'Breakers' steps artfully in tradition of the abstract

March 24, 1994|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

"Breakers," a new work that premiered Tuesday night as the Boston Ballet opened a six-day stint at the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, is vintage Merce Cunningham.

In "Breakers," the legendary choreographer has created a dance that is as opaque and muted as the set of coral, gold, orange and chartreuse rectangles artfully suspended behind the 14 dancers.

The work, performed to an original score by John Driscoll, began simply enough. The company formed a circle at one end of the stage, with a single dancer in contrast at the other.

At times, the dance revolved like a mobile. At other times, the effect was that of a painting, with the dancers' movements providing the brush strokes -- sometimes smooth and even, other times rushed.

Mr. Cunningham's choreography demands control and the ability to stand poised forever, as if on the edge of a precipice. Stillness is as important as movement. More than once, the silence spoke volumes as the dancers froze in their steps. When they moved, they moved rapidly and were most likely off-center on one leg. The effect was off-putting but sometimes humorous.

The score of odd sounds and electronic music also moved from speaker to speaker around the theater. Odd noises, like the yowls of monkeys, preceded a section in which the men leapt in unison. In another section, the music was revolving clockwise through the theater as the dancers' movements were going in the opposite direction.

Merce Cunningham's abstract and cerebral approach to dance is not for everyone. But without a doubt, "Breakers" is beautiful and well-crafted.

Opening the evening was "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" choreographed by George Balanchine. This overtly lyrical and romantic work was deftly performed by all and the corps de ballet rose to the occasion with almost perfect unison.

But, by the time the evening closed with "In the Upper Room" by Twyla Tharp, the company was plain tuckered out. Several times in the dance's nine sections, the company just couldn't keep pace with Phillip Glass' music.

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