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William Forsythe's 'Artifact 2017' is an ode to ballet

The choreographer's groundbreaking partnership with the Boston Ballet kicks off with the four-act production.

Boston Ballet is exploring the very nature of ballet with “Artifact 2017,” a four-act work from world-renowned choreographer William Forsythe that highlights the legacy and potential of ballet.

Three characters weave throughout the acts: the Man with the Megaphone, the Woman in Historical Dress and the Woman in Gray (also called the Mud Woman).

The Man with the Megaphone represents formalized ballet and all its strict rules. The Woman in Historical Dress shows what ballet has the potential to be while working with the framework that the Man with the Megaphone lays out. The Woman in Gray, on the other hand, is a symbol of what ballet could be outside of the bounds of its inherent strictness.

One of the ballet’s key features is improvisation, where the Woman in Gray improvises and the rest of the dancers on stage mimic her movements. The pianist must also improvise to accommodate her on-the-spot decisions.

Company member Reina Sawai, one of the dancers performing the role of the Woman in Gray, says she’s grown to enjoy the improvisation in “Artifact.”

“It was difficult in the beginning,” admits Sawai. “After practicing and trying new steps, they never said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I was able to make it my own. It’s been fun. I like to try to bring out something that I’ve never done before.”

Improvisation wasn’t the only thing that Sawai and the other dancers had to get used to. She explained that to prepare for Forsythe’s style they took a few classes that focused on getting them out of the rigid postures of classical ballet.

“Artifact” debuted in 1984, but the show finds new life in “Artifact 2017,” thanks to some changes Forsythe made for the Boston Ballet run. The choreographer added a men’s dance in the fourth act and created a completely new third act.

“The third act is no dancing at all. We’re clapping and we’re saying these chants, we count,” Sawai adds.

But the choreography is just one component of Forsythe’s vision — he also designed the costumes, lighting and sets. The production kicks off Boston Ballet’s five-year partnership with the choreographer. Each year the company will add at least one of Forsythe’s pieces to its collection. According to Boston Ballet, the partnership will give the company more Forsythe pieces in its repertoire than any other company in the country.

“Artifact 2017” will run through March 5 at the Boston Opera House. Tickets begin at $35.

 

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