July 17, 2018
Right from John Cranko’s days, Stuttgart Ballet has viewed developing choreographers, and encouraging them to emerge from the ranks of the company dancers, as an important part of its work. It is helped in that by the city’s Noverre Society. It’s also something Reid Anderson has encouraged in his years leading the company.
This latest programme, ambitiously titled The Fantastic Five, presented the most recent five new works, first seen in March. As one might expect from an evening by largely emerging dance-makers, the dance was far from perfect, but it was also full of ideas, with a few impressive moments.
Under the Surface by Roman Novitzky opens with eight dancers sat around a table. The neatly constructed, gesture-driven dance with its echoes of Kurt Jooss, Crystal Pite and Ohad Naharin suggests an argumentative discussion. It’s not long before individuals and couples break out in dances that are a series of vignettes of relationships, returning to the table after each one.
The dancers are in shades of grey but you could never accuse Novitzky’s choreography of being that. However, while each of the dances sits very comfortably within itself but I’m less convinced they sit well together. The same goes for the music. Some of the changes between tracks happen much too quickly. Sometimes dancers haven’t even got back to the table before the next pair are starting. There’s no chance for anything to breathe, and that’s before we get to the issue of musical clashes. It’s also a shame some of the musical choices are not a little longer too, which would at least give things a hope of developing.
Among the best moments are an early duet to ‘Nothing matters when we’re dancing’ by Veronica Verterich and Cedric Rupp, which is all loving until he dares to look at another, while a male duet for Timoor Afshar and Alessandro Giaquinto (who, while still only a member of the corps has impressed all week) is among the more inventive.
Fabio Adoriso’s Or Noir is inspired by the Japanese repair technique kintsugi, in which liquid gold or silver, or lacquer dusted with powdered gold, is used to repair broken pottery and simultaneously enhance the breaks. It’s most clearly referenced in the men’s tops, black with gold lines.
One of the joys of the work was Adoriso’s use of live music from a string quintet, and the relationship between the dance and Nicky Sohn’s music, both having a hint of tango nuevo about them, not least in the way the women in each the five couples are as bold as the men. References to kintsugi are less obvious in the dance, although maybe it is there in the often complex partnering and in the way couples break apart as if one is being rejected before coming back together. At the time, I read the whole it as being more about relationships. One of the highlights come early, a duet for Vittoria Girelli, and Noan Alves in which she dramatically flares around him.
The most experienced of the four company members presenting work, and only female dance-maker of the evening, Katarzyna Kozielska is retiring from the stage this summer to focus on her choreography. The meaning behind Take Your Pleasure Seriously is obscure but it is a good watch. The mood is dark and tense, with Kozielska making good use of unison and ensemble to create power.
It is a ballet very much about woman, and more often than not, one woman in particular: Alicia Amatriain. It is she who is the queen to which the men in particular pay homage, at one point shielding her in a web or arms, at another lifting her high in exaltation. The drama is magnified by the costumes, red shifting into black or vice-versa and black lacy tops for the women; easily the best of the night.
Out of the darkness comes light, though, and it ends with harmony, though, a beautiful pas de deux for Diana Ionescu and Daniele Silingardi. Now dressed in the most skin coloured of costumes making them appear almost nude, the deliciously gentle choreography contrasts equally strongly with what goes before. I’m not sure what the point was of pulling pianist Paul Lewis and his piano across the back was, though.
I got on much less well with Skinny by Louis Steins. It is loaded with ideas and influences (too many), all mashed together under a haze of smoke. Danced to an electro-beat it felt like one had suddenly been dumped in some underground club or rave where everyone was on something. Early on there’s a lot of body slapping. Why? Moments feel like one is watching a pop video or cheerleading troupe, at others it’s just a stage of hair flying, arm flailing, leg flinging dancers. Maybe it’s all some attempt to appeal to the younger generation. I appreciated the near non-stop fizzing energy, and it has to be noted that the audience loved it. Maybe if I sat through it again, I would see the light, but I doubt it.
Outgoing resident choreographer Marco Goecke, who is to take over as ballet director at the Hannover Staatsoper in summer 2019, gave a welcome change of mood in Almost Blue. Dance to several Etta James numbers, it has a quiet jazz club feel about it, except for one moment at the beginning when firecrackers are let off at the back of the stage.
An opening solo for Gianquinto suggests a conversation, but with someone not there. Body taut, it’s full of Goecke’s trademark style, all fluttering hands and nervous gestures. Elsewhere, meaning is enigmatic and the connection with music and lyrics is not especially strong, although perhaps some of the words of the songs, “When I close my eyes and dream,” or “Such a mystery” say it all.
Whatever, it is starkly beautiful with some clever use of costuming and lighting, not least the way elbow length black gloves against the black background make the dancers appear armless. Goecke has one more surprise for everyone at the end, nine hoppers descend and dump what looked like brown rice on the stage, and a lot of it, which sprays in bouquets of grains as the dancers shift through it.
A final thought. While classical ballet was referenced during the evening, by Goecke in particular, this was very much a contemporary affair. I know ballet needs to move on, as indeed does the meaning of ‘classical’, but I do find it sad that young choreographers in general, let along those in a company with such a magnificent classical heritage, seem so averse to fully embracing the classical vocabulary. Do they simply feel there is no more room for innovation in there, or that the only way to be different is to go to the extreme? I beg to differ on both counts.