LA MER - Boston Ballet - Nanine Linning - 2023

Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen announces the Boston Ballet presentation of La Mer, an explosive world premiere by lauded artist and choreographer Nanine Linning, which explores the romance, beauty, and volatility of the sea and is the result of a highly collaborative effort of an extraordinary team of artists from around the world.

“This program showcases the absolute best of Boston Ballet and how we are always pushing the artform forward,” said Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen. “I am so proud of the Company for taking on such a massive undertaking with Nanine Linning’s stunning world premiere. It has been inspiring having this team of remarkable artists from around the world collaborating and creating.”

Making its world premiere, Nanine Linning’s La Mer is set to Claude Debussy’s sweeping La Mer and choral work Sirènes. Performed live by the Boston Ballet Orchestra and Boston’s virtuosic women’s vocal group Lorelei Ensemble, the ballet will be punctuated by newly created musical compositions by composer Yannis Kyriakides. Linning is collaborating with an extraordinary team of international artists to create this large-scale production. The list includes dramaturg Peggy Olislaegers, Yuima Nakazato, haute couture designer from Tokyo who presents annually at Paris Fashion Week, Heleen Blanken, a video scenographer based in Amsterdam creating interactive works for museums and stages, and Cyprus-born, London-raised composer Yannis Kyriakides, who works with some of the best orchestras and choirs in the world as well as for dance, opera, and film. This team also includes Boston Ballet’s acclaimed Lighting Designer Brandon Stirling Baker and Technical Director and Stage Designer Benjamin Phillips.  

La Mer is a 50-minute work performed by 33 dancers, 45 musicians of the orchestra, and eight singers. Linning and her team aim to raise awareness of the importance of ocean preservation and a new vision of the ocean. Boston Ballet and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) are also collaborating on the world premiere of La Mer. WHOI is guiding Boston Ballet on the science behind ocean threats and is assisting in connecting the scientific and creative processes. Nanine Linning, Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, and other members of Boston Ballet visited WHOI in order to further understand ocean threats and the research being conducted at WHOI. WHOI is the world’s independent leader in ocean discovery, exploration, and education, working to understand and sustain one of the planet’s most precious common resources. Boston Ballet is proud to use its art and platform to share the important research being conducted through WHOI. 

“The ocean connects and sustains everyone and every living part of the planet,” said WHOI President and Director Peter de Menocal. "Collaborating with Boston Ballet offers an exciting new way to convey that message, as well as the fact that, although the ocean faces many threats, it is also a rich source of inspiration, hope, and of solutions to many of our most pressing challenges.” 

Nanine Linning: “At the heart of La Mer is the theme of oceans, the current state of the oceans in the Anthropocene age. I wanted to create scenes that address sirens as a metaphor for our behavior of greed, deep sea mining, dead zones, and oil spills, as well as pristine oceans and extraordinary natural forces. I see the comparison of the ocean with the body, as my own body, and its fragile inner ecosystem. My goal with this ballet was to create a new world where video, set, and light fully merge with dance and music. 

Throughout my entire life, I've been an ocean creature. I have always loved to interact and learn about oceans. Recently, I’ve seen the impact of our behavior on oceans, and I became very fascinated by learning more from scientists and had a desire to use my art to help create awareness on the issues. Then, when exploring music with Mikko, he suggested La Mer and everything came together. 

This collaboration with Boston Ballet, where we could bring in an extraordinary team of artists and collaborate with scientists who give our work extra dimension and context, has been incredible. I have been amazed by the dancer's transformation from classical dancing to my work as a contemporary choreographer. I feel that they are so eager and hungry for co-creation, co-ownership, and discovering together, that it's been so smooth, warm, and energizing,” said Linning. 

One of the most sought-after European artists and choreographers, award-winning Dutch artist Nanine Linning has gained international recognition over the past 20 years with her large multidisciplinary productions that combine dance, opera, design, fashion, and visual art. She launched her choreographic career in 2001 as the world's youngest resident choreographer, working for the renowned Scapino Ballet in Rotterdam. In 2006, Linning left Scapino to devote herself to her own Nanine Linning Dance Company, established in Amsterdam. More than 20 full-length productions were created, including Bacon (2005), a piece about the painter Francis Bacon, which after more than 100 performances worldwide, is still part of the ensemble's repertoire. From 2009–2018 she was the director of two dance companies in Germany where she increasingly focused on the creation of dance operas, musical theater, and film. Since then, Linning has created several new works for companies around the world like Stuttgart Ballet and the Stae Ballet in Münich. Linning received the Philip Morris Prize (2003), a Swan for Best Dance Production for Bacon, and was nominated twice for the German Faust Award (2012 and 2013) for Voice Over and Zero respectively. Her Requiem (2015) for Konzert Theater Bern gained the Swiss Dance Award. Die Deutsche Bühne named her one of the top four Impressive Choreographers of 2017. Tanz Magazine mentioned her in the Category Choreographer of the Year 2017. In 2019, she was named Honorary Artist of Parktheater Eindhoven. In 2021, Linning made her successful debut in the United States with La Voix Humaine for Boston Ballet, which was selected for screenings in several film festivals in Venice, London, New York, Tokyo, and Lisbon. In 2024, Linning will become the new Artistic Director at Scapino Ballet Rotterdam. 

For more than a decade, Linning has worked with her creative partner, artistic advisor, and dramaturg Peggy Olislaegers. She is one of the leading independent dance dramaturges in Europe, providing artistic and strategic advice for both choreographers and institutes in the performing arts. For La Mer, Olislaegers worked closely with the dancers and Artistic staff on deepening the qualities of the movement, using Linning’s artistry to further the ballet’s storytelling through her choreography.  

Heleen Blanken is a Dutch visual artist. Her work levitates across the fields of installation art, new media, photography, scenography, and sculpture. In her work, she raises questions on how we contemplate ideas of nature. For La Mer, she designed the video scenography with new work based on her art installation “Habitat”. The software she is using is unique and developed in collaboration with NAP Labs. Her work has been shown internationally in curated shows at institutes such as Nxt Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Gropius Bau Berlin, Gallery Ron Mandos, and Musée d’art Contemporain. 

Composer and sound artist Yannis Kyriakides has created an electronic music response to Debussy’s La Mer, in the form of multi-channel soundscapes that connect the beauty of Debussy’s depiction of the sea with the visceral and critical reality of the state of our planet’s oceans. “The sometimes tumultuous sound world created in these interludes risks unsettling the tranquility of Debussy’s score while at the same time opening up a different sonic dimension to how we can depict the sea,” he said. He has previously worked with Nanine Linning on her Brahms Requiem inspired work, Anima Obscura, for Theater Bielefeld in 2021. 

Praised by The New York Times for their “full-bodied and radiant sound,” Boston-based vocal ensemble Lorelei Ensemble performs Debussy's Sirènes on stage alongside Boston Ballet dancers, with each singer dressed by haute couture designer Yuima Nakazato. Led by founder and Artistic Director Beth Willer, Lorelei has established an inspiring mission, curating culturally relevant and artistically audacious programs, commissioning over 65 new works, and collaborating with numerous composers that stretch and challenge the expectations of artists and audiences alike. 

La Mer marks Linning’s second work created for Boston Ballet. Her dance film La Voix Humaine premiered as part of Boston Ballet’s virtual season BB@yourhome and was awarded several prizes in international film festivals, including Best Poetic Film and Best New Media from the SENSEI Tokyo Filmfest and Best Dance or Poetic Film from the Lonely Wolf International Film Festival in London.