Four pearls: Baroque Movement by Norwegian National Ballet

Opera House, Oslo
April 25, 2019

Maggie Foyer

Baroque, the name applied to those extravagantly misshapen pearls that make their own rules regarding form, is an apt name for the Norwegian National Ballet’s, Baroque Movement. The triple bill opens on Garrett Smith’s ebullient Resonance and only attains a measure of conformity by the closing work, Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine. The versatile opera house joined in the party as Bjarte Eike and his Baroque soloists played their period instruments in costume in the lavishly decorated foyer. They were joined by youngsters, also in satin finery and handing out treats to start the evening on a truly authentic note.

Smith’s Resonance is a delight, matching in cleverness and virtuosity the energy in the music. Overlapping short entrances kept the pace brisk and the movement was choreographed with a sharp eye to the versatility and talents of the dancers incorporating ballet and much beyond to an eclectic mix of lively period music.

Monica Guerra’s costumes in bold colours and cropped to allow movement, are encrusted and bejewelled in keeping with the lavish style of the period. The sheer audacity of the choreography is thrilling as dancers leap, spin and even find a moment to play the cellos and violins lowered on wires. There is an undercurrent of coquetry and flirtation and the duets and occasional trio are a riot of innovative partnering.

Norwegian National Ballet in How Did I Get Where by Cina EspejordPhoto Jörg Wiesner
Norwegian National Ballet in How Did I Get Where by Cina Espejord
Photo Jörg Wiesner

The seven dancers give highly enjoyable performances notably madcap Luca Curreli and Maiko Nishino who added a brooding presence, a mysterious dark lady, while Whitney Jensen, Samantha Lynch and Philip Currell sustained the blistering pace of dance laced with humour.

The two short middle works by company dancers, Cina Espejord and Melissa Hough, brought interesting contrasts. In Bout of the Imperfect Pearl, Hough tackles complex contemporary issues around female empowerment and discrimination. Divided into distinct episodes, it opens on a romantic encounter between Klara Mårtensson and Erik Murzagaliyev and closes on them meeting and parting: a relationship that finds no resolution. Fate forces them apart embodied in a posse of grey suited men and an ambiguous trio of women in flesh coloured leotards. Mårtensson is taken hostage by the men and imprisoned in a sumptuous cage of crinoline and corset, wig and mask as they manipulate and manhandle her creating fascinating images of cloth against a darkening sky. The women rescue her from the hooped petticoat and her now over-long dress creates even more fantastic shapes as she dances with extravagant gestures.

Mårtensson is a dancer who constantly draws the eye with her appealing mix of fragility and strength, and she created moments of radiant beauty bathed in luxurious fabric and lights. There were good performances all round and while the work raised issues, its target remained elusive.

The focus of Espejord’s How did I get Where … seemed to revolve around community and memory as a posed school photo of young children in an earlier age was projected on the backcloth. The opening presented the dancers, uniformly dressed in white tops and baggy trousers, working in close harmony, punctuated by a lifted body or sustained pose. Espejord used the bodies and the costumes to work between balance and off balance finding unusual images in visual dynamics. However, it was when the group broke up into smaller groups, that the energy and interest built as the choreography developed with clear shifts in dynamics. The photo images gradually fade, one by one, and are replaced by the onstage musicians lit through the gauze. While it was difficult to place the all ideas expressed in the programme notes, it remained a confident and appealing choreographic study.

Liam Scarlett's VespertinePhoto Jörg Wiesner
Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine
Photo Jörg Wiesner

Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine returns to the Oslo stage where it premiered in 2013. The most formal work of the evening it nevertheless gave a nod to dissent with innovative partnering and men stripped down while the woman remained formally dressed. (I can imagine future cultural theorists writing theses some twenty years hence on the ‘female gaze’.) The dance was superb: dressed in elegantly cut dresses under a cloud of chandeliers. The burgundy skirts have extravagant length that are used skilfully to define the choreographic lines. In lively balletic form presented with modern sensibilities, Scarlett has devised a structure that shifts relationships in intriguing ways and highlights the dancers’ technique. I loved the female dancers moving rhythmically in the silence accompanied just by the patter of feet and the quartets with one woman and three men or vice versa.

This is also the ballet in which Kaloyan Boyadjiev takes his leave from the company where he has danced for 17 years. He has headed the Norwegian National Ballet 2 for the last three years and is making a name as a choreographer. Together with Shane Urton, partnering Leyne Magbutay and Sonia Vinograd, he let the cast of twelve proving that he still has the presence and technique and was going out on top. It made a perfect close to the evening.