Kylián, Ek and Forsythe at the Royal Swedish Ballet

Royal Opera House, Stockholm
November 1, 2021

The Royal Opera House in Stockholm is thankfully back to capacity audiences and enjoying a popular programme of modern classics. Under director, Nicolas Le Riche, the company sees changes in the repertoire and new faces in the ranks.

Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura is a company premiere and a valuable addition to the repertoire. Kylián writes in modern dance language using contemporary ideas but distinctive among contemporary choreographers he delights in elegance and beauty. In this field, Bella Figura takes the lead.

Two sculpted mannequins, encased in glass boxes float above and the work opens on a semi-naked body intertwined in curtains, she reaches out but is constantly drawn back. The give and take, reveal and hide, continues in the exquisite intimate duet between two female dancers, tightly cropped to just a small square of the stage, the focus demanding our complete attention.

Daria Ivanova in Woman with Water by Mats Ek
Photo Carl Thorborg

On the wider stage, Kylián develops dance relationships gently and profoundly drawing in music from the greats, Pergolesi, Vivaldi and even modern revisioning by Lukas Foss. The Royal Ballet dancers gave an impressive performance, investing the movements with depth and meaning whether in the duets or the brilliant ensemble moment as voluminous scarlet skirts flood the stage in the stately Baroque dance.

Woman with Water by Mats Ek (in Swedish, Överbord) is drama, stripped of theatricals. The most basic need – a glass of water – is set on a green wooden table, add a woman and a man and you have the essence. Daria Ivanova is the woman in charge, though Dmitry Zagrebin makes his presence felt. From her powerful, extended movements, to something as simple as stroking the smooth wood of the tabletop, each move has purpose.  The spice is in the comedy, Ivanova’s quaintly curling toes as Zagrebin lifts her on high. There is play as she rolls under the moving table, the nifty catch of the falling glass and her final flop to the floor. This is a tale open to many interpretations and much to enjoy.

Madeline Woo and company
in William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated
Photo Carl Thorborg

William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, the second act of his too rarely seen ballet, Impressing the Czar, is a show stopper. It’s astounding to realise that it premiered in 1987 as it retains its intense modernity aided by Thom Willems dynamic score.

This is choreography and music converging on the cusp of tradition redefining the arts. It reshapes ballet hierarchy as dancers dance up a storm without invitation to start or begging applause when they’re done. There are no principals framed by a corps. All are soloists, taking centre stage or creating technical wizardry on the side. Duets seem chance encounters: a dancer grabs a partner, they explore the territory, then move on. Forsythe rewrote the rule book and takes ballet technique for the ride of its life. In an excellent cast, Madeline Woo, Haruka Sassa, Ethan Watts and Kentaro Mitsumori were outstanding. It is a joy to see these Forsythe classics back in the ballet repertoire.