On the essence of being human: Mats Ek’s ‘woman with water’ plus Kylián and Naharin from the Royal Swedish Ballet

Opera House, Stockholm
March 10, 2020

Maggie Foyer

The Royal Swedish Ballet brought together three topflight choreographers and blended their works in an unusual manner making an awesome mix. The order ran Kylián, Naharin, Ek; and for good measure a Naharin encore, to finish on an upbeat note.

The one premiere came from Mats Ek. His woman with water has all the hallmarks of his style, bold, simple and honing in on the essence of the human being. A woman, a man, a table and a glass of water. On the surface that’s what you get but with Ek, like an iceberg, there is so much more under the surface.

The man wears a well-worn black suit, the woman an ankle-length smock in flaming orange and the table is green. The expressionist style is familiar Ek territory and credited to the choreographer himself while the work is dedicated to his long-time collaborated Marie-Louise Ekman. Fläskkvartetten are back to provide a score that supports and never intrudes.

Gianmarco Romano and Luiza Lopes in Jiri Kylián's Wings of WaxPhoto Carl Thorborg
Gianmarco Romano and Luiza Lopes
in Jiri Kylián’s Wings of Wax
Photo Carl Thorborg

The movement language is pure Ek. The women enters, wrapped in her thoughts before gliding into a wide, deep plié. Her dance is introspective, a conversation between woman and table. The man walks on and fills her glass with water before lifting her off her feet where her bare feet alternately flex and point with childlike glee. He amorously snuzzles her neck before launching into a vigorous solo, striding over the table and pushing it as she rolls underneath.

The Swedish title is ‘överbord’, translated as ‘overboard’, but it could also be a play on ‘over the table’ echoing the dancers’ positions as they stand gazing into the glass of water. Is it half full, or half empty? I suspect it will take many viewings to fully understand the work but that does not reduce the pleasure as Kaho Yanagisawa and David Kupinski give meaning to each movement, in performances that are totally engaging.

Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax is a modern classic in both style and substance. A tree hangs upside down in the centre, its roots no longer offering stability while the revolving light suggests the sun that will ultimately melt Icarus’ wings of wax. It’s a brilliant design that complements and illuminates the dance in constantly shifting frames.

Kylián’s female roles have a gentle grace that disguises their strength while the men display their virtuosity with abandon. When they come together in the four duets, the fusion is magic. Each duet has a different emotional core, and each is amazing to watch. In a strong cast, I particularly enjoyed the sensitive interpretation by Coralie Aulas and Calum Lowden.

Jonatan Davidsson opens Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, enjoying his solo warm-up opportunity as the audience trail in after interval. He’s a master of many styles from street to high classicism delivered with abandon, much to the audiences’ delight. The company, in sombre suits and hats, then join with glee into the boisterous, tribal ritual of chanting and undress and a quieter moment came in the reflective duet by Madeline Woo with Davidsson. The audience responded with alacrity when invited onto the stage. It’s a work that never fails to please and finds good company in this shared evening.