Boston Ballet

November 7, 2012

The Boston Opera House
Boston, MA

October 25–November 4, 2012

Performances reviewed: Oct. 25 and 27 (matinee)


Choreographer Jorma Elo made the risky choice to bring a child onstage and weave him throughout the action of his world premiere, Awake Only, during the opening program of Boston Ballet’s 49th season. A cynic might have dismissed the adorable boy as a gratuitous pull to the heart strings, but more dangerous was the possibility that he would upstage the adults.

Elo had a story to tell, which this writer did not grasp until a second viewing. The pajama-clad youngster (Liam Lurker) was meant to be the child from whom the man had grown (Jeffrey Cirio on opening night), to recollect his life and relationships—with his parents, Sabi Varga and Lia Cirio (Jeffrey’s sister) and with the woman he loved, a glowing Kathleen Breen Combes. Six women continually entered and retreated around Jeffrey Cirio, including soloist Whitney Jensen and corps member Rachel Cossar, impressive for her intelligent shaping of the patterns and stretched out limbs. Lurker acted as a miniature master of ceremonies, poking and prodding Jeffrey Cirio back into his memories. At the conclusion, the boy knelt next to the prone man on the floor, all life ended.



Rachel Cossar in Elo’s
Awake Only. All photos by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet.


Unlike Elo’s nine earlier works for BB, there were no avant-garde sets or props that flew around the stage, nor did he employ contemporary music or the counterpoint of spoken language. Awake Only unfolds on a blank stage to a score of nine pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, played live by two distinguished musicians—Heinrich Christensen on organ and Alex Foaksman on piano.

Elo’s choreography is tailored to the BB dancers he knows so well. He sets them moving fast, faster, fastest. This tactic is well-suited to the tightly coiled body of Jeffrey Cirio in his stunning opening solo, a series of dizzying stage circles and mile-high jetés. Elo mixes in symbolic gestures and stances: the framing of a face by a succession of flat-handed chops; the patting but not touching of skin; the frequent, off-balance swerves of the bodies; and odd, sometimes awkward, lifts. The pas de deux for Cirio, who lets us know every minute how he’s feeling with Combes, was breathtaking in its melding of flesh into flesh. In the second cast, Paulo Arrais and especially Adiarys Almeida were appealing in their eager youthfulness but not as wrenching of the emotions as Cirio and Combes. In retrospect, I preferred the first viewing when I was not distracted by following the specifics of the plot.



Kathleen Breen Combes in Forsythe’s
The Second Detail.


Awake Only
was book-ended by Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, set to music by the Rolling Stones, and William Forsythe’s Star Wars vision, The Second Detail, with a score by Thom Willens, both seen on recent company programs. In Rooster, the pecking walks of the preening males were a predictable response in Brit-mod  style to the music which nonetheless provided Jensen with a stage-sweeping solo to “Ruby Tuesday.” The powerful Lorna Feijóo, as a wild woman, an outsider to the ordered society, performed the surprise solo that ended the Forsythe work.

Pictured at top: Jeffrey Cirio in Elo’s
Awake Only.