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Spellbound Contemporary Ballet Brings 'The Four Seasons' To Boston

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet performing "The Four Seasons." (Gaia Michaelangelo Copia)
Spellbound Contemporary Ballet performing "The Four Seasons." (Gaia Michaelangelo Copia)
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The show begins with sounds of spring, those of chirping birds and gentle running water. Two dancers appear, walking skeptically down a corridor of light toward the only set onstage, a house-like structure illuminated by videos of nature.

Trees sprout at an accelerated pace, sunlight shining through the branches. Hands reach out from within the house, compelling the dancers to enter before the performance video on the computer screen fades to darkness.

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet premiered artistic director Mauro Astolfi’s “Le Quattro Stagioni” (“The Four Seasons”) in Italy in 2010 and has since performed this work on tour in Israel, Thailand, Germany, France and Korea.

This weekend (Oct. 16-17), the Rome-based company of nine dancers will finally perform the piece for an American audience, only in Boston at the Citi Shubert Theatre as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston.

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet performing "The Four Seasons." (Mateo-Carratoni)
Spellbound Contemporary Ballet performing "The Four Seasons." (Mateo-Carratoni)

The sounds of nature transition into the instantly recognizable melodies of Vivaldi’s masterpiece, and the dancers playfully emerge from the house. The music is classical, but there is not a pointe shoe in sight.

Astolfi “manipulates the classical elements and puts them in a contemporary vision,” said company manager Valentina Marini in a Skype interview. “It’s a way to have more freedom onstage.”

The collaboration of sound and video authenticates the experience of nature, and just as the viewer seems to slide into a state of reflection, the energetic rhythms of Vivaldi pull the attention back to the intricate movements of the dancers.

Spellbound made its Boston debut with the Celebrity Series in 2013, a program that received a mixed review from The Boston Globe’s Thea Singer.

Feedback from audience members was positive enough to merit the company’s return, according to Gary Dunning, president and executive director of the Celebrity Series. In an email interview, he said, “We obviously bring back artists and ensembles that resonate with our audience or have a broader vocabulary and scope of performance that they have yet to show in Boston.”

Marini believes “Le Quattro Stagioni” offers an experience beyond the abstract movement of the company’s first appearance here. “There is a lot of interaction with the extra ingredients like videos and scenery,” she said, “so the action of the dancers, the choreography itself, is really different.”

The impact of the work is dependent on the sum of its parts, but Marini said the set is “the guideline of the show. It’s something that has a life, and it is changing position all the time.” Indeed, the house seems to both restrain and encourage the dancers’ interactions, adding to the complexity in the aesthetic of the work.

Marini said she believes complexity is what the audience desires to see.

“That’s why I think this is the right piece,” she said, “because of the colors of the piece, because of the atmospheres, because of the mood that is changing from one season to the other."

Winter is the final season, and the stage seems to emanate coldness. The women shield their mouths with the collars of their jackets, as they walk backwards into darkness. One woman is left behind in a dim corridor of light, a shadow of what lit the stage in the opening scene.

Her intention is left to the imagination, as is the disappearance of the other dancers.

“It’s not just the nature,” Marini said. “Seasons can have a different meaning in every one of us — seasons of life, seasons of the age.” The challenge, she explained, is to “read behind the lines, behind the effects of the lighting and the videos and the rest” to find the meaning of the work within oneself.


Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a senior journalism major in Boston University’s College of Communication. Prior to attending college, she was a professional ballet dancer with Tulsa Ballet. She may be contacted at knoxlawrence@gmail.com.

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