fremd (adj): 1. foreign or unfamiliar; 2. alien or strange.
A stark white square of light carves stage left into a startlingly austere canvas, inhabited by a single dancer. Bare, heavy beats sober the audience from it’s Balanchine-induced Theme commendation, while somehow indulging our senses with the strange pleasure of a new, uncomfortable, addicting drunk. Our lone dancer cuts through his fluorescent enclosure, sharply slicing space, seeking some meaning, perhaps chasing time…
On the dark half of the stage, six faceless figures melt further into the shadows, their exaggerated drag a visible distinction of a fremd existence. They break into disjointed pools and our secluded dancer finally penetrates the light boundary, dissolving it into stage right. He’s like a white-tipped paintbrush swirling around a cup of murky water, blending the lighting with sharp agitations surrounded by fluidity. It’s intoxicating.
Dancers are clearing the stage now, and we’re left with just three: Lia Cirio, Paulo Arrais and Altan Dugaraa, our striking commander. Cirio and Arrais travel downstage, languid but strong, beared down by the weight of their own power and the palpable tension of their cautious entry into the unfamiliar. I know I should be seeing the full picture, but I find myself completely enraptured by Ms. Cirio in this moment. Her body twists forward with intention, wrestling through the thick air that seems to besiege her. It’s captivating. Her partner, Arrais, catches my attention now, and I’m immediately stuck to his incredibly expressive quality. In a way their traversing seems calm, but the careful attention to detail in the creation of this piece reveals a nod to showing the work behind the movement as well. A subtle, often ignored, layer in versed contemporary ballet, I am so pleased to have found it here. The first pas between the two, set to an appropriately familiar Chopin melody stripped down to its simple piano roots, is my favorite of the evening. It begins with an awkward destitution before being infiltrated by Dugaraa’s assertive guidance towards an ultimate shared vulnerability and finally a tenderness, as Cirio and Arrais perch center stage, eyes cast away but arms circling to suggest a connection that need not be seen to be felt.
The mood darts more than shifts to one of frenetic dynamism, and Whitney Jensen explodes towards the front of the stage, instantly returning the piece to its inherently strange essence. With razor sharp tenacity, her movements are carefully designed, yet unforced, bringing a familiarity to the foreign, an ease in the presence of strangeness that only Ms. Jensen can exude so naturally. She exhales each erratic movement like sweat through her pores, and it seems fremd is now a study of the alien that lies within. The electric sounds offset with the spoken words of German artist, Olaf Bender, provide a resolute soundtrack for this exploration of the foreign that is bold yet somehow comforting on a level I can’t quite identify. But I feel it.
Choreographer Jeffrey Cirio’s attention to detail and aptitude for musicality, as well as the dancers’ praiseworthy ability to embody it, are showcased in a whirling final movement including all seven dancers, Dugaraa, Arrais, Cirio, Jensen, Paul Craig, Emily Mistretta, and Bradley Schlagheck now. It seems they have met some kind of peace as the music escapes into silence and our original trio of Dugaraa, Arrais and Cirio remain alone with a once again light-distinguished stage. This time, though, our time-keeper Dugaraa creeps deliberately out from his luminescent confine with long, careful strides to manipulate the duo- who now leave an indelible stamp with narrative, repetitive motions- a final time. Slowly Dugaraa fades from our focus, and we are caught breathless as the curtain sweeps silently down over the stage.
Jeffrey Cirio’s fremd hits all the right notes. Its many tiers from the mixing of sound with silence, to the separation and blending of light are a testament to choreographer’s fine-tuned expertise, making it tough to believe this is his first time creating a mainstage ballet for a major company. fremd bewitches the audience, but its true gift goes to the dancers performing it. Bravo, Boston.
Boston Ballet’s season finale, Thrill of Contact runs for one more weekend at the Boston Opera House. Do not miss it.
PS- Check out Jeffrey’s perspective on creating movement and the inspiration behind fremd here.