Ballet’s Michael Jordan Comes To Boston

This month, Boston ballet goers will witness the North American company premiere of Artifact, an avant-garde work mixing dance, spoken word, and music into a single magnificent performance.

It’s big news in the ballet world, because the choreographer, William Forsythe, has entered into a five-year relationship with Boston Ballet, with an eye toward premiering new works as well as revisiting his prior masterworks.

If you’ve never heard of William Forsythe, I won’t tell anyone. Forsythe is highly regarded as the single most important choreographer in modern ballet history. The fact that he has chosen Boston as his new artistic home (he now lives in Vermont), after years at the Paris Opera Ballet and the Frankfurt Ballet, is a clear indication of the Boston Company’s rapidly growing importance in the world of dance.

Forsythe’s classic, re-imagined for the modern audience, Artifact, opens at Boston’s Opera House February 23.

Artifact is an absolute masterwork,” says Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director of Boston Ballet. “It’s a life-changing work, on the par with eureka moments like Picasso painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon . Once people saw that work, they could not look at art the same way. The same thing is true with Artifact—it changes the way you see ballet.”

Forsythe’s choice of Boston Ballet is a huge honor for the company. Forsythe set one of his pieces with the company during its 50th anniversary season and was so impressed with the quality and work ethic of Boston Ballet’s dancers that he accepted Nissinen’s offer of a five-year partnership.

“The dancers love working with him,” Nissinen says. “He’s pushing the boundaries, expecting more from them than anyone ever has, and it’s a love-fest all around. I see that and I’m very touched.”

Forsythe has a reputation for moving the art form of ballet forward. Some of his works are so difficult to perform that most companies in the United States shy away from scheduling them.

Not Boston.

Nissinen also admires the resilience of the piece his company will perform next month. Forsythe created Artifact in Germany 30 years ago and Nissinen says it is just as relevant today as it was then.

“It has not had great exposure in America and in so many corners of the world,” Nissinen comments. “It’s also a testament to the quality of great art that Artifact possesses, that it’s incredibly fresh.”

Artifact was revered when first performed in Frankfurt, and several other European companies performed it as well, to the delight of sophisticated ballet audiences across the Continent. A few American companies have ventured parts of Artifact, but no one has performed the entire work.

“We are the envy of the dance world right now,” Nissinen says, “and I am very proud of that. The Forsythe partnership also attracts dancers from around the world to our company, which never hurts.

“Our repertoire is so diverse, from big classics to the neo-classics and contemporary works, and now this relationship with Forsythe. Our commitment to him is like a dancer’s dream.”

Artifact will be performed from February 23 until March 5.

(For further information, go to Boston Ballet’s website here.)

Mikko Nissinen, William Forsythe, and Anthony Randazzo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet.
Mikko Nissinen, William Forsythe, and Anthony Randazzo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet.
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