Power and beauty in a compelling triple bill: Ballet Vlaanderen in New York

Joyce Theater, New York
March 7, 2020

Veronica Posth

Ballet Vlaanderen was founded by Belgian dancer and choreographer Jeanne Brabants in 1969. Since Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui took over as artistic director in 2015, the company has increasingly positioned itself as a diverse and versatile ensemble, with more than forty dancers from over fifteen nationalities and boundary pushing repertoire.

This particular programme was typical: wonderful evening of amazing performances in a triple bill of Kaash by Akram Khan, Faun by Cherkaoui and Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue by Crystal Pite.

In Kaash (Hindi for ‘if’), the British-Bengali choreographer Akram Khan presents his own vision of Shiva, the god of both destruction and creation. The poetic stage setting designed by Anish Kapoor translates the transcendent theme of life’s cyclical nature, while Kimie Nakano’s costumes underline the beauty of the dancers and contribute to an extraordinary visual experience. Added to the mix are wonderful engaging rhythmic structures based on parallels by the British-Indian composer Nitin Sawhney and Khan’s powerful, kathak-rooted movement vocabulary.

Ballet Vlaanderen in Kaash by Akram Khan Photo Filip Van Roe
Ballet Vlaanderen in Kaash by Akram Khan
Photo Filip Van Roe

The poignant forces vibrate in the dancers’ bodies who have a sense of being somewhat otherworldly. Their majesty is captivating. The extremely detailed movement, extended lines and delicate pauses make the piece breathe as a vital organ. The virtuosity of every single dancer is outstanding; their elegance and allure simply magnetic. The slow and impressive movements of the closing solo are mesmerising, his forms recalling the powerful yet graceful muscular male torsos of Michelangelo.

Faun brings a complete change in atmosphere. It’s an exceptional duet that casts a new perspective on one of the most important works in music and dance history: Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and the original, legendary choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky.

Philipe Lens and Nicola Wills in Faun by Sidi Larbi CherkaouiPhoto Nicha Rodboon
Philipe Lens and Nicola Wills in Faun by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Photo Nicha Rodboon

In Cherkaoui’s sensual version, the faun meets his female counterpart in a complex game of animal attraction. That game is choreographed with complex steps that are as sensual as playful, and that are performed in front of a mysterious misty image of a forest. The music is interpreted on a fascinating take by musician Nitin Sawhney who provides a peculiar yet immersive soundtrack duality. Wonderful forms in movement recall the elegance of a pair of old Greek statues brought to life. Their beauty blooms as they come closer and play with one other. The flirtation is poetic and delightful, the dance accurate and delicate. It was the perfect alchemy.

In Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, she reveals interpersonal interactions between ten sets of two dancers, never shying away from humour and self-questioning. The intimate duets make one think about relational dynamics and the complex forms of acceptance and communication. Pite shows us support and care but contrasts that with misunderstandings depicted in short but eloquent sequences of rescue and despair. A sense of hope comes through the bodies as they give space to enquiries and answers. In a compelling lighting set by Jim French, they drag, lift, push and pull one another in metaphors for the complexity of relationships and the struggle that communication sometimes is.