Opera House, Zürich
January 13, 2019
The Bella Figura programme from Ballett Zürich is, to steal a phrase, an embarrassment of riches. Four Jiří Kylián ballets on one evening danced by a dynamic company that move seamlessly between classical training and contemporary innovation. Kylián doesn’t do small talk. His non-narrative abstraction offers infinite meaning and the dancers, who had the privilege of Kylián’s coaching in the build up to the premiere, give full value.
Bella Figura itself is a complex multi-layered work with haunting themes of framing and exposing, presenting and disguising. In the opening scene, Yen Han’s tiny body reaches out to us but is constantly drawn back to be enveloped in the black curtain. The courtly Sarabande, where dancers parade in a swirl of red silk skirts is in sharp contrast to their naked torsos and is taken a step further in the intimacy between Han and Katja Wünsche as they release their skirts in a tangle around their ankles at the climax of their gentle duo. It’s a private moment, played centre stage for an audience of audacious voyeurs.
The curtains are constantly raised, lowered and moved sideways to square off playing areas as Kylián shapes the artistic needs of each section with the sharp focus of a film director. The mood is often reflective but touches of irony permeate in the quirky duet given a brilliant performance by Constanza Perotta Altube and Wei Chen. In different vein is the duet danced by Sujung Lim and Tigran Mkrtchyan to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater where the dancers are alive to each moment and the relationship tingles with heightened energy.
Stepping Stones (1991), is a rare beauty but less often performed, possibly because of the use of pointe shoes. It was written after Kylián’s encounter with the indigenous tribes of Australia for whom dance is a stepping stone, the transmission of culture down the generations. Symbols abound: from the trio of enigmatic Egyptian cats who gaze down on the proceedings to the handheld icons and Kees Tjebbes’ set design of a floating triangle pierced by a circular hole.
The men get their share of powerful dance while the choreography for the women has the innate elegance that comes with the added reach of pointes. Yet it constantly flouts convention and break the rules, particularly in the duet for Altube and Esteban Berlanga which explored a whole new range of tunnels and arches.
Sweet Dreams (1990) was a first viewing for me, but I hope not the last. It features apples, bright green and plenty of them, the eternal symbol of temptation and sin. Wünsche is floored by one that magically boomerangs back to the sender in a cute theatrical trick. Elena Vostrotina deftly steps from one to the next; a skill not commonly found in a ballerina’s repertoire. Apples are balanced on heads and gripped in teeth with a dexterity to rival Fred Astaire. But beneath the apple puree is a solid base of inspired choreography.
The comedy links seamlessly into the final number, Sechs Tänze, as the cast enter and stray apples are skewered on rapier points. In this hugely popular work, Kylián transfers the virtuosity of Mozart’s music to dance.
Costumed in powdered wigs and eighteenth-century undress, the physical comedy is fast and furious and a constant delight. The dancers immersed themselves in the spirit with breath-taking timing of both comedy and dance. Baroque dresses glide across the stage like galleons in full sail generally steered (badly) by men both small and tall, provoking duels and laughter while men and women proposition and invite with an innocence unknown in our age. It is blissful close to the evening.