Hitting the heights: Breath-taking by Stuttgart Ballet

Opera House, Stuttgart
July 5, 2019

David Mead

Stuttgart Ballet director Tamas Detrich speaks of needing to aim high, in repertory as well as standards; and of working with the best. The final programme of the season, aptly titled Breath-less, does all that. The exciting Hikarizatto by Itzik Galili is beautifully balanced by Johan Inger’s thoughtful and fascinating Out of Breath, before things round off with Akram Khan’s Kaash, making Stuttgart the first ballet company in Germany to dance one of his works.

Set in a chessboard-like grid of lighting squares, Hikarizatto is full of detail. Made for the company back in 2004, Galili was inspired by people in Tokyo, the crowds, the anonymity, and how people scurry around and function in small spaces. It’s only now making a reappearance. You wonder why, because it’s a super 18 minutes of always changing, always interesting dance.

Hikarizatto is about form and movement, but what movement! The dance itself is complex, technical and fast-paced. Sharp, accented extensions that reach skywards mix smoothly with melting bodies. Partners mesh and entangle in interesting ways.

Alicia Amatriain and Jason Reilly in Hikarizatto by Itzik GaliliPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Alicia Amatriain and Jason Reilly in Hikarizatto by Itzik Galili
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Led by Alicia Amatriain, Hyo-Jung Kang, Jason Reilly and Adhonay Soares da Silva, duets take place in each square; each separate, each connected. Sometimes there is unison between the pairs, but elsewhere, one couple will pick up moments from another. Sometimes there are canons, sometimes new phrases begin.

The title means means ‘crowded light’ and the lighting squares come on and off creating ever-changing patterns and connections. Performers shift quickly between sqaures and shafts of light as the grid changes. The lighting not only defines the space, for each couple and as whole, it becomes part of the dance; but given that the design was also by Galili, maybe that’s not too surprising.

It’s all urged on by the pulsating, ever-changing percussive rhythms of Niels van Hoorn and Janwillem van der Poll (Percossa) that have more than a hint of Japanese drumming about them.

Originally made in 2002 for NDT2, Johan Inger’s Out of Breath brings a total change in mood. Inspired by complications during the birth of his daughter, it takes place around a curved, J-shaped wall that symbolises the edge between life and death.

Hyo-Jung Kang, Elisa Badenes, Agnes Su in Out of Breath by Johan IngerPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Hyo-Jung Kang, Elisa Badenes and Agnes Su
in Out of Breath by Johan Inger
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

At first, we see Agnes Su walking like a toddler might. She’s delicate, clumsy and uncertain. Her steps are awkward. There’s more than a suggestion of growing up. Later, we see her meet with others. They enter relationships. They play, but Inger shows how quickly light can turn to dark. Sometimes things get difficult. Rejection comes in an instant as they suddenly fight and fall out.

The dancers are constantly drawn to Mylla Ek’s sail-like wall. It’s a barrier but it’s also an attraction. Like the ever-present possibility of death, it cannot be avoided. It’s used in the symbolism of personal struggle too. One of the women runs round and round it until stopped by one of the men. All throw themselves at it. One of the men repeatedly tries to climb it.

The difficult violin music with a hint of gypsy by Jacob Ter Veldhuis and Félix Lajkó is so tricky that it’s rarely played. It’s needs musicians with a particular flair and got them with the Staatsorchester string quartet of Holger Koch, Hedwig Gruber, David Cofré and Michael Ssitek.

It was Kaash that everyone was waiting for, though. Originally made in 2002 for just five dancers, Stuttgart Ballet performed the 14-dancer, 2017 version made for the Royal Ballet of Flanders.

Friedemann Vogel in Kaash by Akram KhanPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Friedemann Vogel in Kaash by Akram Khan
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

The combination of classical Indian contemporary forms works perfectly. The dance flows as if they are natural bedfellows. It’s simultaneously strong and soft. Barefoot, and in wide black skirts over black trousers by Kimie Nakano, the dancers lunge and swing their arms from side to side.

At the heart is Friedemann Vogel, at first with his back to the audience, still, a figure in silent contemplation of Sir Anish Kapoor’s red wall with its black rectangle in a golden frame. A big black hole and an allusion to the space phenomenon, science and quantum physics, but also a work of art. ‘Kaash’ means ‘If’ and, oblivious to the movement around him, there’s more than a suggestion of wonderment at what it might contain.

When he moves, his whole body comes to life. Shirtless, every muscle is there to be seen as he twists and turns. But there’s minute detail too, his fingers making intricate shapes. Elsewhere there are hints at martial arts. Other dancers whirl across the stage. Arms sweep. Skirts fly. The energy is intense.

The music is again integral; and again it’s difficult. So difficult, that Nitin Sawhney’s earthy score had never been played live. Until now. Five percussionists from the orchestra did it proud.

There are a couple more performances of Breath-taking this season, but it returns at the Stuttgart Opera House in the autumn. Visit www.stuttgart-ballet.de for details.