For the Love of Ballet

Ballet Shoes & Bobby Pins' team member, Elizabeth Katherman, recently saw Boston Ballet perform in New York City. She walked away that evening in awe of the power of contemporary ballets and in love with the history of classical ballet. It's an intriguing intersection to see classical ballet, influenced by modern dance, and presented in beautiful contemporary ballets. Read more:

Photo: Boston Ballet’s Symphony in Three Movements ©The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Gene Schiavone

The complex, emotional, and unique elements of contemporary ballets are some of the reasons audiences find themselves returning to them time after time. The blending of historical and traditional ballet technique with some unique, sharp, jazz-like movements thrown in make them enticing to the eye as well as emotionally captivating.

Did You Know? Contemporary ballets are not worried about symmetry. Having an "unbalanced" stage is something used often in contemporary ballets but this would not be found in classical ballets where formations on stage remain balanced.

The emotions portrayed in contemporary ballets vary from abnormal to beautiful, and from sensual to strange all in one fleeting moment. There are not necessarily strict story lines set within them, which makes it easier for some audience members to adapt and relate to the movements on stage. This in turn can help the audience to relate on a more personal level to the performance. Some traditional ballets are difficult for non-ballet viewers to enjoy, thus giving contemporary ballets a more modern, new-age appeal for those who are not fond of the straight and narrow ways of classical ballet.

Did You Know? Classical ballet uses pantomime or literal gestures to tell stories to their audience members. Contemporary ballets tend to be less literal while still expressing emotions.

Classical ballet is not all lost within the new age styles of contemporary ballet. Audiences will see unique, more “modern” movements paired with creative pas de deuxs and traditional ballet technique from the Boston Ballet.

Did You Know? Classical ballets always have a pas de deux. Contemporary ballets may or may not include a pas de deux.

The linear forms of the dancers’ bodies are now blended with the sharp, sassy variety of jazz styles. The strengths that these dancers need to have are no less than that of classical ballerinas. The choreographers for the repertoire of the Boston Ballet just found a new, creative way to blend the strength and technique with a more eclectic genre of movement.

Did You Know? Classical ballets have the dancers keep their spines erect most of the time, while contemporary ballets allow the dancers to roll through the spine, curve and twist. In classical ballets, the ballerinas always wear pointe shoes. In contemporary ballets, the ballerinas do not necessarily have to wear pointe shoes.

The Boston Ballet mastered the elements of contemporary ballet through an array of different pieces. Symphony in Three Movements (Choreography by: George Balanchine) was the only performance in the repertoire that was done en pointe. Balanchine paired traditional ballet technique with sharp, angular movements that felt sassy and jazzy. There was the traditional element of the corps de ballet blended with different groups of dancers performing various movements and phrases to create a plethora of dashing and fleeting footwork.

Afternoon of a Faun (Choreography by: Vaslav Nijinsky) had a quiet contempt to it. With different story lines happening at once, this piece holds true to a classic contemporary ballet. The expression and emotional depth Nijinsky placed within the choreography of this piece comes to life in a way that is more than just technical. The slow opening and closing of the faun’s mouth, as well as the strength and utter desire that pours from his movements brings a new, theatrical way to perceive ballet to its audience members.

Did You Know? Contemporary ballets are influenced by modern dance. Balanchine worked with modern dancer, Martha Graham, to better understand modern dance ideas.

Plan to B (Choreography by: Jorma Elo) was electric and exhibited captivating emotions through powerful movement. This piece was blended with a variety of jazz styles that were constant and quick, forcing the audience to react with inept speed to each movement. The set and lighting of the piece gave it a more modern dance feel, but the movement was attacked with such elegant force that the only way it could be done was with excessive amounts of technical ballet training.

Bella Figura (Choreography by: Jiri Kylian) was stunning. Beginning a way that encourages the audience to feel slightly uncomfortable as well as invited to be a part of the performance, this piece did not fail to captivate its viewers. There were classical sections of adagio and allegro variations, as well as the breaking of the gender barrier by adding the element of partial nudity to the dancers’ torsos. Bella Figura was an emotional piece that brought tears to some eyes and dropped jaws to those too stunned to move.

The Boston Ballet did a remarkable job of bringing out the various styles of beauty in contemporary ballet with obvious connections to classical ballet. From the sexuality and emotional rawness of it all, to the more traditional takes on classical technique, it was truly a pleasure to behold.

Photo by: Edward Bennett

Elizabeth Katherman lives in New York City. She has her Dance Performance degree from Old Dominion University.

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