June 6, 2017
Dresden Semperoper Ballet’s latest triple bill opened with an exhilarating burst of Balanchine neo-classicism, ended on the intense post-modernism of William Forsythe’s Quintett and in the middle, a towering performance of Jiří Kylián’s Forgotten Land set to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem.
Premiered in 1981, this work predates the popular current theme of migration but the concept is not dissimilar. Departures, arrivals and our connections with the lands of our birth are encapsulated in the opening scene as six dancers, their backs to the audience, walk slowly towards the horizon of waves beneath a stormy sky. In this moment, accompanied only by the sound of his amplified breathing, Kylián captures their expectancy, fraught with hopes and fears.
Courtney Richardson, colour-coded in black, circles the stage at speed leaping into the arms of partner Julian Amir Lacey, on Britten’s crashing opening chords. In the duet, she maintains this intensity consuming the stage in a rush of power and passion. The red couple, Ayaha Tsunaki and Craig Davidson, dancing to the explosive percussion of the quirky second movement, leap and dart like tongues of flame. This was Davidson’s last performance with the company as he retires to continue his promising choreographic career. Always a dancer one could rely on for a thoroughly professional show, he excelled himself, dancing his heart out in a final burst of joyous abandon with Tsunaki caught in the moment and matching in speed and virtuosity.
The serenity of the final moment features the white duet, Jenni Schäferhoff with Christian Bauch, surely one of the most eloquent bodies in dance, lending gentle beauty. In the company of the three other couples they sustained the feeling of an interregnum, a potent space where movement speaks with persuasive power.
This Tuesday night performance was not the first cast but Dresden Semperoper have Forsythe in their DNA and Quintett, his extraordinary love-letter to his dying wife, encapsulates all the thrill of living in the moment. The choreography is spellbinding. The dancers flow like streams of quicksilver that are interrupted in a second by a poised balance, then continue on to find fierce classicism in a short sequence before falling, with drunken disregard, into the arms of a partner. They did not all achieve the ultimate cliff-hanger moments but, set to the haunting rasping refrain of Gavin Bryars, Jesus’ Blood never failed me yet, it was a memorable performance.
Balanchine is also a staple of the company repertoire and Symphony in C, neatly structured to offer a slew of opportunities and a show-stopping climax, was given an exuberant performance. Julian Amir Lacey in the first movement grasped each of his brief solos moments to display a range of virtuosic skills, notably fine elevation and thrilling turns. The lyrical second movement showcased Svetlana Gileva’s exquisitely poised arabesques before Chiara Scarrone and Jón Vallejo blazed through the Allegro Vivace of the third in a series of arrow sharp jetés. This work set to the youthful score of Georges Bizet is a benchmark work for a company where each dancer must be on good form and the company rose to the occasion under the baton of Eva Ollikainen.