Kylián’s highly detailed work is tricky for any ballet company. And unlike the classical vocabulary, it demands a super-flexible torso as well as the willingness to sink significant weight into the floor, often off-balance, at high speeds, and in constant motion. Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo, who danced 20 Kylián ballets during his 14 years with Nederlands Dans Theater, says the choreographer always encourages dancers to “do more, take a risk, take it so far you are on the edge of falling off.”
Danced well, Kylián’s choreography flows with a seamless, organic quality, and Breen Combes, who has danced in six Kylián works with Boston Ballet, says it has been instrumental in laying the foundation for the company’s competency in all contemporary work. For her, it also adds a vital component to the troupe’s wide-ranging repertoire, and that repertoire “is really one of the main reasons I’m here,” she says. “In the dance world, people are extremely jealous. The fact that we do a whole Kylián program the week before opening ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is unheard of.”
She calls “Tar and Feathers” the most “far-out” Kylián ballet she has performed, a work about grappling with one’s inner demons and struggling to express something that just won’t come out or comes out wrong. “This is more confrontational, aggressive, making the audience view dance from their own perspective rather than sitting passively. It’s meant to shock and make people think about things in their own life.”
One of the more challenging aspects of the ballet for Breen Combes has been the improvisation. “At first, it’s very frightening when someone gives you six minutes to do whatever you want. It’s so far outside our comfort zone. As classically trained dancers, you are taught to be upright, place steps just so, project a certain way. This is more internal. It’s about you as a human trying to be yourself and work through all these emotions. It’s liberating in a way.”
“And it builds you as a dancer,” she adds. “It’s a rare ballet that lets you grow as a person.”
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.