Staatstheater, Karlsruhe, Germany; June 21, 2014
One theme, one set, three ballets by three choreographers…that is the Badisches Staatsballet’s “Mythos” programme that concerns itself with the idea of myth, all three pieces being danced against Sebastian Hannak’s classy and startling white semi-circular wall, and using a huge white moveable cube that can be turned to reveal different settings. Unfortunately, on this afternoon Tim Plegge’s “Orpheus” had to be pulled from the programme due to injury, but both Reginaldo Oliveira’s “Der Fall M.” (The Case of M.) and Jörg Mannes’ “Spiegelgleichnis” (Parable of the Mirror) are full of deep thoughts and impressive imagery.
“Der Fall M.” is fifty minutes of penetrating psychological dance drama of the highest order to a collage of music by Alberto Iglesias, Lera Auerbach and Max Richter that enhance the mood well. The ballet is based on the Greek story of Medea, who avenges her husband Jason’s betrayal – he leaves her when Creon, King of Corinth offers him his daughter – by murdering their two children. It’s a story of lost love, jealousy and bitter revenge.
Dominating the dancing space is Hannak’s huge white cube, which when turned reveals 8 men and women, blindfolded and in dark suits, sat at a huge white table perched at 45 degrees. A crowd has gathered and a court is to be held to determine the fate of a woman who killed. In a symbolic leading of the accused (known simply as ‘The summoned’) to face justice, Bruna Andrade in a red dress, symbolic of the blood of her crime, maybe, is carried on by members of the ensemble (‘The public’). As she stands before them, staring, there is a real sense of a baying mob as they surround her, harry her, and demand justice on their terms. As she stands there, her wide eyes invite us into her mind, but of any protestation of innocence there is not slightest.
Taking us back to the events that led to here, Oliveira’s choreography suggests that while she was a loving partner. Her partner (‘The summoned’s companion’), Flavio Salamanka, on the other hand is busy having an affair with another woman (Larissa Mota, ‘The summoned’s lover’), and who gives him a gift, one that is to have fatal consequences.
Throughout, Andrade paints the summoned as an obsessive woman. In passionate pas de deux with Salamanka she constantly clings to him, wrapping herself around his body. She is simultaneously loving and aggressive. It’s all in stark contrast to his pas de deux with his lover, in which she wraps herself smoothly around hi sbody time and again.
Now, he is conflicted by desire and the need to escape – not unlike Jason. When she discovers her partner’s deception, her violent side bursts forth as, during another intense pas de deux, she gets him in an innovative head lock with her leg and repeatedly tightens it. He escapes and leaves, but in revenge, she takes and destroys the one object of his love that remains: their baby. The violence as she repeatedly beats the child, staring blankly into space as if in a trance strikes to the heart.
Back in the courtroom, it was all against one, and yet it was impossible not to feel for the summoned’s situation. That she did it, there is no doubt, and yet it’s impossible not to question who is really guilty and what is justice.
Quite what happens to the woman is unclear but, Oliveira’s final scenes suggest some measure of atonement and forgiveness. In a beautiful final duet, it seems as if events have sucked every ounce of life from Andrade’s body. Is Salamanka dancing with a memory? Maybe. And maybe there is still love there after all. But as opens the door in the wall and beam of light of salvation appears, in a final twist the couple go their separate ways for ever. Everything they both loved has been lost. Great stuff!
Ballet director of the Staatsoper, Hannover Mannes’ “Spiegelgleichnis” makes no reference to any particular myth, instead drawing on Umberto Eco’s ideas that the reversal of the image changes things, and that what is returned from standing in front of a mirror is not fully a representation of what stands in front; what we see and what we believe depending much on who we are.
The dance again takes place around Hannak’s huge cube, which when turned now reveals a house of mirrors. The two leading couples (Andrade-Salamanka and Blythe Newman-Admill Kuyler) appear spellbound by the mirrors, constantly returning to them. They and the impressive ensemble of twelve couples, dressed in Heidi de Raad’s extremely chic black costumes, dance what they see, or at least what they think they see. The choreography is fast-paced and absorbing, and matches well the jazzy cello music of Italian composer Giovanni Sollima.
Humour is never far from the surface. One person, it seems, is immune from the spell the mirrors cast. She is the bright eyed and sparky Sabrina Vellosa who, dressed in blue, appears from time to time dancing lightly, happily and with a childlike freedom around the edge of the front of the stage before running off again. The ballet ends with her laughing out loud; laughing at them, maybe at us too. The spell is broken.
When commissioning “Mythos”, Staatsballett Artistic Director Birgit Kiel asked the choreographers to explore boundaries and stretch her dancers and the audience. They did both in a programme of extremely impressive and sometimes hard-hitting dance – dance that was miles away from the very traditional “Giselle” danced only the previous evening.