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Review of the Boston Ballet’s Performance of Bella Figura (2011)

While on my staycation, I decided to take in some of the cultural sights/events around my fair city that it’s normally difficult to find the time to do.  One of these was the Boston Ballet.  I just went with whatever show happened to be playing the weekend of my vacation, and this happened to be Bella Figura–a modern ballet.

Since we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Boston Opera House at all, we’re just going to hope that my words will suffice in explaining the complete unexpectedness of the ballet.

My friend and I were uncertain as to what, exactly, the ballet was supposed to be about, so naturally we consulted our programs.  The most clear line in the entire description was, “Standing in the darkness and staring into a sharp light with eyes closed.”  There is so much wrong with that sentence.  If you are standing in the darkness, there is no sharp light.  If your eyes are closed, you aren’t staring into anything…..

In any case, the first act opened on a blue background with stools in the back.  The word “the” on a plaque was on the floor at the front of the stage.  This, combined with the dancers’ blue and white traditional attire, conspired to give the appearance of a typical dance studio.  The music was electrical and came from the speakers, not the orchestra pit.  The dancing was firm, vibrant, and called to mind the gang dance scenes from West Side Story.  Simultaneously crazy and choreographed, it elicited pure joy in myself at the playfulness of the whole thing.  I honestly wasn’t entirely sure what the message was, but to me, it was that craziness can be fun.  It ended with one of the male dancers firmly kicking over the plaque.  To me, this symbolized defeating the norm.

The second act consisted of three scenes of pairs of dancers obviously supposed to be emulating romantic relationships.  This was the only act that the orchestra made an appearance for.  All three dances were clearly about romantic relationships, yet each relationship was unique and exquisite.  Of particular note was the second romantic pairing which had a gorgeous moon background, dry ice fog, and the most sensual ballet dancing I personally have ever seen.  It brought tears to my eyes and my friend and I commented to each other that the dances beautifully represented the push and pull, good and bad of all romantic relationships.  It was touching in the pure universality of such relationships.

The third act, however, was quite simply, baffling.  It opened with a set of flashing blue tubes rising from the floor, giving the illusion that the dancers had set up a bomb or something.  The dancers then started dancing in time with the music, which was again pre-recorded, but not with each other.  The lead female dancer then came out in a tribal red skirt and topless.  The men were dancing in, essentially, boxer-briefs, which in and of itself was enjoyable, but evidently the outfit choice was to allow for the men to punctuate their dance moves by slapping themselves on the thigh.  The female lead then danced in front of a curtain with someone else behind the curtain who periodically groped her through the curtain, alternately hiding her breasts and showing them to the audience.  The toplessness came and went throughout the act with approximately six dancers (three male and three female) periodically appearing topless.  The other portions were taken up by dancers who, while clothed, essentially seemed to be doing a more graceful version of the robot.  Frequently during this portion there were three dancers on stage.  The only message I got from this act was that “threesomes can be really fun.”

Overall, I entirely enjoyed my visit to the ballet.  It was not at all the stuffy visit I was expecting.  Our usher was truly an awesome lady who just wanted us to enjoy our afternoons.  Our section was full of other 20-somethings who were capable of both strong emotions and simultaneously didn’t take anything too seriously.  Seeing such disciplined bodies in action was inspiring, and the first act spoke to my preference for alternative music and dance styles.  However, it must be said, what touched me the most at my core was the most traditional portion of the show–the second act.  Seeing relationships played out exquisitely in dance hearkens back to the origins of dance.  It is the second act that would make me go to the Boston Ballet again.

Book Review: The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Summary:
The Duchess of Malfi has been widowed young.  She wants to remarry, but her brothers wish for her to remain single.  She enters into a secret marriage and is blisfully happy…..until her brothers find out.

Review:
This classic play, first performed in 1614, is everything you’d expect from the early tragedies.  There’s greed, vengeance, mysterious children, weeping women, and more.  This one is slightly different in that it is drenched in Catholicism and contains a truly evil brother.  I wish I could say this play made me think the way A Doll’s House did, but honestly the only thing I thought was “Man, it sucks to be her.”  It is quite possible that this is one of those plays that comes across better when you see it performed than when you read it.  I found it neither enjoyable nor unenjoyable, and I think that may simply be because at this point in time the tragedy plot seems overdone and completely not shocking.

However, if you find the plot appealing and enjoy a good, old-fashioned tragedy, then you should give this play a shot.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for iTouch, iPhone, and iPad

Buy It

Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 4 comments

Need homework help? Get “How to Write a Book Review of a Play.” A one page PDF featuring an infographic-style 5 step guide to writing a review of a play that uses this review as an example.

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three-act dramatic play was first performed in 1879. It explores the nature of domestic relationships in a way that still holds relatability and power today. The play accomplishes this using the same set design of the Helmer family’s living room throughout all three acts. I found myself impressed by the different feelings evoked by the identical set in each act.

The primary relationship the play explores is that of Nora and her husband Torvald. The first act opens before Christmas with Nora returning from a shopping excursion. Although their language with each other is sweet, there is also a clear tension in the relationship. Torvald calls her many terms of endearments. Yet they clearly disagree on how and when to spend money. Although Torvald is to start a new job in January with a higher salary, he does not want them to borrow any money for Christmastime. Nora disagrees, thinking it a reasonable thing to do. This seems like a minor disagreement until we discover that Nora in the past secretly borrowed money. She did this to take Torvald south to a warmer location for his health. The doctor told her it was vital to take him or he would die. Her motivations were sound, but it is a secret between them. Thus the play establishes that what seems like a simple mismatch in the marriage is, in fact, more serious.

The three acts deftly escalate this mismatch and how it must come to a head now between the two of them. In a mirror of the two of them, there is another couple introduced who broke up for livelihood reasons. In this way, the play leads the audience to see that a couple does not need to be perfect to find a way forward. This sets up the question of will or won’t Nora and Torvland find a way forward as a married couple?

The play also explores expectations of mothers. Nora and Torvald have three children. In the first act, we see Nora engaged in enthusiastic play with her children.  She speaks with pride of  both them and her mothering to a friend. Yet, over the course of the play, she comes to doubt her own mothering abilities because she doubts how good of a person she herself is. This all starts with a comment from Torvald:

TORVALD: “Almost everyone who has gone to the bad early in life has had a deceitful mother.”
NORA: “Why do you only say–mother?”

(loc 1005)

Although she pushes back on it, this begins to break the foundation of her own beliefs in her ability to mother. Since the audience both saw and heard her quality mothering at the beginning of the play, it is clear that it is not her character that is at fault. Rather it is that she needs her own husband to have faith in her quality as a mother. This subtle exploration of mothering is an enjoyable subplot to the main relationship drama.

Another theme explored in the play is the struggles of women for self-sufficiency. Nora’s friend Mrs. Linde (a widow) brings this to light. Dr. Rand’s character allows the play to explore the choices available to a person with a debilitating disease.  Another interesting exploration is whether the law is always correct or if sometimes the law itself can be wrong.

Overall, this is a brief yet powerful play. Although it was first performed more than 140 years ago, the relationships and themes it explores are still relevant today. It gives no easy answers, leaving the audience to decide for themselves what they think.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 88 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Note: This review was updated on March 25, 2022.

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