Like many other ballet companies who have been forced offstage, Boston Ballet is presenting an entirely digital season this fall. Titled “[email protected],” the season opened on Nov. 19 with “Forsythe Elements,” a tribute to the company’s long standing partnership with the inimitable choreographer William Forsythe. This first installment of “[email protected]” provides a deep dive into Forsythe’s works, with excerpts from a wide range of pieces including “Playlist (EP),” “Pas/Parts 2018,” “The Second Detail,” “Artifact 2017,” “Blake Works I,” and “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated.” With clips from the Boston Ballet’s archives of past live performances, a Zoom conversation between Forsythe and six company dancers, and a few excerpts filmed in November, this program offers both beautiful performance footage of the incredible Boston Ballet dancers and an intimate, behind-the-scenes glimpse at Forsythe’s working process.
For viewers who were looking for a semblance of a night at the ballet, they may be disappointed. “Forsythe Elements” plays out more like a documentary —a sort of highlight reel of the choreographer’s pieces. Though viewers are treated to a wide sampling of Forsythe’s works, the clips are rather short, with no single work shown from start to finish, so there is never quite time to get sucked into the magic of the piece or story. Despite being rather less satisfying than seeing a full length production in person, this may actually be a rather smart way to attack online production — as people tend to have much shorter attention spans for online work.
Still, the presentation format doesn’t detract from the excitement and energy of Forysthe’s choreography, performed with great finesse by the Boston Ballet dancers. Particularly impressive is the control and musicality;so much of Forsythe is exceedingly technically challenging — and fast. The dancers attacked the movement with great virtuosity and tempo, yet still created lovely pockets of stillness — photo moments — holding a position or slowing down a movement to great effect. “Blake Works I” highlighted Forsythe’s brilliantly unique manipulation of elements of classical ballet, here through his use of a traditional corps de ballet that created wonderfully interesting visuals with high port de bras swung through in perfect unison by the dancers.
The program opened with a performance of “Playlist (EP) Impossible” and “Pas/Parts 2018,” filmed in-studio during the pandemic. The work featured COVID-safe performances, with dancers filmed in individual videos that were edited together in post-production to create duets and trios. This, too, was a testament to the dancers’ impressive musicality, as they danced perfectly “together” in their separate boxes on screen — something that is much easier to do when physically beside each other. The dancers also wore masks, something audiences have likely gotten used to (and are unquestionably necessary for safety). Still, it was disappointing to not be able to see the dancers’ faces — especially as the particular advantage of videography over live performance is the added intimacy and closeness that reveals facial expression, emotion, and artistry far more clearly.
The longest segment of the program, and, in fact, the highlight of it, was a recorded Zoom conversation between Forsythe himself and six company dancers: Lia Cirio, Chrystyn Fentroy, John Lam, Lawrence Rines, Haley Schwan, and Patrick Yocum. The group covered many topics, from what it’s been like working through the pandemic to what the choreographic and setting (of a previously choreographed piece onto new dancers) process looks like with Forsythe. The dancers all spoke warmly of their experiences working with Forsythe, calling it a truly collaborative process, as he works with each individual to allow them to “live their truth onstage,” as dancer Haley Schwan put it. With the intimacy of Zoom, this conversation provided a lovely behind the scenes look at this choreographic process, and a glimpse of what clearly seemed to be a wonderful relationship.
For lovers of Forsythe, “Forsythe Elements” provides an excellent look at his works, along with the partnership between the choreographer and Boston Ballet. Although it often felt more like a highlight reel than a cohesive performance, this was a truly unique digital work perhaps better suited for an online audience likely less invested than a theater audience. The program fully showcased the amazing repertoire of Boston Ballet’s work with Forsythe, proving once again the virtuosity of Boston Ballet’s dancers, and marking a promising start to “[email protected]”
—Staff Writer Sara Komatsu can be reached at [email protected]