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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

An Evening of Russian Ballet

An Evening of Russian Ballet
Marty Sohl

While watching Gopak, featuring soloist Christopher Budzynski flaunting his technical ability in a wide circle of acrobatic jumps, and The Dying Swan, featuring soloist Karine Seneca fluttering her arms with perfect fluidity and gracefulness, I thought that I had seen my favorite performances of “An Evening of Russian Ballet,” presented by the Boston Ballet at The Wang Center from May 4-7. And then came Les Noces (The Wedding)-a stunning, mystifying, and intriguing finale entirely original in choreography and costume.

Unlike my first two favorites, which featured one performer each, Les Noces’ strength is in how the ensemble works together to create a disturbing and austere dance drama depicting a Russian peasant wedding. Its jarring angular movements are a stark contrast to the more circular and free-flowing moves that characterize the earlier pieces of the evening, such as “Raymonda, Act III” and “Spring Waters.” The stomping, punching, and stabbing motifs of Bronislava Nijinska’s choreography are reminiscent of African styles of ritualistic dance. The background of the piece is spiritual, as the set is an undecorated room with two small brown muted windows depicted by squares with images of crosses in them. The simple black and white costumes add a haunting aspect to the bizarre performance, communicating to the audience that this marriage ceremony is meant to be unromantic, simple, and formal.

Set to music by Igor Stravinsky, Les Noces brings the audience into close proximity with the sacred rites of primitive Russian culture. In a series of four tableaux entitled “The Blessing of the Bride,” “The Blessing of the Bridegroom,” “The Departure of the Bride,” “and The Wedding Feast,” the characters of the dance move and act in patterns that seem designed to erase all sense of each of them as emotional individuals. Their actions do not seem to be motivated by freewill but by fierce obligation to the marriage ceremony. Especially powerful are scenes in which different characters, such as the bride, bridegroom and elders stand or sit unflinchingly still onstage while the rest of the characters dance. They are witnesses to their own fate, it seems, as they sit and watch with their faces tense.

For those more accustomed to seeing ballerinas in beautiful dresses and tutus twirling, being lifted up in the air by their partners, and cast in elaborate romantic situations, such as displayed in the pieces “Spring Waters” and “Moszkowski Waltz,” Les Noces is a startling change that leave you, like many other audience members, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.” It even appears as if “An Evening of Russian Ballet” is designed in such a manner as to present all that is familiar in the beginning and middle of the night, only to provide the audience with points of comparison for its amazing finale.