Inside Look: William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018

 Jill Johnson rehearsing with Boston Ballet; photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Jill Johnson rehearsing with Boston Ballet; photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet opened Parts in Suite, a triple-bill program featuring work by three powerhouse choreographers: Justin Peck, Jorma Elo and William Forsythe. For Boston, this will be the first time seeing Mr. Peck’s In Creases and Mr. Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2018. The third, Mr. Elo’s Bach Cello Suites, was a hit with audiences and dancers alike when premiered at Boston Ballet in 2015.

The Boston Dance Journal spoke with Mr. Elo, and the stagers for In Creases (former Miami City Ballet Principal Patricia Delgado) and Pas/Parts 2018 (Harvard Dance Director Jill Johnson). With deep personal knowledge with the three pieces and time rehearsing with Boston Ballet, the three gave an inside scoop of what to expect from Parts in Suite.

Having worked closely with William “Bill” Forsythe, both as a dancer and stager, for nearly three decades, Pas/Parts 2018 stager Jill Johnson hopes audiences view this ballet with an open mind. “It can be interpreted in a multitude of ways—there isn’t a singular way to experience it.”

For many dancers, Mr. Forsythe’s choreography can be like learning another language, Ms. Johnson told The Boston Dance Journal by phone. In Pas/Parts 2018, the dancers perform a combination of divertissements and group dances, ranging in pace and mood.

Structurally, Ms. Johnson says the piece is very classical, employing and exploring the possibilities of how ballet can be assembled, configured and re-configured. Within these variations on classical structure, Mr. Forsythe’s movements incorporate counterpoints—"counterpoint in the body, counterpoint in compositional structure, counterpoint in musicality and between dancers,” she explains.

Though viewers need not approach the ballet with a textbook of ballet knowledge, Ms. Johnson says, they might enjoy looking for thematic content develop in the piece just like in a piece of music, or they might pick up on Forsythe’s distinctive lighting design, or how he likes to feature each dancer’s unique personality and relationship to the music.

Pas/Parts was premiered for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1999, and was reworked in 2016 for the San Francisco Ballet. Now, Ms. Johnson says, Pas/Parts 2018 is “being tailor-made, revised and refined for Boston Ballet dancers in a very nuanced and distinctive way”—hence “2018” in the title. Along with her Frankfurt colleague, Christopher Roman, Ms. Johnson set Pas/Parts 2018 on Boston Ballet last August.

In its re-imagination for and with the dancers of Boston Ballet, Ms. Johnson says, “oftentimes I think of the choreography as a kind of scaffolding and the dancers fill in the structure with their artistic ideas.” Viewing the dancers as creators of art, Ms. Johnson says her role as a stager is more than simply giving them a series of steps. “I try and work with each individual dancer on their trajectory in a role, and work to empower them so that they might have agency for their own artistry both in the creative process and in performances,” she says. “. . . My role is also to facilitate their greatness.”

Ms. Johnson believes it is important to create an environment that inspires joy, curiosity and trust in rehearsals. And it’s especially important for a ballet as complex as Pas/Parts 2018. She says, “It’s remarkably detailed and it requires a lot of practice. Then, the art begins.”

Read “Inside Look: Justin Peck’s In Creases
Read “Inside Look: Jorma Elo’s Bach Cello Suites

See Boston Ballet perform Parts in Suite at the Boston Opera House, March 9–April 7. Buy tickets >>