January 3, 2020
Like so much else, the live ballet gala planned for the turn of the year at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin had to be cancelled. Instead, the Staatsballett Berlin turned to the internet, presenting three short pieces by Arshak Ghalumyan and Ross Martinson, created recently for themselves and their colleagues, alongside the more familiar final pas de deux from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
Ghalumyan’s Mare Crisium is a swiftly-paced modern work for five, essentially a choreographic response to composer Karl Jenkins’ familiar six-minute piece of the same title. With movement full of swinging arms and bodies and extended legs, and changing patterns among the quintet of performers, the dance reverberates pleasingly in much the same way as do the voices in the score, even if it never quite matches the music’s rhythmic excitement.
Mare Crisium may be named after a sea on the moon, but does it really have to be so dark? Not only does the whole thing not only takes place in surrounding blackness (as indeed does every other piece on the programme), but individuals are often difficult to make out clearly in what did lighting there is. The largely dark costumes don’t help any either. It’s all in stark contrast to the single available photo that shows more colourful costumes and better lighting, a combination far more suitable for streaming. On top of that is the infuriating, overly busy editing with its constant changing of angle, sometimes only for a split second.
Also by Ghalumyan, Für Elise, danced by Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, is a highly appealing short to Beethoven’s well-known etude, played on stage by Alina Pronina. Here, the black surrounding works perfectly, adding to the dreamy nature of the piece. With sliding and skipping steps that cover the ground easily that are interrupted by stronger moments, the choreography picks up neatly on the sometimes gentle, sometimes dramatic moments in the music.
The music’s title should never have been, incidentally. Beethoven’s dedication on the manuscript was “Für Therese”, but a copywriter got it wrong and the rest is history. While there are several theories, quite who Therese was, has never been firmly established.
I also rather took to The Zero, a shortened version of an unusual solo created and performed by Ross Martinson, a patient in a sanitorium for 900 years, we hear. Showing remarkable flexibility in his joints, he constantly twists and turns again and again as he answers questions from unseen doctors or talks to himself. It is superbly engaging and reminded me of moments from Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young collaborations.
But like those Pite-Young affairs, is all quite what it seems? We hear he is healthy but “stuck inside this fish tank” with lots of other fish. In a swift change of metaphor, he also tells us that it’s full of dogs, and that he feels like a dog, on a lead, told what to do. While it’s not stated anywhere, it’s not a huge leap to see the whole thing as an allegory for a dance company. Or perhaps it’s all a reference to something closer to us all: the current pandemic and its restrictions. In the original but cut here, the man finally collapses and dies. Read into that what you will.
The final act pas de deux from Patrice Bart’s production of Swan Lake was danced finely by Yolanda Correa and Dinu Tamazlacaru but suffered from more dismal lighting and director and editor Vladislav Marinov’s penchant for pulling the camera so far back that the couple looked like tiny figures in not so much a sea of darkness but a whole ocean.
Correa is most expressive with body and face. At times she almost seems to look straight into the camera. The make-up helps, but with her wide eyes she reminded me of a 1920s silent movie heroine about to meet her end (which, of course, she is). A solid partner, Tamazlacaru comes into his own in his leaps and turns, especially his remarkably tidy tours en l’air.
As it’s that time of year’, what better to finish with that Lev Ivanov’s familiar Grand pas de deux from The Nutcracker, in this case Vasily Medvedev and Yuri Burlaka’s version.
Aya Okumura and Alejandro Virelles are quite delicious, dancing with verve from the off. Looking every inch as though she is indeed made of sugar and come to life having been plucked off the top of some sweet confectionary, Okamura is delightful, combining delicacy with strength. Her solo is exquisite, everything perfectly placed. Her pirouettes have not even a hint of a wobble. Virelles may look a little odd in his red pants and a light blue top but when he gets the chance he flies around the stage with ease. It is a fine way to round off a sometimes unusual but very interesting 45 minutes.
From Berlin With Love 2021, the New Year gala from the Staatsballett Berlin, is available on YouTube.