A balletic double-bill of differences: JSLN Dance Company in Virtuosity

C, Edinburgh
August 10, 2017

David Mead


Whisper it quietly, but away from the big Fringe dance venues lies some classical ballet. A double-bill no less. And better still, Virtuosity is a double-bill that has pleasing choreography, well-danced.

Led by Sören Magnus Niewelt, JSLN Dance Company sets out to bring ballet to everyone; to places where it’s rarely seen, in a way that everyone can understand. It’s hard to disagree with that.

The company has certainly been nomadic. It was founded in 2012 in Berlin, where it presented several productions and social projects. Supported by a private funder, 2013/2014 was spent in Singapore, a time that included appearances in China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Now back in Europe, the company has a studio in Augsburg, Germany. In the UK, it tours widely around the South-west in particular, and is seeking a permanent base in Dorset. This is JSLN’s second Fringe appearance.

On arrival at C, the audience is greeted by a couple of dancers in surgical gowns and gloves (and pointe shoes), slumped on the front row seats. Welcome to Mojo in Motion, a goofy, and quite frankly baffling ballet (even if you’ve read the humorously written programme note) by Niewelt that’s based on the Austin Powers films of 1997-2002. With its mad scientist, dancing hairless cat (Mr Bigglesworth, as Powers afficiendos will know), a time machine knocked up from old bits of cardboard, and an overall clumsy comedic style that owes much to Benny Hill, it’s the sort of thing that fits perfectly into the Fringe. It’s dance that you are going to love or hate. Normally, I would definitely tend to the latter, but Mojo is so crazy, and so brilliantly introduced by Niewelt, that I found it impossible not to smile at the madness of it all.

Mojo in MotionPhoto JSLN Dance Comapny
Mojo in Motion
Photo JSLN Dance Comapny

Within Mojo, though, there were signs that the JSLN dancers might actually be able to produce some quality classical ballet. In Consequential Gaps, an out and out neoclassical ballet danced to Bach, also by Niewelt, the young international cast did just that.

In the excellent 8-page printed programme (would that all Fringe programmes were this good), Niewelt talks about the work addressing gaps left behind or filled when we take certain actions. That may be so, but what is seen is a ballet that’s really about the music and dance. Consequential Gaps is full of fluid choreography that blends classical and more contemporary steps. There are some nice patterns, and a slower section in the middle includes some elegant partnering. That elegance also stretches to the monochrome halter-neck leotards worm by most of the women. Maybe it’s just because this is Scotland, but they reminded me of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work.

The only thing I’m less sure of is the use of a piece of white fabric held across the front in one part to hide the dancers’ lower bodies and create a silhouette effect. Maybe it looks better in a better space.

A double-bill of differences for sure, but also a hugely pleasurable hour of dance. I also much enjoyed Niewelt’s chatty repartee as he introduced the show and the company. That does as much to break down barriers as anything. Niewelt says that he wants to show that “ballet does not have to be dull and boring.” Virtuosity is anything but.

JSLN Dance Company in Virtuosity is on at C, Chambers Street at 6.40pm to August 28.
Click here for details.
Running time: 70 minutes

In November and December 2017, JSLN Dance can be seen on tour in Dorset and Somerset, plus Bude, Gateshead and St Andrews. Details will be on www.jslndancecompany.com in due course.