Run for it, Workwithinwork, 5 tangos. Scottish Ballet

05 October 2012, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Scottish Ballet’s triple bill of works by Martin Lawrance, William Forsythe and Hans van Manen was designed, according to artistic director Christopher Hampson, to show choreography across three generations. To my mind, however, the evening showed more that choreography sometimes looks dated and that for it to have a powerful effect it needs something more than extreme physicality.

The evening opened with Lawrance’s Run for it, performed to John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony. It was made originally for Dance GB, a program associated with the London Olympics, although I’m not sure whether Olympic references in Run for it were specific or merely general (as a result of the athletic performances by the dancers). This was my first encounter with the choreography of Lawrance and, while his ability to create energetic, highly physical movement was absolutely evident, I’m not sure he has yet established an individual choreographic voice that makes his brand of movement vocabulary distinctive. To me it seemed like a series of random movements lacking focus.

In many respects the Olympic references came through more clearly in the design. The set by recent Turner Prize winner Martin Boyce recalled ancient Greece, home of the Olympics. A Grecian-style, fluted column set slightly off centre-stage was topped by a conglomeration of geometric shapes spreading across the upper space a little like a cloud. Yumiko Takeshima’s close fitting costumes, looking like an outfit one might wear to the gym, emphasised the sleek and athletic bodies of the dancers.

Eve Mutso, Owen Thorpe and dancers in Martin Lawrance’s Run for it. Scottish Ballet, 2012. Photo: ©Andrew Ross

Closing the program was Hans van Manen’s 1970s piece 5 tangos to music by Astor Piazzolla. This mixture of ballet and tango moves was well performed by the dancers of Scottish Ballet, who wore their red and black costumes with panache. The men in particular moved as an ensemble with admirable ease. Sadly, I don’t think the choreography gave the dancers the opportunity to move with the passion I associate with the tango, although they made the best of what they were given to dance. For me the piece showed how choreography has changed over the past 30 or so years. The carefully arranged moves and patterns of 5 tangos seemed overly structured and, with an emphasis on canon forms, repeats and so forth, the whole seemed too obvious and almost predictable.

The pièce de résistance was the middle work on the program, William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork set to Luciano Berio’s Duetti per due violini. While the off-kilter moves, extended limbs thrashing through the air, and the highly physical partnering we associate with Forsythe were all there, this work began with the dancers looking as though they were in comic mode. Repeatedly they looked almost as if they were poking fun at classical poses and in general fooling around. But by the close of the work, largely a series of duets and trios, all seemed to come together in a cohesive whole and, as the curtain came down, we were left with wisps of movement being traced in the air by the dancers to remind us of what had gone before. It was a mesmerising work with many levels of meaning. One viewing simply made me long to see it again.

Daniel Davidson and Luciana Ravizzi in William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork. Scottish Ballet, 2012. Photo: Andrew Ross

This program was my first encounter with the work of Glasgow-based Scottish Ballet. Not knowing any of the dancers, I am sorry not to be able to comment on individual performances. Christopher Hampson has been artistic director of Scottish Ballet for a very short time, since August 2012. His personable nature was evident in his onstage introduction to this program, which must have been that of previous director, Ashley Page.  It will be interesting to see how Scottish Ballet develops under Hampson’s leadership. He has some excellent dancers to work with.

Michelle Potter, 9 October 2012

Duato Forsythe Goecke. Staatsballett Berlin

02 June 2012, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, Berlin

This program, a triple bill by two choreographers with a strong body of work to their name, and one whose work I hadn’t previously seen, promised much but delivered little.

Dancers of the Staatsballett in ‘Arcangelo’. Photo Bettina Stöss

The evening opened with Nacho Duato’s Arcangelo, a meditation, the program told us, on heaven and hell. Made in 2000, Arcangelo is set to music by of the Baroque period by Arcangelo Corelli and Alessdandro Scarlatti. Choreographically and visually it had many of the touches that characterise others of Duato’s works—the turned up feet; the deep pliés in second position; the bird-like outstretched arms, often with palms facing down; the intricate partnering that produces unusual and striking shapes as bodies combine; and the mysterious appearance and disappearance of dancers through the black backcloth. And as with every Duato work, Arcangelo was beautifully and evocatively lit, this time by Brad Fields.

But for Duato’s works to fully achieve the sublime qualities that make them the admirable works of art that they are, they need to be performed differently from what I saw. To tell the truth I didn’t feel an intense emotional connection between the dancers as they contemplated their state of being. And I thoroughly disliked the way the exits through those back curtains were so obvious—the opening tended to be flung apart and as a result the exit was not the seamless one I have come to expect. I had never seen Arcangelo before and wanted to like it but in the end I just felt flat, even after the conclusion when two dancers ascend to heaven pulled up by a length of black cloth.

In the middle of this triple bill was William Forsythe’s Hermann Schmerman, first performed in 1992 and set to music by Thom Willems. Again all the choreographic hallmarks of a Forsythe work were there—the outrageously difficult moves and combinations as Forsythe explores what the body can do within the classical medium. But it never seemed that the dancers had a strong enough classical technique—especially the right amount of ‘turn-out’—to make the choreography look like an experiment with movement vocabulary. Looking at still images of the dancers this doesn’t seem as if it should be the case, but onstage, where it matters, the look was wrong in my opinion. Perhaps it was the dancers’ apparent concentration on showy effects? The one dancer whose work I really enjoyed was Federico Spallitta who danced the pas de deux with Nadja Saidakova. His solo variation was sinuous and liquid and a delight to watch.

The final work, entitled And the sky on that cloudy old day, was by Marco Goecke currently resident choreographer with Stuttgart Ballet. Goecke says his inspiration was the music that accompanied the work—John Adams’ Guide to strange places, itself inspired by a book invoking the landscape of Provence in southern France. But the relationship between these thoughts by Goecke and the choreography remained unclear throughout the work.

Choreographically And the sky… appeared to deny the body as a total means of expression with pretty much all the movement concentrated in the arms and hands. The dancers were extraordinarily skillful in executing these movements, some of which were very fast to the extent that the arms and hands often became blurred. There was very little partnering although there was a good deal of placing the nine dancers (four women and five men) in patterns and groups. They used some interesting props, including fans made from feathers, which they occasionally used to hide their faces. But the point of it all was lost on me I’m afraid.

Dancers of the Staatsballett Berlin in Marco Goecke’s And the sky on that cloudy old day. Photo Bettina Stöss. Courtesy Staatsballett media site

The director (intendant) of this company is Vladimir Malakhov, whose dancing I have previously admired. In fact what I had seen of him before partly inspired me to book a ticket to see the show. He danced in both Arcangelo and And the sky… I prefer to remember him, however, as the stunning classical dancer I saw some years ago in New York.

Michelle Potter, 3 June 2012

Dark Matters. Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM

Dance in performance does not respond easily or well to intellectualising—except in the hands of a truly exceptional choreographer. Dark Matters, a work by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite shown recently at the Sydney Festival, makes that quite clear.

Dark Matters is in two quite discrete sections. The work opens with a man hunched over a table making something. It turns out to be a marionette, which is then manipulated by a number of people dressed all in black who also double as stage hands moving props and set when required. The marionette eventually turns on his maker, stabs him and proceeds to demolish the set.

The second part is more ‘dancerly’ in a conventional sense, and the six dancers of Kidd Pivot are remarkable movers. They have beautifully fluid bodies and they connect with each other seamlessly. Pite is skilled too at arranging her dancers in the space of the stage to create haunting images of bodies meeting, communicating and parting. An absorbing duet for Pite and partner closes the work.

The connecting thread through the entire work is an extract from Voltaire’s Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, written in 1756, including the lines:

  • What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
    Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
    Man is a stranger to his own research;
    He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes. (Translation by Joseph McCabe, ca. 1911)

It is not instantly clear, however, exactly what connection the two sections have to each other, nor how they connect to Voltaire. It’s not clear later on, on reflection, either. And herein lies my issue with Dark Matters. It relies on Voltaire to move its intellectual content forward, not on the choreography. It relies in my opinion on Voltaire to connect the two sections as well. Without Voltaire it is hard to see any connection. I yearn for choreographic exposition.

While the dancers of Kidd Pivot can scarcely be faulted in terms of their mastery of movement, I also yearn to see choreography that is more than a series of movements, each one attempting to be more inventive in where parts of the body are put, more flexible and rubbery, more twisted and contorted than the one before. It’s beautiful and engaging, but what does it mean in the context of a work that purports to be ‘about’ something?

Sydney Festival publicity for Dark Matters invoked the name of William Forsythe, quoting words from the British newspaper, The Independent: Think William Forsythe with a woman’s touch, drawn more to beauty than its opposite.’ Forsythe is one of those exceptional choreographers who is able to intellectualise AND do so choreographically. I don’t think Dark Matters measures up. It did, however, send me to Voltaire.

Michelle Potter, 25 January 2010