Neoclassical ballet

Boston Ballet studies the “MINDscape” of dance

In 2016, Boston Ballet entered into a five-year partnership with William Forsythe which brought us “Pas/Parts”, “Artifact” and, in 2019, “Blake Works I” and the world premiere of “Playlist (EP)” . The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted that collaboration, but the program the company opened Thursday at Citizens Bank Opera House picks up “Blake Works I” and continues it with the world premiere of “Blake Works III (The Barre Project).” Rounding out this energetic and engaging ‘MINDscape’ project is the world premiere of resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s ‘Ruth’s Dance’, a tribute to her late mother.

Forsythe put ‘Blake Works I’ on seven selections from British singer-songwriter James Blake’s 2016 album ‘The Color in Anything’; the Paris Opera Ballet premiered the piece in July 2016. Blake’s tempos are subdued, his mood is melancholy, his lyrics are enigmatic and often unintelligible. The centerpiece of the 30-minute work, right up to the title track, is the tender, teasing, sometimes rambunctious duet between Chyrstyn Fentroy and Lasha Khozashvili. Elsewhere, Forsythe pushes the classic envelope; in “Put That Away and Talk to Me,” Jasmine Jimison, Lawrence Rines and Haley Schwan are basic ballet one moment, pelvis-pumping boogie the next. Fentroy and Lia Cirio Show Off in ‘I Hope My Life’; the guys show up for us in “Two Men Down.” The finale, a melancholy duet for Cirio and Patric Palkens to “forever,” ends with the lyrics “How wonderful you are,” as if Forsythe is thanking both the art form and its 20 performers.

“Ruth’s Dance” is a five-part work composed primarily of movements from Bach’s double keyboard concertos performed live by a chamber orchestra and pianists Freda Locker and Alex Foaksman. The cast includes a tireless ministering spirit (Palkens); couples in red (Viktorina Kapitonova and Paulo Arrais), purple (Michaela DePrince and John Lam) and blue (Addie Tapp and Khozashvili); and a set of eight men and eight women.

As he did in his neoclassical ‘Egmont Creatures’ and ‘Jean Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony’, Elo fills the stage with canon and counterpoint, symmetry and asymmetry, in imaginative groupings, while attuning a welcome attention to the port de bras. Everything is gracious and generous – sometimes too generous; there is nothing unworthy of Balanchine here, but Balanchine would have published. Less is more in a brief nervous solo for Lam, and in a pas de deux on the chorale-like opening aria of Bach’s Cantata No. 54, where Tapp and Khozashvili are, in turn, distinguished and pointed in a kind of coupling. Dance.

Forsythe’s choice of title for “Blake Works I” suggested there would be more to come. In 2020, he created “The Barre Project (Blake Works II)”, a Zoom collaboration with Tiler Peck, Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack and Roman Mejia. “Blake Works III (The Barre Project)” is a live adaptation of this work for Boston Ballet. The bar appears in the background but does not feature in Schwan and Benji Pearson’s angular and lively opening duet for “Lindisfarne I”. Thereafter, the piece is largely a succession of acrobatic solos for Derek Dunn, Daniel Durrett, My’Kal Stromile and Ji Young Chae. It’s Chae who gets the most out of the barre, especially in her solo from “Lullaby for My Insomniac,” where she treats her like a partner, twirls, flickers, flirts, leaves and returns.

Halfway through, a filmed segment shows three sections of a bar close-up, with hands working them as if playing a keyboard. The closest, of a pounding “200 Press,” has a meandering salsa bend for Chae and Stromile; otherwise, it’s back to non-stop moving solo bodies, Schwan and Pearson joining at the finish. Even though these dancers prove they can do just about anything, the barre reminds us where it all came from.


“Blake Works I” and “Blake Works III (The Barre Project)”, choreographed by William Forsythe. “Ruth’s Dance”, choreographed by Jorma Elo. At Citizens Bank Opera House, until May 15. $39 – $164. 617-695-6955,

Jeffrey Gantz can be contacted at [email protected]

Jeffrey Gantz can be contacted at [email protected]