Dance Review: “The Four Seasons” of Spellbound Contemporary Ballet—Smooth Brilliance

The Spellbound Contemporary Ballet performed the US premiere of Le Quattro Stagioni—a riveting work that proffers a new adaptation of Vivaldi’s classic “The Four Seasons.”

Le Quattro Stagioni, performed by the Spellbound Contemporary Ballet. Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at the Citi Shubert Theatre, Boston, MA, on October 16 and 17.

Photo: Robert Torres

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet’s “Le Quattro Stagioni” at the Shubert Theatre. Photo: Robert Torres.

By Merli V. Guerra

Watching the Spellbound Contemporary Ballet, seeing limbs extend, heads swoop, and spines undulate expertly, it is clear that this company has succeeded where other ballet troupes (including our own Boston Ballet) have so often fallen short. Choreographer Mauro Astolfi’s ability to harness (as well as to caress) every way in which his nimble dancers can move is astounding. This is not “ballet” in its traditional sense: this is ballet that pushes a dancer’s body to its limits via a seemingly effortless and natural range of free motion. When it comes to movement, this company does not disappoint.

Le Quattro Stagioni makes use of a simple yet versatile set. We are greeted with a blank stage, aside from a giant hollow cube looming on stage left. As the piece progresses, this cube becomes a flexible ‘home base’ for the performers; its uses range from serving as an obstacle to a quiet nook, from a shelter to a lively dance hall. Each new segment generates a new relationship with the massive prop: throughout the night the cast lifts, leans, and turns the cube around and about. The performers even toy with who enters the cube, who can exit, and who can climb on top.

The other of the set’s components is the video projection continuously screened on the front of the cube. We have the talented visual artist Enzo Aronica to thank for this component. The dancing aside, this series of projected images is mesmerizing: it could stand on its own as an experimental film. Interweaving realistic scenery and elegant surrealism, the video guides us gracefully through the seasons, evoking their most elemental states. A gray, crystalline winter melts into a budding explosion of color for spring; summer greets viewers with a deepened celestial night sky; and a ferocious storm sends the dancers huddling under the cube, projections of splashing rain a foot above them. The video is one of the evening’s performers, continuously shifting the space’s mood and setting.

The production begins with two women wandering onto the stark set, gazing at the huge cube. A cluster of arms emerges from a side window, beckoning the women closer. The scene that follows the pair’s approach foreshadows the complex tone of the entire work: flickers of humor mixed with irony, mystery, and solemnity. We chuckle as a dancer approaches and finds herself sucked (by surprise) inside the cube, yet are chilled by the sinister lighting and suspenseful projections when we see where she has gone.

Photo: Robert Torres

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet’s “Le Quattro Stagioni” at the Shubert Theatre. Photo: Robert Torres.

As the work progresses, we are awash in powerful movement, dynamic pairings, and intimate partnering. At times we bask in the full sweeping gestures that travel boldly across the space; at others, we grin at the playfully intricate choreography of feet pressed against one of the cube’s walls, the dancers lying on their backs. Every limb, finger, and toe comes to life; each receives an opportunity to take center stage.

‘Summer”s juxtaposition of rawness and romance offered one of the most gratifying scenes in the performance. At first (as the projected night sky brings us outdoors), the dancers break into a series of feverish, unsettling physical movements, as if they were trying to embody late-night insects and critters as they frantically spring and dive in reaction to one another. Yet from this chaos emerges a smoothly twisting duet set against a waning moon. The duo’s shadows are cast (courtesy of Marco Policastro’s expert lighting) on a wall of the cube; it is as if we are watching them under a porch light on a summer’s eve. There is a beautiful moment in the duet when the woman effortlessly dangles from the edge of the cube, as if gravity didn’t exist. At this point, the cube has morphed into an inverted house, glowing from within, evoking the open windows of summer.

Still, for all Le Quattro Stagioni‘s smooth brilliance, the work has its faults. The music (when not Vivaldi) often becomes repetitive and overly earnest in tone. It is welcome when this solemn mood finally shifts toward the end of the production; we are never sure why it was introduced in the first place. The video projection, for all of its beauty, can also become distracting at times. At one point, one of the dancers appears via a life-sized projection against the wall. Cast members attempt to interact with her but, sadly, the scene loses its intriguing 3D/2D effect for anyone sitting on an angle to the stage.

Still, the fluid strength of Spellbound Contemporary Ballet’s Le Quattro Stagioni makes it a worthwhile treat.

Merli V. Guerra is a professional dancer with a background in ballet, modern, and classical Indian dance in the Odissi style, and an award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, writing, and graphic design. She is co-founder and artistic director of Luminarium Dance Company, production manager of Art New England magazine in Boston, and selects The Arts Fuse’s weekly coming attractions for dance.

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