant piece as dancers swing in angular movements while others remain still.  Dressed in purple and crème and performing to the divine works of Mozart, it is a bustling and upbeat performance featuring Larissa Ponomarenko, Jeffrey Cirio, Robert Krenz, John Lam, Sabi Varga, James Whiteside, Lia Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, Whitney Jensen, and Dalay Parrondo.

Humming is integrated into excerpts of Elo’s Sharp(er) Side of Dark filmed in February 2012, showcasing different dancers performing in what seems like heaven.  Accompanied by a string trio composed of violinist Michael Rosenbloom, Jean Haig on viola, and cellist Ronald Lowry, Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga, lights hover above them as they playfully glide and frolic in bodysuits to lively, urgent, and joyful music by Bach before seeing excerpts of the same dance performed by duos Kathleen Breen Combes and James Whiteside, Corina Gill and Paulo Arrai, and Whitney Jenson and Jeffrey Cirio. 

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet revisits excerpts of a past performance of Bach Cello Suites from March 2018 featuring cellist Sergey Antonov and dancers Maria Baranova, Junxiong Zhao, Lia Cirio, Paolo Arrais, Kathleen Breen Combes, Derek Dunn, Misa Kuranga, John Lam, Addie Tapp, and Lasha Khaozashvili.  Dressed in black leotard, this lively performance shows a wide range of moods including pain, love, and passion.  A particular highlight showed the dancers briefly interacting with the onstage cellist, leaning in as the cellist plays.

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Creatures of Egmont, photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final two performances are on a larger scale exploring the sheer dynamic nature of Elo’s work from the traditional to the contemporary culminating into a jubilant finale.  The sheer athleticism in excerpts of Elo’s Creatures of Egmont as dancers form angular, symmetrical shapes under a twilight sky and then Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius filmed in November 2017 a joyous and uplifting grand scale finale that reflects Jorma Elo’s continuing luminous, inventive, and astonishing work with the Boston Ballet.

BB@Your Home continues with The Art of the Classical Ballet from March 25 through April 4 which includes excerpts from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  Click here for more information and a look at Boston Ballet’s full season.

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.

REVIEW: Chocolate promises and shattered dreams as Arlekin Players turn over a bizarre ‘Stone’

It is a show unlike anything the Sleepless Critic has ever seen before.  Arlekin Players is currently celebrating their 10th anniversary season as they present Marius von Mayenburg’s avant-garde production, ‘The Stone‘ (remount in English) through Sunday, September 29 in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.    Click here for an interview done last year with director Igor Golyak.

Directed by Igor Golyak, ‘The Stone’ explores the history of a German house before and beyond World War II and its various owners which includes a Jewish family and their ancestors.  Quite a few revelations and family secrets are revealed through traumas and triumphs inside this haunting structure.

Arlekin Plays 'The Stone' with Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova

Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova in Arlekin Players ‘The Stone’ Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

The Arlekin Players stage is an overwhelming experience told in the theatre round without a bad seat.  With vintage lighting by Jeff Adelberg,  ‘The Stone’ features very few props and unconventionally arranged set pieces which includes a partially buried piano, a vintage chandelier, and a chair hanging upside down from the ceiling.  As characters emerge and exit almost supernaturally from the floor in head-to toe-white with black paint splotches staining their pants, it quickly became clear that this would not be an orthodox production.

Arlekin Players 'The Stone'

Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

With wild white hair, a pair of navigators called the conductors, portrayed with bizarre humor by Jenya Brodskaia and Misha Tyutyunik, are seemingly mad scientists that conduct and calculate time travel.  They take the audience through the history of the house before and beyond World War II, one of the most tumultuous times in history.  The time travel is a raging, jarring experience with special effects that may have been effective the first couple of times, but starts to distract from the tale as the show moves along.

The characters march strangely and unnaturally, sometimes under a plastic umbrella, an urgent tale with segments between the characters so brief, it is difficult to develop an attachment to them.  The cast is stoic for the most part, especially from Mieze, portrayed with a guarded, calculating air by Rimma Gluzman.  When Viktoriya Kovalenko as idealistic Heidrun discovers a small box in the house that she believes was her father’s, portrayed with complexity by David Gamarnik as Wolfgang, the moment Heidrun has with her mother Witha, portrayed by Darya Denisova, provides a touching moment in the production.

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I’m sure there is an audience for experimental theatre and the actual tale is powerful, but too unconventional and at times confusing for my taste.  It chooses to be different and complex when the story can be told in a straightforward way.  It is still art and it’s unforgettable.

Arlekin Players presents ‘The Stone’ through Sunday, September 29 at  368 Hillside Ave in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more information on the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.