Goecke and Clug’s contemporary takes on Stravinsky classics Petrushka and Sacre

Ballett Zürich at the Opernhaus, Zürich
November 20, 2016


If you are looking for an antidote to the usual vibrantly-coloured Petrushka, Marco Goecke’s typically modern take on the story, the stage shrouded in black and simply lit, certainly provides it. Add to that the simple costumes – black trousers and skin coloured tops all round, and you have an extremely minimalist setting. Sadly, it’s also one in which the story gets rather lost. If you don’t know it, I rather suspect you would spend most of the ballet wondering what on earth was going on.

The dance itself is typical Goecke, loaded with nervous trembling hands and limbs and sharply angular, twitching torsos, although look closely and you will see classical ballet references. It is unusual, and in this instance it works a treat. The tension in the dancers’ bodies really does give the impression of wooden puppets. Given that, perhaps it’s not so surprising that the choreography sits very comfortably with Stravinsky’s score.

In this dance of fine detail, the whole cast delivered the necessary speed and accuracy. Daniel Mulligan was a fine Petrushka to Giulia Tonelli’ Ballerina. Their pas de deux was delightful. Standing tall, though, was Ricardo Macedo, still a member of the Junior Company, as The Moor.

Pina Bausch had tons and tons of earth in her Rite of Spring, Edward Clug does it with gallons and gallons of water.

Katja Wünsche and ensemble in Edward Clug's SacrePhoto Gregory Batardon
Katja Wünsche and ensemble in Edward Clug’s Sacre
Photo Gregory Batardon

Clug’s Sacre takes us back to a primeval world and a bleak landscape, the air filled with a white dust as though we are back at the beginnings of time. We see twelve dancers in two lines, their bodies also whitened, their briefest of costumes giving them a naked appearance under the lights. A nod to Russian symbols sees the women sporting long braided pigtails and rosy red cheeks.

After an opening in which the dancers slowly change places as if pawns in some board game, there is a sudden call to life. They move stooped over, shuffling around the stage. Thought still seems to have arrived, though. It all has a bit of a zombie-feel to it.

After a section in which the men catch the women as they fall backwards, everyone is jolted into more lively action when the stage is suddenly and unexpectedly flooded by four jets of water from above that douse everyone. The water, it seems, causes humanity to blossom. The dancers frolic in it. They splash and slide. The men push and pull the women, sending them gliding across the stage like graceful waterfowl.

The Chosen One (Katja Wünsche) does not go willingly. She fights and pleads before slumping to the ground in acceptance of her fate. By the end, she looks a real mess, her hair undone and straggly; a real rag doll. As her body refuses to fight anymore, she is slid to the far upper corner of the stage as the others, apparently uncaring, stare in the opposite direction. Startling.