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Former Boston Ballet principal dancer Yury Yanowsky may have retired from the stage last March, but he has not strayed far from the studio.
“Boston Ballet is my first and true company,” he said. “I've guested in other companies, but Boston is home.” Yanowsky joined the corps de ballet in 1993, shortly after seeing the company perform on tour in Spain. He rose through the ranks and was promoted to principal dancer in 1999.
After 21 seasons of dancing with the company, he has transitioned quite seamlessly into the role of choreographer, even achieving international recognition for his work. Last year, he won the prestigious Erik Bruhn Choreographic Prize for his piece “District.”
“I guess you could say it’s in the blood,” Yanowsky said in an email interview. His parents were both dancers with the Lyon Opera Ballet in France, where Yanowsky was born, and his father was also a choreographer.
Yanowsky’s newest work, “Smoke and Mirrors,” will debut on Friday at the Boston Opera House, performed by a cast of 14 dancers as part of Boston Ballet’s contemporary program “Mirrors” (staged through May 28). The performance series will also feature Norbert Vesak’s “Belong,” Karole Armitage’s “Bitches Brew,” and the return of José Martinez’s “Resonance.”
Yanowsky has choreographed for Boston Ballet previously, but “Smoke and Mirrors” marks his first commission specifically for the Opera House stage. A short promotional video highlights the partnerships of two different couples, four dancers who seem to find tranquility in each other’s movements among a light fog of smoke.
Besides the literal smoke and mirrors, the stage is rather minimal, a void of darkness that contrasts with the dancers’ white costumes. Although the corsets worn by the women appear simple, they were a large part of Yanowsky’s choreographic inspiration.
“The corsets have expanded my vocabulary because it offers different opportunities in the movement,” he said. Yet, his continued explanation gives way to a deeper meaning behind his use of the tightly fitted undergarment.
Metaphorically, the piece aims to represent a reflection of today’s society and its codependent relationship with social media. “It’s all smoke and mirrors,” Yanowsky said. “The story is reflected in the corsets and how we are puppets of the system and how we try to get out.”
The video ends with this notion of confinement, as two of the dancers gaze into a mirror, intrigued by their reflections staring back. Their arms, initially outstretched, slowly begin to drop as the music calmly fades away.
The score is a collaboration between Yanowsky and his cousin Lucas Vidal, a Berklee College of Music alumnus and Spanish film composer best known for his work on “Fast & Furious 6.” In preparation for the piece, the two artists conducted meetings via Skype to find “that unique sound that creates atmosphere,” Yanowsky said.
The dramatic and emotional nature of Vidal’s work certainly sets an impression. The ease of getting lost in the movement while simply watching the video on a computer screen compels one to imagine the sheer impact of the piece when viewed in person.
Moving with such fluidity and impeccable synchronicity, the dancers seem to coalesce into one being. “My style is very hard to describe,” Yanowsky said, “but if I would say one thing, [it] is that you see an urge of looking for something — a path of life.”
Yanowsky’s own life has been in a transitional phase in more ways than one. Along with his retirement from the stage, he and his wife, principal dancer Kathleen Breen Combes, recently welcomed their first child. “Life has been awesome,” Yanowsky said. “I could not ask for a better jump to choreography. My wife and I just had a baby girl. I'm so happy and waiting for new horizons.”
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