Not Your Typical Friday Night: A Review of the Boston Ballet's "Obsidian Tear"

On Nov. 3, the Boston Opera House premiered two performances by the Boston Ballet: Obsidian Tear and Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius. These performances were preceded by an orchestral performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia, which set the passionate and dramatic tone for the performances that followed. It was a celebration of Finnish music both romantic and contemporary. On Nov. 3, the Boston Opera House premiered two performances by the Boston Ballet: Obsidian Tear and Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius. These performances were preceded by an orchestral performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia, which set the passionate and dramatic tone for the performances that followed. It was a celebration of Finnish music both romantic and contemporary.

                                Paula Arrais and Irlan Silva in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear; Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear drew from many sources of inspiration, including Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx and Lachen Verlernt, which became the music to which the dance was set to, the volcanic rock that is obsidian, and the various interpretations of the word “tear.” The choreography of the performance was based on the juxtapositioning of these two symphonies, one a fierce composition and the other an intimate violin solo violin, which ultimately creates the intense contrast of the musical backdrop of Obsidian Tear. As for obsidian itself, it is a black volcanic glass that forms when molten lava cools rapidly, giving it a majestic and yet ominous quality to it. Just as the word “tear” is left in ambiguity (referring to either a tear from crying or a tear from ripping something apart), McGregor wanted the meaning of the performance to be one of contention as well. Brutal, raw, intense, overwhelming: these are just some of the words that can used to describe the performance, leaving the audience with a sense of confusion. However, while it may be hard to focus on just one thing of the performance, the overall atmosphere and aura of the dancers and choreography are what really makes it stand apart and makes it memorable.

                                Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Compared to Obsidian Tear, the performance of Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius has a much more uplifted tone, paying tribute to the independence of Finland and its changing of the seasons. In the same strain as a national anthem, this composition of music evokes the Finnish landscape and the choreography exemplifies the dramatic changing of the seasons along with the music. With a much bigger ensemble of dancers and various costumes to represent different contexts, this performance was much more in line with what one may envision as a traditional and classic ballet piece. What the two performances do share, however, is one dancer always being excluded from the rest of the group, symbolizing the notion of being different or isolated from the chaos. In the end, rather than keeping all the dancers and seasons as separate entities, there is a unified and synchronized performance to signify an elemental moment of integrated consciousness.

                                        Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

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