Elegant precision in Suite en Blanc: Dancing|Forward by the Royal Swedish Ballet

Royal Opera House, Stockholm
March 9, 2019

Maggie Foyer

Suite en Blanc is a jewel in the classical repertoire. It glows like a pearl in its unadorned technical precision, while exuding that elusive essence of Parisian chic. It was created in 1943 by Serge Lifar who said of the ballet, “I am preoccupied with pure dance, independent of all other considerations.”

Lifar’s neoclassical style tests the dancers’ technical abilities while the simplicity of the designs gives the dance supremacy. The music by Edouard Lalo, tinged with an oriental flavour, offers elegant accompaniment. Often compared to Harold Lander’s Étude another white ballet and display piece, Suite en Blanc gives opportunities to more dancers in a wealth of roles each needing a different skill set and personality. It has weathered the years well although there is a degree of high camp in some of the poses for the male ensemble that looks a tad dated and could have done with a touch more bravado to carry them off successfully.

Highlights in the variations included Dmitry Zagrebin, who performed the Mazurka with spirit, enjoying the challenges and revelling in the virtuosity. Haruka Sassa danced La Cigarette, with precision footwork, her graceful arms emulating the swirl of smoke rings and bringing the sensual allure that the solo demands. She also whipped off a perfect series of fouettés in the finale. She was partnered by Calum Louden in a cool and elegant Adage displaying beautiful line and form. Emily Slawski charmed her way through the Sérénade while Kisa Nakashima’s interpretation of La Flûte was as delicate and beautiful as the musical notes themselves.

Haruka Sassa and Calum Lowden (centre) and The Royal Swedish Ballet in Suite en BlancPhoto Markus Gårder
Haruka Sassa and Calum Lowden (centre) and The Royal Swedish Ballet in Suite en Blanc
Photo Markus Gårder

It is a pity that batterie is no longer a priority in the training of female dancers and so very few now seem able to beat a six. I am sure La Cigarette used to finish with entrechat six between the last relévés in attitude and I miss the sparkle that crisp beats add to a classical variation. The men however mostly delivered good clean batterie and fine jumps, notably from Kentaro Mitsumori and Erik Rudqvist supporting Luiza Lopes in the Thème Varié. Desislava Stoeva, one of the company’s strongest technicians made light of Presto in the company of a male quartet. It was a treat to see the work again, it serves as a benchmark and the company delivered a fine performance with some thrilling moments.

The second work, Je t’attends, Je t’attends, Je t’attends is a commissioned work by Jérémie Bélingard. It brought committed performances from the company but has little cohesion as a ballet. Bélingard is a choreographer with a background in the high classicism of the Paris Opéra now searching for new ideas and movements. I don’t think his new work is helped by the myriad costume ideas from Blanca Miró Skoudy that pay homage to various experiments by the Bauhaus, the surrealists and the cubists. In the deluge of ideas there is no overarching concept to structure the material.

Daria Ivanova and Anton Valdbauer in Je t'attends, Je t'attends, Je t'attendsPhoto Markus Gårder
Daria Ivanova and Anton Valdbauer in Je t’attends, Je t’attends, Je t’attends
Photo Markus Gårder

The disconnected hands that appear through the screen at the opening are then a feature of Daria Ivanova’s dress, a stunning creation covered in grasping hands which she carried off with great aplomb making the most of slender choreographic material.

Jérôme Marchand too has an extraordinary costume with one extravagantly extended arm. He is a dancer of great charisma and creative skills but apart from a few interesting moments, it simply remains a gimmick.

Alina Lagoas, is another dancer always worth watching. Dressed in a chic scarlet two-piece she was unmissable creating a strong impression but going nowhere. Oscar Salomonsson and Sarah Jane Medley played a unifying role, drawing the disparate group of characters together and in their scenes the work seemed to find shades of meaning. While Bélingard has generated interesting pictures and ideas, the work needs further development.