Choreographers across generations in Badisches Staatsballett’s Strings/Jumps

Staatstheater, Karlsruhe
April 27, 2024

It was a very special evening in Karlsruhe. Strings/Jumps (Saiten/Sprünge) proved a well-balanced programme of high-quality dance, the visit of 92-year-old Hans van Manen, and a rapturously received premiere from Mthuthuzeli November.  

November’s Water Me chimes with the mood of the times: a celebration of the earth and its people, and our need to acknowledge and take care of the environment and of one another. It takes us to a world of strange beauty full of colour, movement and sounds.

A circle of neon light slowly rises to become first a canvas for watery patterns, a golden sun and finally a silvery moon. The set design by Helena du Mesnil de Rochemont continues in appliqued patterned surfaces enhancing the charmed world. Yann Seabra excels with his costume designs, based on ballet tights but decorated to create figures of fantasy and magic.  

Daniel Rittoles and Natsuka Abe in Water Me by Mthuthuzeli November
Photo Yan Revazov

The choreography links the dance cultures of Africa and the sophisticated art of ballet. Alex Wilson’s music, an interesting mix of strings and percussion, accompanies the fusion. The string section of the orchestral ensemble who accompany the evening move centre stage, now placed on the rise of a semicircular arch, with the percussion section below.

For the men, the language is more African, with power in the torsos and fiercely rhythmical feet. For the women, November takes his love of pointework to a new level in language that is fluid and inventive. Carolina Martins plays a spiritual role, perhaps an oracle. Towards the end she falters, collapsing to the ground. Natsuka Abe revives her in a gentle duet and the group signal their togetherness in embracing couples.

Badisches Staatsballett in Grosse Fuge by Hans van Manen
Photo Yan Revazov

Hans van Manen’s classic Grosse Fugue premiered in 1971 but like the choreographer it doesn’t show its age. He strode onto the stage to take his bow, straight-backed and proud, to a well-deserved standing ovation. Van Manen’s ballets are about people, who just happen to be great dancers. Four women stand in a tight pack as the men dance their opening statements. They stare straight at the audience but are equally fully aware of the men, bare-chested in belted black skirts. The men give a display worth of peacocks but when the women respond they seem only to dance for themselves.

A series of duets offers a range of relationships: Joshua Swain and Balkiya Zhanburchinova in fierce celebration of life. João Miranda throws himself at Sara Zinna’s feet and she steps casually over his body to walk away. Each couple has a different agenda. The movement is bold, clearly defined and totally Van Manen. Between the duets, the ensemble dance together matching the energy in Beethoven’s music, syncopating the jump rhythms to continue the oppositional mood.

Then the men make their killer move, ostentatiously unzipping their full skirts to reveal neat black shorts and the mating game moves into its final phase. The women bridge their bodies over the supine males. They cling to the heavy buckled belts and are dragged across the stage. It is both very primal; and very modern, innovative and authentic. The final moment comes as they lie together, male and female, one feminine arm raised in a gentle gesture. We have a truce!

Lucas Erni and Sophie Martin in Requiem for a Rose by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Photo Yan Revazov

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose is a ballet in love with love itself. The Staatsballett, a company of strong, expressive dancers, are given the chance to display their talents in a series of duets: male, female and mixed. It has some of Ochoa’s most beautiful choreography, carefully shaped ensemble work punctuated with amazing freeze frame tableaux.

Franz Schubert’s music, so rich in passion, makes the perfect partner. Tatyana van Walsum’s costumes are unisex. Heavy ruby-red skirts cut in petal-like layers look like the drooping heads of roses, filled with memory and lingering perfume.

The symbolism of the pale figure of Martins, a rose in her mouth, dancing wildly with her long hair flailing, is open to interpretation. Possibly it’s a reference to the ephemeral nature of the blooms and the emotions. However, it bookends the work in a most satisfying manner. The moment where she is carried on high in a crucifix pose, strikes a final serious chord adding a deeper layer to the beauty.

Carolina Martins in Requiem for a Rose by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Photo Yan Revazov

The three works, each around thirty minutes matched up well in contrasting style and content. The addition of live music from the strings and percussion of the Badische Staatskapelle (Baden State Orchestra) was a bonus adding to the pleasures of a warm summer evening.