Most classical ballet dancers spend the majority of their artistic lives doing exactly what someone else tells them to do. From the precise angle of the head or curve of the arms, each motion is proscribed by a tradition more than a century old.
Boston Ballet's "Raw Dance" offers company members an opportunity to break out of the mold. A collaboration between the company and the Boston Center for the Arts, the showcase provides a forum for Boston Ballet's dancers to explore their choreographic vision and experiment with ideas more innovative, daring, and personally expressive than a typical ballet season would allow.
Produced by Gianni Di Marco and Viktor Plotnikov, Friday night's "Raw Dance" featured seven new works performed with superb technique and commitment by dancers at all levels of Boston Ballet. Perhaps not surprisingly, those works that stretched the farthest and were the most conceptual, were also the least cohesive. (There is still something to be said for tradition.)
Yury Yanowsky's "The Sofa" was a far-out mish-mash of self-indulgent silliness that, despite some clever moments, never added up to much. He was much more successful with the duet "Dark Silent Light." Pollyana Ribeiro gave a vivid, harrowing portrayal of Helen Keller, with April Ball as the determined and compassionate Anne Sullivan. Though the work is dramatically uneven and too literal, the final image is enough to break your heart.
Di Marco's provocative "Warp" came closest to embodying the concert's "raw" moniker, with improvised music (cellist Reinmar Seidler and violinist Rohan Gregory) and choreography fueled by a kind of primal energy and molten muscularity. It badly needed some disciplined development, but it was beautifully danced by Sarah Lamb, Heather Myers, John Lam, and Raul Salamanca in front of silver discs that twisted slightly off angle, skewing the dancers' reflections like funhouse mirrors.
The program's highlight was Plotnikov's charming miniatures for sextet, "Elegant Souls." Expertly crafted, the choreography breaks the elegant balletic line with quirky little gestures set off by gentle nudges, tugs, and leans. The Larissa Ponomarenko/Barbora Kohoutkova duet was priceless.
Miao Zong's introspective "Le Chant de Dieu" was an exquisite, poetically distilled solo of tensile contortions and brilliant articulations. Melissa Hough's "Unbound" alternated a chorus of six women in bursts of activity with languid, sustained duets by two couples who entwined with a rapturous sensuality.
Though the ensemble work was a little awkward and messy, it was a remarkable achievement for a first-time choreographer. Sarah Edery's and Michael Cusumano's playful, flirtatious jazz/ballet duet, "If I Can't Have You" featured flashy leaps, rapid-fire turns, and crisp footwork.