Quo vadis?

Boston Ballet’s ‘Next Generation’
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  March 10, 2008
IN ON BLUE: Obsessing with Bernard Herrmann.

“Next Generation” | Eventide: Music by Michael Nyman, Jan Garbarek, and Philip Glass; Choreography by Helen Pickett; Costumes by Charles Heightchew | Gone Again: Music by Franz Schubert; Choreography by Heather Myers; Costumes by Heather Myers with Charles Heightchew | Ein Von Viel: Music by Johann Sebastian Bach; Choreography by Sabrina Matthews; Costumes by Carolyn O’brien | In On Blue: Music by Eugène Ysaÿe and Bernard Herrmann; Choreography by Jorma Elo; Costumes by Charles Heightchew | Lighting by Mark Stanley | Presented by Boston Ballet at the Wang Theatre through March 16

“Next Generation” is the kind of ballet-program title that might have you asking yourself what happened to “This Generation” — i.e., the American choreographers that wowed (some of) us in the ’80s, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Bill T. Jones. They in turn seem a long way removed from the generation or two before them — Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, to say nothing of Balanchine — and their best work seems mostly behind them. In their place we have the variously prepossessing Christopher Wheeldon, Peter Martins, Alexei Ratmansky, and Matthew Bourne. Boston Ballet’s “Next Generation,” which it presented last weekend at the Wang Theatre, offered three world premieres and one American premiere by four protégés of Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen: Helen Pickett, Heather Myers, Sabrina Matthews, and Jorma Elo. It was a kinetic evening notable more for the contributions of the dancers than for the pieces’ concepts or their choreography, or the lighting.

Speaking to the audience at curtain time (live on opening night, recorded thereafter), Mikko Nissinen noted that it’s unusual to have three world premieres on a single program, and unusual to have three women choreographers on a single program. Even more unusual was the opening amuse-gueule, a 10-minute work called Téssera (the number four in Greek, but also an individual tile in a mosaic) that Jorma Elo “arranged” for the four still-young choreographers, to a snatch of Sibelius (a loop of the galloping four-bar ostinato for lower strings and timpani that kick-starts the finale of the Violin Concerto). The curtain rose to reveal the quartet running on and lining up with their backs to us and half turning around. They moved in unison, or in sequence, before breaking into solos that varied from one night to the next. Myers seemed to be about balancing and creating space with her arms. Elo, in between pauses for reflection, was beset by a swarm of mosquitoes (or the Furies); I had the vague impression he was quoting from the history of dance. Pickett did more with her feet, kicking and walking, before going to ground; Matthews alternated between channeling a good-natured mastiff and getting pulled about by one. They were united in their need to keep moving and in their isolation from one another.

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