Boston Ballet to Stage the Groundbreaking ‘Obsidian Tear’

Royal Ballet Artist Calvin Richardson in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear. Photo by Andrej Uspenski, courtesy The Royal Ballet.

Royal Ballet Artist Calvin Richardson in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear. Photo by Andrej Uspenski, courtesy The Royal Ballet.

On Friday, Boston Ballet opens their 2017–18 season with a double-bill performance entitled Obsidian Tear, featuring works by two of the most revered names in choreography: Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, and Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear.

This performance marks a groundbreaking moment for Boston Ballet’s relationship with The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer, Mr. McGregor. In 2016, it was announced that Boston Ballet and The Royal Ballet in London would, for the first time, co-produce the production, set to a rich and dramatic score by Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. The Royal Ballet premiered Obsidian Tear in May 2016 to reviews calling it a “choreographic breakthrough.” Boston Ballet is only the second company to ever perform the piece.

Mr. McGregor’s stager, Amanda Eyles, has overseen Boston Ballet in the task of taking on this high-profile contemporary production. Having worked directly with the choreographer at the Royal Ballet during the creation and re-staging of his ballets for eight years now, Ms. Eyles’ job is to rehearse Obsidian Tear with companies who perform his productions.

“For me, it’s great because I’m sort of revisiting it all and putting it on new dancers, new bodies,” Ms. Eyles told The Boston Dance Journal. “Therefore, my job here with the dancers of Boston Ballet is to try and get as much information out to them about the original creation process—what Wayne’s priorities were, what he wants to see.”

Ms. Eyles has spent the past weeks preparing her cast of nine male dancers to tell a societal story that revolves around a community of distinct individuals that encounters a new person.

“How is that person incorporated into the group?” Eyles asks, describing it as an “elemental” concept. “Is it seen as a positive thing? Is it seen as a negative? How does that alter the relationships that already exist? How does it create new relationships? And ultimately, will the group accept and embrace that new person, or will they in fact reject that person?”

Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Edward Watson and Soloist Eric Underwood in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear. Photo by Andrej Uspenski, courtesy The Royal Ballet.

Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Edward Watson and Soloist Eric Underwood in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear. Photo by Andrej Uspenski, courtesy The Royal Ballet.

As a stager, Ms. Eyles’s challenge is to effectively communicate Mr. McGregor’s ideas so that the dancers can thoroughly communicate them to the audience.

“I’m trying to translate some of [Mr. McGregor’s] imagery to give the dancers a full concept of the breadth of the movement,” Ms. Eyles says. “The process that Wayne uses when he’s creating is quite multi-layered, so I’m trying to build those layers up with the dancers so that they have as much information as possible.”

Rather than produce a carbon copy of The Royal Ballet’s production of Obsidian Tear, Ms. Eyles says it’s important for Boston Ballet to develop its own take on Mr. McGregor’s vision: “I want… to be true to the movement and how Wayne conceived it, but I also want to give them space to make it their own, and that’s something that Wayne is very keen on—he wants the dancers to find their own way into the movement; they have to discover it for themselves.”

Every dancer, Ms. Eyles says, is a blank slate when beginning a new ballet. Since she has previously worked with Boston Ballet staging Mr. McGregor’s Chroma, Ms. Eyles is familiar with her current set of dancers, and from work ethic to energy, she likes what she sees.

“I find American dancers very open,” she says. “There’s no resistance, they want to take everything onboard, and for me, that’s brilliant.”

Boston Ballet will perform Obsidian Tear at the Boston Opera House, Nov. 3–12. For tickets and show times, visit the Boston Ballet website.