REVIEW: Boston Ballet Wows in New York Philharmonic Debut

 
 Boston Ballet performs Wayne McGregor's  Obsidian Tear  as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in  Foreign Bodies  at David Geffen Hall; photo by Chris Lee, courtesy of New York Philharmonic

Boston Ballet performs Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in Foreign Bodies at David Geffen Hall; photo by Chris Lee, courtesy of New York Philharmonic

 

In Foreign Bodies, Esa-Pekka Salonen showcased his artistic perspective on three media—screen, instrument and body—and brilliantly so. The one-night performance at the Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall in New York City celebrated the Finnish composer and conductor as the New York Philharmonic’s Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence, June 8.

The program featured Mr. Salonen's Foreign Bodies with graphics by video artist Tal Rosner, Daníel Bjarnason's Violin Concerto performed by Pekka Kuusisto and Obsidian Tear—a contemporary ballet by Wayne McGregor, with dancers of Boston Ballet and violinist Simone Porter, marking Boston Ballet’s debut performance with the New York Philharmonic.

With Mr. Salonen at the helm, the New York Philharmonic elegantly navigated the stunning chaos of his sound. His expression is complex, dark and dissonant, but inspiring, theatrical and organized. The Philharmonic made beautiful sense of his vision, marrying a complicated score with a unified sound.

Accompanying media accentuated the music even further. The abstract designs of Mr. Rosner’s video installation set to Foreign Bodies creatively captured not only the conductor’s gestures, but the spirit of his sound—tumultuous, vibrant and contrasting.

And in Mr. Bjarnason's Violin Concerto, eccentric Icelander soloist Mr. Kuusisto contributed to the Scandinavian vibe. In a black half cape and messy blonde top knot, often crouched over and sometimes whistling, Mr. Kuusisto vigorous performance stripped the horsehair from his bow. The concerto was aggressive, yet at times delicate and tender, and the conductor-soloist pairing was a special performance to behold.

 
 Boston Ballet performs Wayne McGregor's  Obsidian Tear  as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in  Foreign Bodies  at David Geffen Hall; photo by Chris Lee, courtesy of New York Philharmonic

Boston Ballet performs Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the New York Philharmonic in Foreign Bodies at David Geffen Hall; photo by Chris Lee, courtesy of New York Philharmonic

 

For Obsidian Tear—set to Mr. Salonen’s Lachen Verlent and Nyx—Boston Ballet adapted to a much smaller stage than their North American premiere last November at the Boston Opera House. But the confined space of an orchestral stage only intensified their performance.

The cast of nine men danced with deep emotion and power, superbly interpreted Mr. McGregor’s genius choreography that tells story of an outcast (danced by Boston Ballet Soloist Derek Dunn, who has been promoted to Principal after only one season with the company) who encounters a harsh, masculine community. How will they respond to an outsider intruding on their ways?

Mr. Dunn and Principal Dancer John Lam, commanded the audience in an extended opening duet that exhibits the characters’ fascinating dynamic and unlikely bond, with one in red and one in black. With spontaneity, originality and exceptional skill, the two told a compelling story through their movements, from start to finish.

Dancing the role of the group’s intimidating leader, Principal Junxiong Zhao was an imposing presence onstage, exuding dominance and imposing fear. The other remaining dancers in avant-garde black costumes (individually designed under the direction of stylist Katie Shillingford) contributed resonance to the story by infusing their roles with unique personalities and performing with strength. It is a ballet that requires complete emotional and physical dedication from its dancers, and Boston Ballet did so with admirable distinction, eliciting gasps and enthusiastic praise from this New York audience.

See Boston Ballet onstage next in a special performance of Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood as part of an All-Bernstein Program under the direction of Andris Nelsons, August 18. Tickets and information >>