Opera House, Zürich
April 30, 2017
Quintett is a well-balanced triple bill of contemporary ballet that gives fine dance opportunities to a company of exciting dancers. William Forsythe’s Quintett was written as a final token of love to his dying wife, Tracy-Kai Maier but despite its sombre provenance, the work is totally life-affirming and filled with impetuous play. However, it is never frivolous. Haunted by the shadow of the underlying emotion, it leaves its mark on the memory.
The dance is as vibrant and challenging as we expect from Forsythe but has an added measure of extreme risk-taking. Dancers fall and fly into their partner’s arms at a moment’s notice, trusting the arms will be there to support and hold. The five dancers, Guila Tonelli, Katja Wünsche, Matthew Knight, Jan Casier and Tars Vandebeek, enter into the spirit with absolute commitment, living for the moment and tumbling with abandon.
Gavin Bryars’ score, Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, is an extraordinary and compelling work, an ideal companion to the movement. A tremulous, grainy voice repeats the text on a loop while the music builds; almost inaudible to start, but increasing in volume as the voice remains fixed and monotonous.
The staging features an upstage trapdoor that allows dancers the unpredictability of an exit below stage and the suggestion of imminent departure. In the final moment, with greyscale clouds projected on the backcloth, it is Wünsche who hover above this space. A dancer whose vulnerability is palpable, she surrenders herself repeatedly. Each time she is caught in Vandebeek’s arms and saved from falling as the lights fade.
Hans van Manen never lets you forget the person within the dancer and in Kammerballett, personalities are revealed as soon as the cast of eight enter to position their stools. Each stool is placed with acute awareness in a game of one-upmanship, attraction and rejection. The dance is simple and direct, complemented by the strong colours in Keso Dekker’s dancewear.
The mix of music is eclectic ranging from Scarlatti to Cage with Kara Karajew between. The keyboard virtuosity of Scarlatti sets the stage for the three men, William Moore, Alexander Jones and Tigran Mkrtchyan, to compete in virtuoso solos punctuated by staccato switchback and whizzing turns.
The mood changes in the duet from Irmina Kopaczynska and Jones. The sharpness is muted with a touch of melancholy in a tender, thoughtful partnership. The second duet, is danced by Constanza Perotta Altube, assertive in canary yellow and partnered by an equally feisty Mkrtchyan. Katja Wünsche, in black unitard, takes centre stage, a sombre, questioning figure. Moore partners her for a while but the relationship is unresolved and she remains alone as the lights dim and memories remain. This ballet sits so comfortably on Ballett Zürich with its wealth of distinctive artists.
The premiere of the evening, ritual from another when, is Jacopo Godani’s first commission from this company. Director of Dresden Frankfurt Dance Company since 2015/6 and a former Forsythe dancer, his pedigree is evident in style and substance. In addition to the choreography he is responsible for costumes and sets creating a world of sophisticated postmodernity. The polished acidic yellow cube is bounded by one curved wall used effectively, if briefly, in the opening. The costumes, trousers with an overlay of jewel coloured silk combine utility and glamour in an unusual mix.
The choreography also finds contrasts: tough and new but with a touch of humour and self-irony expressed in the curious loping prowl that the dancers adopt as they circle on the periphery eyeing the other performers. In a strong group of eight dancers, Anna Khamzina and Jan Casier are particularly outstanding with distinctive personalities and superb technique.