Boston Ballet celebrates female choreographers


Rosalie O'Connor

Award-winning dancer Melissa Toogood created “Butterflies Don’t Write Books” for Boston Ballet.

When it comes to ballet, women are often recognized for their work on stage and less often receive sufficient credit for their achievements or productions. 

However, from March 3 to 13, Boston Ballet presented “ChoreograpHER,” a performance highlighting the innovative work of women in the ballet world. The program presented works from five women including choreography, designs, music and visual art.

This initiative was originally launched in 2018 to encourage women to create and perform dances, and these dance numbers finally hit the stage at the Citizens Bank Opera House.

“ChoreograpHER” showcased productions by Tiler Peck, Melissa Toogood, Lia Cirio, Shantell Martin and Claudia Schreier. Each dance captured something unique, whether it be in their choice of movements, song, or feeling of the piece.  

Peck’s “Point of Departure” was a gripping first number. On stage, the musicians played Caroline Shaw’s “Thousandth Orange,” which captured the audience’s attention almost instantly, as the sounds from the piano and strings sounded like a beautiful, complicated conversation between two different languages. It was jarring and strange yet alluring. 

Standing motionless with arms intertwined, six dancers dressed in bright pastels began to break from the group. The dance displayed a mix of hurried and slow movements, and dancers had a mix of duets and solos, only to finish in the intertwined pose from the beginning.

“Butterflies Don’t Write Books” by Toogood was inspired by a Mary Oliver essay and featured a composition by Jeff Klein written for her piece. Beginning with the sound of a heartbeat, the piece included jerky movements with multiple short solos. The dance was inspired by Toogood’s struggles to choreograph inside her tiny room during the pandemic. There were variations of rapid awkward movements that captured a feeling of isolation and being trapped. 

Cirio’s first main stage work for the company, “Chaptered in Fragments,” was evocative with dancer Soo Bin Lee alone on stage to start. From behind a scrim, six other dancers slowly strut across. Set to music by composers George Frideric Handel, Dmitri Shostakovich, Antonín Dvořák and Johannes Brahms, the dance was inspired by Cirio’s life after the pandemic shut down most businesses, schools and workplaces. 

Like the music, the dance was choreographed to be strange and uncoordinated, reflecting Cirio’s feelings of trying to live life again. She started the work in September 2020 and returned to it in April 2021, incorporating this feeling of change and evolution into her dance.

Martin’s piece “Kites” embodied the visual of a kite, as it was uplifting and nostalgic. Martin wanted her performance to feel fun and free, and she did just that. From the flowy getups to the bouncy movements, dancers rapidly glided across the stage interweaving to the energetic music. It was a deep contrast to the other pieces, and it brought the whole theater to life. 

Another upbeat piece, “Slipstream” by Schreier, was set to Tanner Porter’s “Six Sides from the Shape of Us.” This song was specifically chosen by Schreier because it brought her emotions to life with its playful percussion. 

Inspired by the movement of starlings, which flock as a group but also fly solo, the dance featured duets and ensemble movements.

“ChoreograpHER” is available to stream March 17 to 27 as part of Boston Ballet’s virtual subscription package.

Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyrcollins7.