REVIEW:  Mikko Nissinen’s ‘Swan Lake’ returns in riveting and enchanting splendor

Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake will enchant you from the start.

Swan Lake has stood the test of time for generations and it is no mystery why.  Seeped in regal splendor, Swan Lake is a visually-striking portrait of elegance and grandiosity similar to another one of Tchaikovsky’s classics, The Nutcracker. Both known for their iconic scores, mystical elements, and magnificent presentation, but Swan Lake’s sophisticated splendor, dark charm, intricate choreography and mirror image story of true love sets it apart from the rest.  Like The Nutcracker, Swan Lake has a universal appeal and memorable qualities that even those who don’t care for ballet will still enjoy Swan Lake.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

With seamless musical-direction by Mischa Santora, Tchaikovsky’s majestic score navigates a classic tale of love, torment, betrayal, magic, and unbridled joy as Boston Ballet rises out of Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake continuing live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 5. Swan Lake will then stream from the comfort of your home from June 9 through June 19.  Performed in memory of John W. Humphrey, Swan Lake has returned to the Boston Opera House for the first time since Mikko Nissinen re-imagined the ballet in 2016.  This four-act performance has one intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Taking a mysterious and thrilling tone from the start, Swan Lake is a fanciful tale involving sought-after Prince Siegfried, portrayed with zest and charm by Patrick Yocum, who sets his sights on a flock of swans drifting over a misty and enchanted lake.  Swan Queen Odette, portrayed with graceful fragility by Lia Cirio, catches his eye and it is love at first sight.  It soon becomes clear that the swans were once women cursed by sorcerer Von Rothbart, depicted menacingly by Tyson Clark.  Tyson Clark as Rothbart is an incredible and unpredictable force as he athletically and perilously tears through the mist as Prince Siegfried vows to set Odette free.

Golden-braided, ornate headpieces, flowing pastel garments, parasols, garlands, exquisitely feathered tutus and pristine crowns are just a glimpse into Robert Perdziola’s opulent and meticulously-detailed, handmade costumes that enrich the lush and picturesque royal garden setting as well as the haunting mirror image and mystical lake bathed in luminous blue moonlight by lighting designer Mark Stanley.

Marked by such precision, Mikko Nissinen’s choreography is ballet at its finest.   Emily Entingh and Sage Humphries are visually-stunning rising gracefully and beautifully fluttering out of the mist.  A gathering of cygnets demonstrate perfect synchronicity as they glide in lithe, delicate strokes.  The swans are ethereal and immaculate as they simultaneously rise exquisitely out of a swallowing mist.  It still stands as one of the beautiful displays of ballet I have ever seen.

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet

In the castle gardens, dancers whimsically join together in a feast dance with goblets and joyfully present the prince with rich garlands.  While the castle garden depicts almost a dreamlike setting, an equally opulent ballroom with vast ceilings lit in red later depict a livelier setting as a  grand and dynamic lineup of guests gather to charm the kingdom including princesses, czardas, and Neapolitans.

Patrick Yocum is impressive as Prince Siegfried as he evokes loneliness and melancholy in an emotive and carefully-executed variation and then later in a flawless and joyful dance as if floating across the stage.  Light and dark in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is demonstrated impeccably in Lia Cirio in a complex, dual role.  As guarded Odette, her every move diligent and yet her statuesque beauty and downcast demeanor enrich her mysterious and powerful presence.  Tingling violin resonates in Tchaikovsky’s emotive score as Cirio and Yocum share a hesitant and sweet encounter.  He tenderly lifts and comforts her at every turn.  Cirio can craftily engage an audience and masters her dual role as mysterious and confident Odile.  That striking look she gives reminded me of the fire she brought to her 2020 performance in Boston Ballet’s Carmen.  Cirio’s cunning smile and playful charisma gleam as Yocum takes her hand playfully and yet, almost possessively in a spellbinding and exhilarating dance.    

Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen’s Swan Lake; photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Swan Lake is such a haunting and beloved tale of tender grace and arduous passion that, like The Nutcracker, it has been adapted in various forms for stage and screen over the years including Darren Aronofsky’s Academy award-winning Black Swan.  Mikko Nissinen has adjusted a few scenarios in Swan Lake since its re-imagining in 2016, but only for its betterment to create an even more thrilling, illuminative and memorable experience.    

Mikko Nissenen’s Swan Lake continues live and in person at the Citizens Bank Opera House in Boston, Massachusetts through Sunday, June 5. Swan Lake will then stream from the comfort of your home from June 9 through June 19. Click here for more information and tickets.

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: Boston Ballet’s immersive and uplifting ‘BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward’ offers rare performances and more

The Boston Ballet launched their first virtual production of the year with an optimistic look at 2021 featuring a selection of rarely performed past performances, an exclusive look back at the Boston Ballet on tour, and where they go from here with a sneak peek into a new project scheduled for April 2021.

Boston Ballet’s virtual program, BB@yourhome: Look Back Focus Forward continues through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and how to access this lighthearted and immersive program.

Derek Dunn in Leonid Yakobson’s Vestris Photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Opening the program is Derek Dunn, who has a history of wonderful performances including The Nutcracker, Helen Pickett’s Petal and Genius at Play.   After an insightful introduction from Boston Ballet’s Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Executive Director Max Hodges, He took on a monumental solo dance demonstrating humor, tension, and a wide range of emotions as Auguste in Leonid Yakobson’s rarely performed Vestris.  In a powered wig and meticulously-detailed Founders garment by Robert Perdziola, Dunn is madcap and witty to a rousing applause, taking on a dance that Mikhail Baryshnikov immortalized.  A particular highlight was a moment of subtle humor as Dunn leans forward and hesitates like a novice dancer, just learning his steps. 

Leonid Yakobson’s Pas de Quatre takes on a lighthearted and fanciful tone as Ji Young Chae, Ekaterine Chubinidze, Maria Baranova, and Nina Matiashvili unite as one in a circular dance adorned in flower crowns and flowing, pristine and romantic tutus.  This is another rarely performed piece that demonstrates a sisterhood between this quartet.  To a poignant score featuring selections from Norma and picturesque staging by Vera Solovyeva and Nikolay Levitsky, the dancers each showcase their own unique talents and much of it is lively, elegant, and charming. 

Corina Gill and Issac Akiba in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin; photo by Rachel Neville Photography; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Love takes many shapes in Leonid Yakobson’s Rodin in three parts.  It explores each stage of love from first glimpse to passion and it is captivating to see each part come to life.  Sun Woo Lee and Abigail Merlis have playful chemistry as they lean into each other and Abigail smiles as he attempts a kiss.  To Debussy’s classic score, Clair de Lune, Maria Alvarez and Alec Roberts depict the sweet joy and rapture of love as they move in unison in shyness and jubilance. Another highlight was Emily Entingh as she leans back into Michael Ryan and he lifts her up in admiration.

Look Back Focus Forward also reveals exclusive touring footage and Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and principal dancer Lia Cirio share in depth the Boston Ballet’s most exciting and extraordinary experiences on tour and the significance in touring once again.  One of their favorite experiences was premiering Jiri Kylian’s controversial Bella Figura at Lincoln Center in New York City for the Boston Ballet’s 50th anniversary.  Bella Figura is best witnessed to fully take in its daring, haunting, and mysterious subtlety.

Rie Ichikawa in Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura; photo by Gene Schiavone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet also offers a sneak peek into an entirely new and innovative virtual production helmed by renowned international choreographer Ken Ossola that will soon premiere in April 15-25 2021.

BB@yourhome’s Look Back Focus Forward continues streaming through Sunday, January 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Boston Ballet celebrates the work of Jorma Elo in February.  Click here to see the BB@yourhome’s entire virtual schedule.