Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely in Axe. Photo Leslie Spinks

Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely in Axe.
Photo Leslie Spinks

Mats Ek & Norrdans
Dansenshus, Stockholm; May 21, 2015

Maggie Foyer

Axe written for Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely marks Mats Ek’s choreographic farewell. It is the culmination of a lifetime of creativity and an extraordinary artistic union that has given birth to some of the most iconic contemporary dance works of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While Ek will still mount productions of existing works (his Swan Lake is due for revival with the Royal Swedish Ballet next season) he said in the after show talk that this was his choreographic swansong.

True to form this fifteen-minute duet encapsulates a common theme in Ek’s choreography: the deep relationship between a man and a woman and also, in this instance, the relationship between the practical necessity of work and the finding time for the more important things in life.

Auzely who splits logs with the dexterity of a skilled woodsman represents the work ethic, fiercely and accurately raining blows down on the wood. Laguna as the woman, the life force, the spirit, dances round him in lively steps and the idiosyncratic gestures so beloved of Ek. Now a glorious 60, she makes no attempt to disguise her grey hair or fuller figure but the honesty that has marked her every interpretation remains; if anything more potent than before. They have their moments of togetherness as she entices him from his labour and the duet ends as she piles his arms with the split wood then follows him off, swinging the axe.

Ajö created for Sylvie Guillem and seen at Sadler’s Wells in London under the title Bye already has a video component that is now shown as a film within a film. Expertly produced by Gunilla Wallin, it gives a new dimension to an already great work. It opens in extreme close-up on Guillem’s eye – so close you can catch the glint in the facets of her iris flickering like a frightened animal. Here again Ek gives us privileged access into the soul of a great artist as she morphs from multi-coloured exterior existence to her more sombre monochrome world dissolving into and behind the doorway that marks the threshold between her two worlds.

Anna Jirmanova in Dance etc.  Photo Bengt Wanselius

Anna Jirmanova in Dance etc
Photo Bengt Wanselius

Leila Verlinden and Thomáš Červinka in Dance etc.  Photo Bengt Wanselius

Leila Verlinden and Thomáš Červinka in Dance etc
Photo Bengt Wanselius

The evening was an inspiring meetings of generations: Norrdans, the other half of the programme are a company of only eight dancers based in Härnösand in the north of Sweden. One of the country’s most innovative and exciting companies they include in their varied repertoire several of Ek’s early world which are now presented to fresh young audiences. They share a similar vocation to Introdans based in Arnheim in the Netherlands, who are also a youth company, and who are currently reviving some of Jiří Kylián’s early works and introducing them to a young Dutch audiences.

In this programme Norrdans perform Dance etc, also known as Pas de Danse, two linking duets to bucolic music from J.P.Nyström and Benny Andersson. Thomáš Červinka opens, his first entrance punctuated by eloquent small gestures and folk inspired steps, Leila Verlinden is his more decorous other half. Anna Jirmanova and Javier Perez complement as the more youthful, exuberant pair. The four switch partners, link up and separate in a work of infinite charm. The work assumes a new flavour on these young dancers but the heritage of Mats Ek lives on.

Norrdans in Black Fairytale#2.  Photo Bengt Wanselius

Norrdans in Black Fairytale#2
Photo Bengt Wanselius

The opening work, Black Fairytale #2 which premiered in Härnösand in March gained from being shown on a larger stage. Choreographed by Yossi Berg and Oded Graf, it makes a powerful impact opening on a crash of sound and a blaze of light illuminating the tightly grouped dancers. The tinkling fairy-like music and Fanny Barrouquère’s breathless questions set the tone of fantasy and dreams as she asks ‘Do you believe in love?’ … ‘Do you want to live happily ever after?’ The group dissolves in a whirlwind of movement breaking into twos and threes, their emotions alternating between affection and aggression. This section is packed with interesting, inventive movement but unfortunately the choreographers use little dance as such in the later scenes.

Barrouquère again picks up the microphone to tell a story of a dream turning into a nightmare. Tuning into the theme, the black tent lurking in the background morphs into nightmarish shapes through the inventiveness of Jakub Mędrzycki dancing under its folds. The piece has several sections but as talk and walk replace movement, the second half becomes excessively repetitious. The radiant enthusiasm of the opening has been bogged down in disillusion and the characters have accepted false idols but this could have been expressed more succinctly and effectively with a good fifteen minutes trimmed from the length. However it gave the company scope for expression both in dance and drama and the welcome chance to be seen by a wider audience.

It was moving to see two generations of dancers, the quartet from Dance etc, and the duo of Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely joining hands on the Dansenshus stage marking a very special evening: an acknowledgement of a great Swedish choreographic tradition and a promise for the future.