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Boston Ballet debuts world premiere of “ELA, Rhapsody in Blue”

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Boston Ballet debuts world premiere of “ELA, Rhapsody in Blue”
COURTESY PHOTO

Through June 9, the Boston Ballet is showcasing the choreographic talent of one of their own: principal dancer Paulo Arrais. The native of Goiânia, Brazil has created a moving tribute to powerful women called “ELA, Rhapsody in Blue,” to the tune of Gershwin’s score of the same name. “Ela” means “her” in Portuguese. The emotional piece brings a dose of feminism and multicultural flavor to an otherwise more traditional program.

COURTESY PHOTO

COURTESY PHOTO

Arrais began dancing at age 10 in Brazil. Five years later, he was invited to New York to represent Brazil in the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition. As opportunities began to snowball, Arrais realized this could be a profession, not just a passion. He joined Boston Ballet in 2010 and became a principle dancer in just two years. Since then, he’s garnered a reputation as an onstage force while cultivating his choreographic skills behind the scenes.

Knowing of the dancer’s creative talents, Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen approached Arrais to create a work to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The Boston Ballet run marks its world premiere. Arrais’ piece follows everywoman Ela, who performs solo framed by 15 male dancers who are at once expressing her emotional journey and illustrating a foreboding, dominant male energy that can be lethal for a woman.

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Ela meets her future husband and falls head over heels, but things turn sour quickly, especially when she discovers she’s pregnant. Arrais’ Brazilian roots shine through in the toxic machismo illustrated in Ela’s husband and their relationship. The piece is dramatic and narrative both in terms of plot and emotions. Ultimately, it’s a love letter to the strength of women to overcome challenges and to succeed independent of the men around them. 

In an artist profile video, Arrais mentions that Nissinen requires Boston Ballet dancers to dance classic styles with impeccable elegance, but also to be able to move in unique, contemporary and creative forms. That dual skillset is unusual, he says, and makes the Boston Ballet stand out among other companies. The merging of traditional and avant-garde blends together seamlessly in this piece. 

The dynamic new take on Gershwin’s classic score and the showcasing of a company member of color are positive moves by the Boston Ballet. And “ELA,” which celebrates the strength of women and encourages men to examine their actions, is exactly the right dance for today’s world.

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