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Lord of the dance: Peter Boal.

In Control
By Mae G. Banner

Peter Boal & Company
Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 4

True power lies in creating space for others to show their gifts. Peter Boal, an Apollo among dancers, knows how to use his power. He showed his multi-dimensional abilities as a dancer, producer and impresario last week in the Jacob’s Pillow debut of his new chamber ballet group, Peter Boal & Company.

It was a transcendent evening.

Boal has danced with the New York City Ballet since 1983, becoming a principal in 1989. At 38, he has danced the great roles in ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Now, like Apollo leading the Muses up Mount Olympus, Boal has formed a small chamber company of fellow NYCB dancers for whom he has commissioned works by rising choreographers, including William Forsythe and Christopher Wheeldon. At the top of his career, Boal can choose the dancers he wants to spotlight and the choreographers whose work deserves to be seen.

The dancers, Boal, NYCB principals Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied, and rising corps member Sean Suozzi, presented a program of four works. Whelan and Boal opened the program with Herman Schmerman, a duet by the expatriate American choreographer William Forsythe. The dance fits Whelan’s hard-edged glamour like a steel glove. It’s filled with Forsythe’s unexpected partnering and extreme positions that push the ballet vocabulary to new locutions.

Whelan and Boal tease each other with flips and flicks of their arms and legs and with off-kilter pairings, enjoying the pickles they get into. For a moment, Boal sits on the floor to watch Whelan as her unbelievably long legs bend at un-balletic angles. He jerks her leg and she jerks his, as they move in spirals and twists to the spare electronic score by Dutch composer Thom Willems. The feeling of a day at the beach is accentuated by the Gianni Versace costumes.

We’ve admired these dancers at SPAC summer after summer, but not even front row seats there can fully reveal the play of finely-trained ballet bodies stretched and pulled off-center and popped into new shapes. For the first time, I saw Whelan grin.

Sean Suozzi joined the NYCB corps in 2000 and is just beginning to dance featured roles. Imagine what this young man must feel as he dances two solos, center stage, at The Pillow to form the heart of the Boal & Company program.

Suozzi’s first solo, Mopey, is a frenetic piece by Marco Goecke, a German choreographer. The music is a jarring juxtaposition of C.P.E. Bach and the punk-rock group, the Cramps. Suozzi dances in a hooded black jacket, moving in spasms along a horizontal plane and keeping his back to us most of the time.

Shaking off his hood, he scratches himself, smacks his face, flaps his wrists like a snared bird. He wraps one arm around the back of his neck, the other around his waist and yanks as if he were trying to pull his head off.

His agitation grows with the violent sounds of the Cramps. Now, he seems to be trying to slug his way out of a paper bag. Can’t be done. At last, he faces front, stretches upward, and with a vocal “whoosh,” blows the light out to end the dance.

Episodes, a Balanchine ballet classic that’s rarely seen, presented a vulnerable Suozzi. Set to music of Anton von Webern, Episodes is formal, coherently constructed, with exquisite repetition of unusual motifs.

The crest of the evening was Wheeldon’s Mesmerics, a trio for Whelan, Boal, and Millepied and set to excerpts from Philip Glass’s string quartets, lush with cello. British born and trained, his dances combine decorum with a “cheeky monkey” wit. Mesmerics has both.

It’s also sublimely beautiful, gleaming like polished steel. The dance begins in silence and shadow, with Boal in the foreground, Millepied in the deep background. Whelan enters and Boal gently lifts and lowers her. Her legs jut out, while he remains rooted to the spot, his torso and arms twisting into extreme shapes. She explores him, lifting his leg just off the floor or leaning along his back, so that he takes her weight.

As the dance builds, Boal and Millepied change places or combine with Whelan in elastic sculptural shapes that gleam under golden light.

Millepied has a brief solo of powerful jetes and tours jetes. Later, the two men dance in tandem, trading weight or spinning together like Olympic athletes. In an amazing trio section, the men toss Whelan back and forth, then lift and display her. Lying on their backs, the men lift her into a horizontal streak, using all their legs and arms to do it.

The three stand one behind another, arms and legs slicing outward to the fullness of the cello. It is a harmonic convergence of the planets.

Mesmerics resolves with a reversal of its initial image. One man stands downstage, the other in the background, but, this time at stage left instead of right. The planets have completed their orbit.


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