The music, all of it slow, has a penitential, Holy Week air; at one point Altan Dugaraa whips Breen Combes around while she holds her hands in a prayer position. A duet between Dugaraa and Sarah Wroth finds the curtains closing in on them; later, Wroth starts impinging on other couples, first Erica Cornejo with Yanowsky and then Tiffany Hedman with Varga. Kylián's wry humor is in evidence: Varga drops to the floor with a thud, and when they exit, first it's Yanowsky walking Cornejo like a dog and then the other way around.

It all changes when Ichikawa intrudes, topless and in a big puffy red skirt, as a kind of temple dancer. Varga is intrigued, but then their, uh, intercourse is cut off from our view by a descending curtain. Soon all nine dancers are topless and wearing those red skirts, and the visual effect of bare breasts is dispersed and dissolved, Kylián, as so often, requiring us to recalibrate our emotional reactions. Set to the Grave from Torelli's Concerto Grosso Opus 8 No. 6, Bella Figura's iconic centerpiece (captured in the posters for this production) is the sequence where Ichikawa and Breen Combes, each pulling along a black curtain from her side of the stage, meet in the center and kneel, touching each other in a typically Kylián-esque push-pull of spiritual ecstasy, before rising and removing those red skirts. No longer topless women, they're now bodies, human bodies, beautiful bodies.

What's left is almost anticlimax. The next time the curtain rises, we see fires (of passion?) burning on both sides of the stage. And more couples: Cornejo and Yanowsky, Wroth and Whiteside. Varga winds up with Hedman; he puts his hand over her mouth as she does an arabesque. They take turns trying to get each other to relax. The music stops; they don't need it anymore. And they then walk off stage together — they don't need us, either.


The Saturday matinee started with a puzzling announcement: “Would you please note the following cast change: in the first part of Pärt I, II, and III, Layli will be danced by Misa Kuranaga and Majnun by John Lam.” Puzzling because Kuranaga and Lam had been scheduled to dance those roles from the start. About halfway through their performance, however, the meaning became clear: Layli o Majnun would be danced only by Kuranaga and Lam. The third role, Madness, which Sabi Varga was to have done, had been eliminated.

I’m not sure I feel the change was an improvement. Madness had little to do on Thursday, but he did try to draw Majnun away from Layli. Without him, you have an anguished duet that illustrates, rather than tells, a story of lovers who aren’t allowed to marry — and does so with such muted lighting, you can’t make out the dancers’ expressions. Kuranaga and Lam and then, on Sunday, Erica Cornejo and Lasha Khozashvili did their anguished best, but only Larissa Ponomarenko and Yury Yanowsky, on opening night, really made it work, doing a kind of riff on Clara and Robert Schumann. Maybe brighter lighting would shed more light on this piece.

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Related: Festival Ballet's emotional, sensual Carmen, Boston Ballet's Elo Experience, Boston Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, More more >
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