Livestreamed from the Opera House, Stuttgart
November 27, 2020
Originally conceived as a quadruple bill to be performed last summer, Stuttgart Ballet’s Angels and Demons programme is a powerful demonstration of contemporary ballet. Despite now being shorn of its ecstatic climax, Maurice Béjart’s Bolero, and of a live audience other than dancers from the second cast and Opera House staff who needed to be present for the livestream, the now Jiří Kylián-Roland Petit combo remains a hugely satisfying hour of dance.
Set to the driving, rhythmic percussion of Steve Reich’s Drumming Part I, Kylián’s Falling Angels opens with its eight female dancers stepping forwards out of the shadows like advancing Amazons. What follows is a study of the tension between discipline and freedom. Every now and again, a dancer breaks free or a duet appears, but the truth is that they are interdependent and inevitably they return, reclaimed once more by their community.
The movement itself is largely angular. Tightly controlled, it has an earthiness and a ritualistic element to it. There are more opposites: hands slap and caress, they reveal and cover up, faces and mouths especially. Costumes are pulled away from their stomachs. Are we being taunted? Feet flick. Jumps are often flat-footed. As Reich’s music accelerates, so steadily you barely notice at first, so Kylián’s choreography gets increasingly energetic. It’s unsettling, sometimes tense, always exciting.
The lighting plays an important role throughout. Long bright strips are drawn on the stage floor, fracturing the space and highlighting particular dancers, groups of dancers or collections of limbs. The end comes quite suddenly, the dancers each laying on their backs in their own patch of light as if about to sink into the earth.
The poetic and even more compelling Petite Mort is a Kylián classic. In modern usage, the title refers to the sensation of post-orgasm as likened to death. It’s a poetic way of describing the ecstasy of sexual intercourse, that euphoric moment in which new life is created, life that at the same time always has the inevitability of death, that dark underlayer that runs through the whole piece.
The six men of the cast first play with their fencing foils, symbols of their manhood, power and lust. In the church-like silence broken only by the occasional sound of feet on the floor, they cut through the air with dramatic swooshes. To the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, when the women appear, the couples come together in spider-like poses, their nude-coloured minimal costumes and soft lighting highlighting their masculinity and femininity. Those same women later glide around hidden by huge crinoline dresses
But that is all foreplay, and as dramatic and appealing as it is, the best is yet to come. Leaving their props behind, the dancers come together fully in a final series of sensual duets. Each is absolutely captivating. Rather than just bathing in the soft beauty of the Andante of the composer’s Piano Concerto in C Major, the dance adds extra dramatic layers. It’s a transcendent coming together of beautiful bodies in beautiful motion: twisting, turning, shaping and reshaping. From the first dramatic moment Elisa Badenes and Jason Reilly in particular are quite mesmerising.
Death is even closer in Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, which tells of the last hour of a young man seduced by a femme fatale who is death herself.
As Death, Hyo-Jung Kang is elegant, every move sharp and cutting as she plays with the man she has come to collect. I have never felt this is a ballet that works well on film. It needs presence, from the dancers and through actually being there. Although Kang smiles as she leads The Young Man to his suicide, I felt little frisson, little sense of the cruelty of what she was doing. Ciro Ernesto Mansilla leaps agilely over the furniture but again I struggled with the intensity. It does come good, however. The hanging is superbly done and the final walk as we gaze over the rooftops of Paris did send a chill down the spine.