For Boston Ballet, The Greatest Attraction Is Backstage… And That’s The Challenge

Published on October 22, 2019

You’re Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director of Boston Ballet, and you’ve got a problem.

You’ve got the greatest choreographer in the world, William Forsythe, working with your company and practically nobody in Boston knows who he is.

Who is William Forsythe?

“William Forsythe,” Nissinen says, “is Tom Brady, David Ortiz, and Bobby Orr, all rolled into one.  But while these stars are known in North America, Forsythe is the number one in the entire world.  And everyone from Europe to Japan knows it – but  Boston doesn’t seem to realize what a gem it has in its midst.”

Forsythe began a five-year partnership with Boston Ballet, which quickly morphed into a relationship without an end date.

“The only choreographer to whom he can be compared is the legendary George Balanchine,” Nissinen says.  “Every ballet company in the world would be thrilled to have him, but he’s chosen to work with us.  The challenge is having Boston recognize what a unique situation this is.”

Forsythe’s pieces have won massive critical and audience acclaim, both in Boston and in Paris last year, when Boston Ballet performed his work there.

All Praise William Forsythe

“Parisians are notoriously difficult audiences, but they loved us and they loved the Forsythe piece we performed,” Nissinen says.  “We received all positive reviews in Paris.  That shows you how important he is, and that to work with him is something that happens once in a blue, blue moon.  The Parisians understand Forsythe.  How do we get Boston to see that?”

What’s the Issue?

In many ways, the challenge boils down to the fact that people typically don’t pay to see work by specific choreographers – they just go to the ballet, no matter what’s on.  Even the greatest choreographer of his generation may be considered just part of the backstage world that the audience never notices.

Additionally, we live in an era when people want to see stars, whether it’s Tom Brady or Beyoncé.  In the ballet world, the overall level of competence among top dancers is incredibly high, but with a few exceptions like a Misty Copeland with American Ballet Theatre, there are no “names” that cause people to jump on tickets, the way they did when megastars like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev were performing.

“We aren’t a star system-type company,” Nissinen says.  “We cast whoever is best for any given role on any given night.”

“At the same time, our dancers are growing while working Forsythe.  They become better dancers, better artists, and even better human beings.  You’ll see this even in our Nutcracker performances – Forsythe even makes The Nutcracker better!”


In addition to The Nutcracker, which will be presented 41 times starting November 29, the next round of performances including work by Forsythe begins February 27 with rEVOLUTION.

In Nissinen’s perfect world, Boston businesses and foundations would be falling over themselves to support Boston Ballet, given the unique situation with the world’s greatest choreographer here in our fair city.

The Uniqueness of William Forsythe

“When audiences see Forsythe’s work, they go crazy,” Nissinen says.  “They love it because they’ve never seen anything like it.  It would be great if we could get more support from the community.”

“We already have one of the largest dance schools in North America, Boston Ballet School, with more than 5,000 dance students learning the love of dance, both physical and spiritual.   We have Adaptive Dance for students with special needs.  We have community initiative programs like Citydance sharing the love of dance in Boston public classrooms.  It’s time for Boston to realize this unique moment in its cultural history, in the form of William Forsythe.  I hope they will!”

Michael Levin is a News Columnist at Grit Daily.

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