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REVIEW: ‘Obsidian Tear’ mesmerizes audience with abstract, unconventional ballet

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A fanfare of brass instruments erupted from the orchestra pit, punctuating the nearly dead silent auditorium. The curtain raised to reveal not a cast of exquisitely dressed ballerinas, but a simple banner that had “Jean Sibelius” written in quick yet refined script, with the name of the piece, “Finlandia” typed out below.

The Boston Ballet debuted a three-part performance, “Obsidian Tear,” at the Boston Opera House on Friday, commencing the ballet’s 2017-18 season. For an hour and 50 minutes, the audience was enthralled in a night of abstract but gracefully choreographed ballet.

Opening with an orchestral performance of “Finlandia” by Sibelius, the show was followed by an all-male ensemble of ballet dancers choreographed for “Obsidian Tear.” Post-intermission, the program closed with the world premiere of “Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius,” starring a traditional cast of both male and female ballet dancers.

It was jarring to sit in a darkened auditorium and see the curtain rise to an empty stage save for a banner, but the talent of the musicians in the orchestra went to show that the performance was one for the ears, not the eyes.

Although the composer’s namesake was not as recognizable as that of Mozart or Beethoven, classical music fanatics scattered through the audience closed their eyes in silent appreciation as the nonvisual art permeated the amphitheater.

As an often underappreciated aspect of the ballet, it was refreshing to see the orchestra have their shining moment, even if it was while they were positioned below the audience in the pit.

There was a brief — and somewhat uncalled for — intermission between “Finlandia” and “Obisidian Tear,” which very readily established the distinction between the different performances of the program. Despite the lack of seamless transition, it instituted an understanding of the unconventional nature of the show.

“Obsidian Tear” furthered that understanding, as two barefoot male dancers, dressed in loose-fitting pants — one red and one black — and nothing more, took the stage. A silent performance at first, the dance was soon accompanied by a solo violinist in the pit. The duo was later joined by a group of more male dancers who danced in a similar fashion.

They danced gracefully and pointedly, but the choreography itself seemed too abstract to give any semblance of a story. The dancers seemed to move independently of one another in a detached manner at first, but later came together to dance in a seemingly war-like or sparring manner.

The indistinct style of dance spoke to the intentional ambiguous nature of its title, as the Playbill described that the “tear” could be interpreted as weeping or ripping apart. In the program for the show, choreographer Wayne McGregor suggested the audience think about if the “movements suggest strong physicality, graceful vulnerability, or both.”

If one were to see this show without any context, it would be hard to imagine it being a part of a ballet program. A plot-less, abstract performance, anyone who arrived to the Opera House expecting to watch a collective of ballerinas dressed in stiff tutus and pointe shoes would be sorely disappointed.

Nonetheless, the performance was expertly executed, and the brilliance of the dancers was apparent as they moved with beautifully figurative technique – especially with a tempo-less violin accompaniment.

“Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius” catered to the more traditional idea of ballet, with dancers paired in a male-female fashion, all adorning skin-tight leotards and pointe shoes. “Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius” was choreographed by resident choreographer Jorma Elo. Friday was the first time it’s ever been seen by the public eye.

The dance followed the trend of ambiguity in plot, but the showmanship of the choreography made up for it. Color played a significant role as well, with the background of the minimalist background shifted between various hues of pastel colors to match the blue, pink and greens of the dancers.

The simplicity in costume design and setting only emphasized the quality of the show, as the dancers were left to only impress with what they knew — ballet.

“Obsidian Tear” as a whole was a striking contrast in comparison to last year’s season opener, “Le Corsaire,” which featured all the traditional glitz and glam that one might expect at the ballet: glitter tutus and bedazzled leotards, detailed sets and scene changes, and the like.

The night ended on a light note, with the orchestra hitting three impact points suggesting the end of the performance. The audience confidently applauded after the first, but the cast on-stage struck another final pose, which also received another round of applause.

As principal dancer Ashley Ellis glanced at the audience jokingly for more applause, the dancers struck one more finishing pose, cuing the lowering of the curtain and the rising of audience members in a standing ovation, commending the company for a spectacular performance.

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