Three choreographers meet for Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin’s Spectres d’Europa #3

Opéra national du Rhin Facebook
December 13, 2020

David Mead

For the third in its Spectres d’Europa series, initiated in 2018 for the centenary of the armistice of the First World War, but which has since extended its themes, Ballet de l’Opéra National du Rhin artistic director Bruno Bouché brought three works from different choreographer generations and of different movement styles.

Bouché’s own Bless-ainsi soit-IL (So Be It) is a choreographic re-reading of the biblical story of Jacob and the Angel, although the Bible actually refers to the latter simply as ‘a man’. It is easy to see Jacob’s battle as symbolic of humankind’s struggle with itself, certainly its darker side. Inspiration also came from Delacroix’s mural at the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.

Mikhael Kinley-Safronoff and Martin Delavaud in of Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin in Bless ainsi Soit-il by Bruno BouchéPhoto Agathe Poupeney
Mikhael Kinley-Safronoff and Martin Delavaud
of Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
in Bless ainsi Soit-IL by Bruno Bouché
Photo Agathe Poupeney

The 15-minute pas de deux for two men rides Ferrucio Busoni’s solo piano arrangement of the chaconne of J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor. As Jacob, Marin Delavaud, bare-chested and in black pants, certainly seems to be wrestling with something inside him. Mikhael Kinley-Safronoff’s angel, in white, is both calmer and stronger. It’s easy to see the whole piece as a metaphor for mankind’s struggle with itself.

The dancers’ arms are the center of gravity in the style dear to Bruno Bouché with a resolutely contemporary dance but nourished by classical syntax. It is a fight without violence, almost peaceful, punctuated by races and lifts which see the bodies entangled with sensuality as if to sign the pact between man and the gods.

Jacob tries to run away and is caught. The pair push against each other. They lift each other, bodies entangled. Very darkly lit by Tom Klefstad, it is a fight but not really violent or fierce. There is a sort of intensity but it’s all very controlled and with smoothed edges. At times, it’s beautiful even. Perhaps those contradictions are one reason why, for me at least, it struggled to reach out from the digital screen (I can imagine it working better live).

Audrey Becker and Alice Pernão of Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin in Annonciation by Angelin PreljocajPhoto Agathe Poupeney
Audrey Becker and Alice Pernão
of Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
in Annonciation by Angelin Preljocaj
Photo Agathe Poupeney

In many ways mirroring Bless-ainsi soit-IL in that it has a human and divine presence, Preljocaj’s Annonciation is a pas de deux based on the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, and in which she was told of her forthcoming motherhood. Setting it in our own times and especially having both roles danced by women lends the intimate work a strong sense female empowerment.

It opens with Alice Pernão as Mary, appropriately in white, seated in what could easily be seen as a corner of the walled garden so often seen in traditional iconography. It’s immediately intensely engaging. She seems lost in her own thoughts when Audrey Becker as Gabriel breaks into her private world. In blue, she is a powerful, supernatural force with omnipresence and intensity.

The movement vocabulary is classic Preljocaj: a fusion of classical and contemporary run through with intense physicality. Pernão’s Mary is delicate and moves with softness and fragility. Becker’s Gabriel is strong and more dynamic. There’s a clear tension between them as we see Mary’s anxieties, doubts and fears. There’s a suggestion she even tries to say ‘no’.

The dance changes gear with ease. It’s sometimes slow and intense, sometimes dynamic and fast-moving. It sits comfortably with the alternating of Vivaldi’s Magnificat and the electro-acoustic sounds of Stéphane Roy. Moments of thoughtful pauses and silences emphasise mood and feeling enormously. Jacques Chatelet’s lighting draws you in even more.

Becker and Pernão are superb. Their dance is clear and precise. When they come together in unison they are absolutely in synch. One such fast-moving sequence full of changes of direction and levels is an absolute joy. The later lead up to the mouth kiss, symbolic of the moment of conception is deeply mesmerising. The actual moment feels very spiritual.

The 22 minutes flies past.

Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin in Poussière de Terre by Alba CastilloPhoto Agathe Poupeney
Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
in Poussière de Terre by Alba Castillo
Photo Agathe Poupeney

Completing the streaming, Poussière de Terre (Dust of the Earth) is a new 40-minute piece that questions time and infinity by Alba Castillo, originally from Valencia but now based in Basel.

Castillo began her career with the Compañia Nacional de Danza 2 under Nacho Duato, and was then a soloist with the Ballet Theater Basel. If there’s a choreographic influence here it is surely Crystal Pite, however. The impressive way Castillo creates mood and shifts between solos, duets and ensemble sections that flow easily int one another is deeply reminiscent of the Canadian choreographer.

In Poussière de Terre, there are moments when it feels like we are watching the aftermath of a world shaken to its core of some cataclysmic event. Sound familiar? Whatever, time continues to pass, refusing for even a second to stand still, as symbolised by the ever-present and symbolic sand falling from a giant hourglass hanging above (a shame it is only occasionally and then only partially visible on the film).

Lukas Wiedmer’s lighting may be subdued but it picked out the detail well, highlighting the dancers in their tight-fitting skin-coloured costumes. As it bounces off that sand, it seems to sparkle.

The best moments come towards the end in a delicious and sensual duet of contemporary but deeply classically-infused dance. The feeling was probably magnified by the present situation, but I found it is deeply affecting as the woman then stands in the mound of sand, the falling grains running through her fingers. Time slipping away. Vaccines should give us hope but with a third full lockdown being spoken of, to last until who knows when, and maybe more after that, is there really an endgame? How long will we have to wait? What will be left when we arrive?

Spectres d’Europa #3 will be repeated on the Facebook page of Opéra national du Rhin on Saturday December 19, 2020 at 7.00pm (UK), then available for 48 hours.