by John Stoehr
At the beginning of the Boston Ballet's performance of Brake the Eyes, created by Jorma Elo, the resident choreographer and current It Boy among ballet companies, I was in awe.
The choreography seemed to draw from street dancing (break-dancing and krumping) and traditional dance (as from India and Bali) as much as it was rooted in the fundamentals of ballet. Jorma seems to combine angular and frenetic movements — the vitality of the vernacular — with graceful and poetic movements — the discipline of the tradition.
The dancers joints are angles of a frame. Their limbs are the skeletal structure of a machine. Cybernetic and humane. It was heat that was also somehow cool. It seemed novel and familiar at the same time, a mark of creative genius.
Each ballerina wore a conventional tutu, a sign suggesting Elo was making a statement: that there's room enough in the tradition for novelty; that there's room enough for the present as well as fealty to the past. Then I got bored.
I couldn't figure out where it was going amid layer after layer of more of the same. And neither could the woman to my left, who later informed me that she had a background in ballet.
After the first blush of novelty and intrigue, Brake the Eyes unfortunately settles down into a pattern of numbing repetition. It vacillates between a mood that's barren and ominous to a mood that's light and peppy. Atmospheric sounds punctuated by vapid whisperings in Russian trade off with the classical forms of Mozart.
All the while, I looked for patterns, signs, and benchmarks to help me locate the direction, the purpose. Were the ambient bass vibrations supposed to connote emotions of an inner life? Were the Mozart sections an antithesis to the growling of the thesis. In each mood, the dancing was the same.
I couldn't really tell. Perhaps it's the dance version of a John Adams-like minimalism. But even in minimalism, you can sense development. Something is going somewhere somehow. Even if you can't articulate any of those things. Emotionally, Brake the Eyes left me without much feeling of affection.
So much for tutus.