Boston Ballet’s “Fall Experience” is quite the experience. Two official world premieres: company artist My’Kal Stromile’s “Form and Gesture” and Akram Khan’s reimagined “Vertical Road.” What amounts to a world premiere in resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s revamped “Bach Cello Suites.” And an enigmatic duet from 91-year-old Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen. Thursday at the Boston Opera House, there was much to appreciate in a program that ran just under 2½ hours.
“Bach Cello Suites” got its premiere from Boston Ballet in 2015 and reappeared, with revisions, in 2018, both times with on-stage cellist Sergey Antonov. For this 2023 edition, Elo has replaced the Gigue from Suite No. 1 with the one from Suite No. 4, and dropped the Prelude of Suite No. 1 and the Allemande and Sarabande of Suite No. 2. Antonov is back, underlining, as always, the character of the music without ever calling attention to himself.
Costuming is basic, the five men in black shirts and pants, the five women in black leotards. Alexa Torres and Ángel García Molinero are confident and full of wonder in the opening Allemande, Kaitlyn Casey and Sun Woo Lee playful and exuberant in the Courante. Viktorina Kapitonova and Tigran Mkrtchyan hint at robotics as they try out poses before falling into synch in the Sarabande; the Gigue elicits whirligig solos from the men, and then a pair of Menuets allow Ji Young Chae and Derek Dunn to show off for us and each other. In the Prelude to Suite No. 2, a fluid Chyrstyn Fentroy and Tyson Ali Clark offer glimpses of romantic uncertainty, but overall the shoving matches and estrangements and partner swapping of the previous versions have given way to a sunny celebration of Bach’s music.
In 2015, Boston Ballet served up Van Manen’s “Black Cake,” a boozy revel in black humor. Set to Erik Satie’s chastely hypnotic piano composition, “Trois Gnossiennes” is altogether different. Three company men move the onstage piano and principal solo pianist Alex Foaksman from upstage left to stage center to downstage left, Foaksman playing valiantly throughout. Chae, in a pale blue tunic, and Patrick Yocum, bare-chested in blue tights, enter from opposite wings. He’s assured; she reverses course, considers, confronts him, and flings herself into a supported arabesque from which she flexes her foot.
Throughout the first “Gnossienne,” developpés and arabesques alternate with rigid postures and equine prancing; at one point he lifts her in a supine pose with her knees bent and feet flexed. She’s elusive, as if measuring his suitability. In the second “Gnossienne,” they relax, mirror and follow one another in steps of basic elegance; in the third, they reprise movements from the first, with a bit more trust. There’s room for interpretation in how the couple relate; Thursday a very crisp Chae and a somewhat neutral Yocum didn’t quite connect.
“Form and Gesture” is presented in four “Exhibits” and set to music by Moira Lo Bianco (“Attunement” and “AGNI”) and Patrick PK Smith and Kameron Brewer (“Metronomic” and “Symphony of Equations”). Stromile defines “Form” as “technical excellence” and “Gesture” as “artistic expression”; he’s looking to show how the two combine.
Exhibit A, in what might be a ballet studio, has a silhouetted quartet of Chisako Oga, Louise Hautefeuille, Lauren Herfindahl, and Clark giving Dunn notes. When the dancers are silhouetted against the black wings, however, there’s nothing to see. Exhibit B brings on an energetic ensemble of four couples in red and blue; toward the end, Henry Griffin launches into a solo and Dunn, now lounging downstage left in street clothes, observes; he follows, to the soundtrack of a theater crowd at intermission, with his own solo. Exhibit C moves to a smoky boîte, the principal ladies in plate tutus, and everyone cavorting behind screens as if putting on a peep show. Exhibit D has everyone attired in gala black and white and rocking out. Technical excellence is a given, but any particular expressiveness gets lost in the sets and costuming and concepts like “Tune Fortification” and “Apparatus Augmentation.”
“Vertical Road” premiered in 2010 in Leicester, England, as a 70-minute piece with eight dancers. “Vertical Road (Reimagined) 2023″ has 13 dancers but runs just 35 minutes and has indeed been reimagined. The action is still primarily horizontal, however, with Jeffrey Cirio opposite an antagonistic group, everyone in billowing beige-colored robes and trousers. Cirio’s frenetic anguish and aggression suggest he’s performing a self-exorcism; the group are angry and accusing, as if he’d done something unforgivable. Emma Topalova is the priest-like figure who rejects his supplications; Lia Cirio steps out from the group to scold him. Chalky dust flies off everyone, as in “Dust thou art.” Toward the end, the group melt away and reappear behind a plastic boundary scrim; Cirio tries and fails to make contact with them as they process past him. All seems lost until the stage fills with light and the scrim drops in a dramatic collapse.
Whether Cirio is now on the vertical road is hard to say. What sticks from Khan’s piece is Cirio’s intense performance and the remarkable energy of the group, who, with suggestions of kathak and martial arts, convulse to Nitin Sawhney’s pounding score like an organism in its death throes. Or perhaps one that’s evolving into a higher life form.
Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through Oct. 15. Tickets $25-$185. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.