Prelocaj, Balanchine and Béjart in the Royal Swedish Ballet and Opera’s Stravinsky triple-bill

Opera House, Stockholm
November 12, 2019

Maggie Foyer

Noces, Agon, Våroffer (Le Sacre du Printemps) proved an effective balance of three exemplary works that showed the company to good advantage. It also offered three magnificent Stravinsky scores under the persuasive baton of Stefan Solyom. It was a thrilling evening on all counts.

Angelin Preljocaj’s Noces taps into the darker side of nuptials. Staged with the orchestra and singers taking the back of the stage, the two elements conjoin in powerful symmetry. The work brims with passion and violence surfaces at sporadic intervals. While the women’s prim dresses in strong colours and the men in shirts and ties lend an air of formality, the partnering has the feral urgency of primal mating rituals.

The occasional ensemble moments with suggestions of folk dance bring welcome respite as do the concern of the women for each other but it is often an uncomfortable work to watch. The slatted wooden benches, the only setting, become percussive instruments slammed onto the stage surface, they double as seats and beds and ultimately serve to hang the discarded rag dolls in their virginal wedding dresses, discarded as the couples walk to an uncertain future. The cast of ten chosen from across the ranks, gave heart and soul to their performances.

Mackenzie Farquhar and Coralie Aulas in Maurice Béjart's Rite of SpringPhoto Carl Thorborg
Mackenzie Farquhar and Coralie Aulas
in Maurice Béjart’s Le Sacre du printemps
Photo Carl Thorborg

Over half a century on and the modernity of George Balanchine’s Agon is still astounding. Like the Stravinsky score that it so perfectly complements, the simplicity of the shapes and the complexity of the structure remain timeless. In twelve tones, twelve dancers and twelve movements, the choreography is matched with mathematical precision.

From the gutsy opening; the four men making their mark with quick steps, kicks and lunges in neat canon, to the classical formality of the pointe work, Balanchine proves himself the master.

I did not get to see the first cast but got to see an excellent performance. Luiza Lopes and Calum Lowden skilfully carved out the angularity of the pas de deux. In the second pas de trois Haruka Sassa, effortlessly on balance, combined wit and brilliance while Kentaro Mitsumori, the solo male in the first trio, captivated with his ease and clarity. It’s a treat to see this work back in the repertoire.

With Le Sacre du Printemps, Stravinsky took classical music on a startlingly new trajectory. The concept touches the essence of humanity: life, death and renewal. Maurice Béjart brought something new and exciting to the ballet stage with his huge ensemble of male dancers and in this ballet he did it most convincingly.

His Sacre of 1959, pounds with ritual fervour but suggests procreation rather than sacrifice as it works through gender divided sections to a final mating. The motifs are strong and simple, pulsating to Stravinsky’s powerful rhythms on a stage throbbing with energy. Dmitry Zagrebin led the field in a formidable full company performance.