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The Prickly Point of Existentialism | The Boston Ballet & Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti”…

July 5, 2014
Boston Ballet's Whitney Jensen & Jeffrey Cirio Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” Photo:  ©Rosalie O'Connor

Boston Ballet’s Whitney Jensen & Jeffrey Cirio Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” Photo: ©Rosalie O’Connor

When the curtain opens for the Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti”, part of Program 2 of the Boston Ballet’s 50th-Anniversary Season at the David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center…well, at first you may not be sure what to think…I know I didn’t! Two dancers, a man and a woman are moving very slowly with their backs to the audience. An audio collage (taped text by Spenser Theberge that seems to be deliberately pretentious) is playing, you hear a conversation that the dancers are not speaking but perhaps thinking…”Hi Anna’,  “hey Lenny”…”how are you”…”good”…they then began to discuss how to proceed with the duet….he says “Um, put your feet here” then she says “ no you come over here”…this flows into some unusual assortment of body arrangements while they continue to discuss the value and merits of these various moves and how to transition into and out of them…You find yourself being pulled in, you’re not sure why or even how….but just like that you are totally vested….

Somehow, I’m still unsure how but remember being delighted, the duet and its clever dialogue has transitioned to 16 dancers kneeling on large white Scrabble tiles while a string quartet is evenly spaced behind them. The dancers are kneeling in a quasi-samurai position, sitting back on their heels, bodies upright and knees spread apart. Using their hands the dancers start pounding out rhythms on the tiles that grow with complexity, you hear the occasionally voiced “HEY!”….The musicians that were playing behind them are now moving amongst them, all the while the kinetic energy and the saccadic rhythms continue to build in intensity.

Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” Photo: ©Rosalie O'Connor

Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” Photo: ©Rosalie O’Connor

This is Alexander Ekman, the young and much in demand Swedish choreography, he is known for his fast paced timing, witty humor, clever transitions and intentional sarcasm. His works are not so much dance pieces but rather dance-theater experiences; you will experience a visceral reaction, before you will be a visible merger of intellect and emotion, but, well, let’s just say with a little tongue-in-cheek thrown in. It is obvious the Mr. Ekman does not take himself too seriously, that is the brilliance of his work.

His deconstructed choreography is entirely his and reflects how he sees the use of the body in space. You will perhaps note the influences for Forsythe and Kylián or even a hint of Leon Lightfoot. But in today’s world of dance and art how can they not be reflected, it would be like denying the influence of Mozart or Haydn in classical music. He has danced with Royal Swedish Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet and the Leon Lightfoot I just mentioned can only be from his tenure as a dancer and choreographer with NDT II.

Rhythms are as important to his work as is the dancing itself, the breath that lends life, sound and syncopation are woven though his work like thread in a tapestry. Did I mention sarcasm, well there is that, a good dose…after the close of Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, when I was exiting the theatre I realized the this work, for all of its subtle, open-handed, sly and outright commentary was probably the most entertaining diatribe on existentialism ever…well, ok…perhaps not a diatribe…for the sake of getting along I’ll call it a primer on existentialism….

Alexander Ekman in his years as a choreographer has proved to be an artistic multitalented. He often makes film productions. Though usually integrated in his choreographies, these productions also create more and more interest on their own. In 2009 Ekman created the dance film 40 Meters Under for and with Cullberg Ballet, which was broadcasted on National Swedish television. That autumn he collaborated with the Swedish renowned choreographer Mats Ek on video projections for Ek’s play Håll Plats. Ekman also created an installation for the Modern Museum in Stockholm with dancers of Cullberg Ballet.

Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” Photo: ©Rosalie O'Connor

Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti” Photo: ©Rosalie O’Connor

Alexander Ekman was born in Stockholm in 1984. He trained at the Operans Balettelevskola 1994-2001. From 2001-2002 he danced at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm. He then joined Netherlands Dans Theater II 2002-2005. During his dance career he worked with choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, Hans van Manen, Nacho Duato, Johan Inger and Mats Ek.

Between 2005-2006 Alexander joined Cullberg Ballet where he had his first breakthrough receiving a prize at the international choreographic competition in Hannover for his piece The Swingle Sisters, for which he also claimed the critics’ prize. In the same year he was chosen as one of the dancers to create a work; Unknown art? for Cullberg Växtverk  project, which was performed in Stockholm and Malmö in April 2006. During autumn of the same year Alexander created choreography, set and music to Flock Work for NDT II, which premiered in November 2006 and became his international breakthrough as a choreographer.




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