The Boston Ballet sprang into the season with Kylian/Wings of Wax, a diverse three-piece samplers that should appeal to ballet novices and aficionados alike with its multi-disciplinary mix of lightness and darkness, grace and humor.
The program (which continues March 30-April 2) takes its name from its dark centering piece, an oblique take on the Icarus myth, choreographed by Jiri Kylian around a barren upside-down tree that’s hung by its roots and steadily orbited by a klieg light. In contrast, eight dancers shifted speeds in angular contact, though when the women fell into slow-motion strides to a Philip Glass string quartet, Lia Cirio displayed as much intensity in her wide-eyed stare as the men who briskly wove between them at Thursday’s opening night. And with the male and female dancers wearing near-anonymous black, attention mainly focuses on the athletic tension waning and waxing in human bodies, in general and as a whole.
Yet, while Wings of Wax conveyed a darker modern simplicity, the program began and ended with a lightness of being from opposite directions. The opening Donizetti Variations—choreographed by 20th century ballet master George Balanchine to Gaetano’s 1843 opera Don Debastian—came as close to traditional ballet moves as the night would offer, with frolicking maidens leaping and pirouetting in pink-and-blue dresses and a pas de deux by Misa Kuranaga and Junxiong Zhao that grew equally authoritative in levitating solo turns. And there was a comic touch when one dancer acted like she needed to nurse a stubbed toe before falling back into line.
Humor was key as well to the closing Cacti, an ironic mashup of modern dance (choreographed by Alexander Ekman), abstract set design (by Tom Visser), and live music by a string quartet—and a parody of excess in the process. More than a dozen dancers—again androgynous in black stretch caps and knee-length baggy shorts—each commanded a platform where they heaved, huffed, clapped and slapped in undulating ensemble moves to composed and improvised music from the string players, who strolled between the near-squares. Waves of stark lights followed rows of dancers who rippled in motion, placed their platforms on end like layered-shield props, and then stacked them like haphazard dominoes while parading with potted cacti to punctuate the absurdity with a near-phallic point.
At times, a spoken-word accompanist injected commentary, suggesting how the cross-genre collaborators combined to create “the human orchestra”—and lent conversation lines for a couple in a mock pas-de-deux rehearsal rife with personal and professional questioning. And then there was the dropped cat. If it didn’t all make actual sense, flow with the night’s other pieces, or please a ballet purist, Cacti sure as hell proved visually provocative and outright entertaining.