“Parts in Suite,” Boston Ballet’s first program of 2018, offers a trio of 21st-century works: Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “Bach Cello Suites” (2015/2018), followed by New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s “In Creases” (2012) and then William Forsythe’s “Pas/Parts,” in the 2018 Boston Ballet version. It’s a high-octane bill, almost too much so, but there’s no faulting the dancers’ energy.
Elo set “Bach Cello Suites” to the first two of Bach’s six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, though in No. 2 he’s transposed the Allemande with the Courante and the Sarabande with the two Menuets, omitting the final Gigue. In 2015, Elo himself appeared several times in this piece, ultimately coming on in the final Sarabande to separate Kathleen Breen Combes from her partner and then walk off with her, as if he were Time, or Death. That role has now been eliminated, so this incarnation of “Bach Cello Suites” is essentially a new piece.
It’s just as watchable, however. Friday at the Boston Opera House, Sergey Antonov was again the opening-night on-stage cellist, fluid and intense in the Prelude to No. 1 (to which there is no dancing). Thereafter he melted into the choreography, underlining its character without calling attention to himself. Elo set the piece on five couples, the men in black shirts and pants, the women in black leotards, under a huge tilting and angling overhead lattice. Suite No. 1 found Maria Baranova and Junxiong Zhao soft and elegant in the Allemande, Misa Kuranaga and John Lam playful in the Courante, Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais somewhat estranged in the Sarabande, even if they did end up with their heads on each other’s shoulders. Breen Combes and Derek Dunn bought teasing acrobatics to the Menuets; Addie Tapp was seductively languid with Lasha Khozashvili in the Prelude to No. 2, even when he looked at her as if she were a ghost.
There was, in fact, plenty to keep you off balance and uneasy over the piece’s 40 minutes. Khozashvili pushed Dunn away at one point; Dunn faced off with Kuranaga before tossing off a solo of quick beats and entrechats; Kuranaga got between Breen Combes and Dunn; Baranova and Tapp briefly exchanged partners for no apparent reason. At the end, with the other couples backing out, Cirio was left to walk toward Antonov, as if the cello were her true partner.
Peck’s “In Creases,” for four men and four women, is set to the first and third movements — 14 minutes total — of Philip Glass’s 2008 commission “Four Movements for Two Pianos,” with the pianos (played here by company pianists Freda Locker and Alex Foaksman) on stage, at the back. The dancers, in blue-gray leotards for the women and what look like blue-gray union suits for the men, act as a community, an organism, though they break into unexpected formations. At one point, six of them line up front to back and do a kind of semaphore.
On Friday, Irlan Silva had the star solos, which emphasized pirouettes in retiré. Lawrence Rines, after a quick manège of low jetés, stepped through his seven prostrate comrades like an NFL running back doing the tire drill. There was an exuberant solo from Ji Young Chae and an effervescent duet from Breen Combes and Patrick Yocum. But it was the way the ensemble kept redefining itself that caught your attention, right down to the quirky stop-and-start conclusion.
“Pas/Parts” was originally set on the Paris Opera Ballet, in 1999. For the work’s North American premiere, from San Francisco Ballet in 2016, Forsythe reworked 75 to 80 percent of it. He’s revised it again for Boston Ballet, stating that the piece “is about dancers dancing” and that he’s “tailored the coaching and the choreography to the dancers.” Set to an industrial-strength electronic score by frequent Forsythe collaborator Thom Willems, the piece comprises 20 rapid-fire divertissements — mostly solos, duets, and trios.
Friday it seemed almost too tailored; the tension in Forsythe works like “In the middle, somewhat elevated” and “The Second Detail” was missing. A slinky Hannah Bettes played Yocum and Roddy Doble off each other; Doble and Chyrstyn Fentroy had a smoky duet to a jazzy section of Willems’s score; Chae and Seo Hye Han cavorted and high-fived, then joined Lam for a mischievous trio. Too often, though, the 15 dancers looked straight-faced and abstract, performing for the audience rather than one another. Forsythe’s extreme extensions, his shiftings of balance, his incessant counterpoint — it was all on abundant display. And after 40 minutes, that display bordered on sensory overload.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier version misstated the day of the performance.