"Bella figura" in Italian is more than a phrase — it's a philosophy. It makes life beautiful. "Bella Figura" as the title of Boston Ballet's latest program is an invitation to find beauty in three disparate choreographic styles — one of them incorporating topless women (as well as men). At last night's opening performance at the Opera House, beauty was in the eye of many beholders, the company building on the excellence of its just-presented Elo Experience and A Midsummer Night's Dream. But there's much to think about as well.
Start with The Second Detail, which William Forsythe created for the National Ballet of Canada in 1991. The score, by Thom Willems (as always with Forsythe), screams "brutta figura!": it's brutal, all strangled cries and breaking glass. But in that pounding pulse the dancers find a subtle sway. Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, which the company did in 2002 and 2005, took place in an urban playground, with shadowily defined gangs facing off. The Second Detail posits an urban runway fronted by a small card on the floor with the word THE. Singly and in groups, the dancers saunter about, break suddenly into an idea, and break just as suddenly out of it. There are stools along the back wall on which dancers will sit, sometimes resting, sometimes providing a choreographic backdrop. We see couples: Rie Ichikawa and Bo Busby, Misa Kuranaga and Isaac Akiba. Kathleen Breen Combes kicks and shakes as if trying to slough a skin: it's lindy meets lindworm. Everybody's going in two directions at once, reveling in the physical while trying to escape it. The vocabulary is all over the lot, shimmy one second, tendu the next. Breen Combes hooks up with James Whiteside and he snaps her into an overhead upside-down split. After an explosive John Lam solo, the music pauses, everybody supine but Breen Combes and Kuranaga. At this point last night, the audience burst into applause, seemingly more in need of a breather than the dancers were.
But the dancers are up again almost at once. The music cools; there's a jazzy interlude, and then a kind of tango. Breen Combes and Whiteside get a second bite of the cherry — an unusual development in Forsythe, where pairing and repairing is the rule. Amid all the alarums and excursions, you'd hardly notice that there've been seven men but only six women. Eventually Lorna Feijóo wanders in along the back wall, wearing a white dress that looks as if she'd grabbed a sheet on her way in, wrapped it around her, and knotted it in the middle. As the lighting dims, she threads her way through the pack, arms flailing in possession or anger, in a style that suggests Africa or the Caribbean. When she goes supine, it's a signal for the THE card to be tipped over.