Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France; July 14, 2014

David Mead

Sasha De Sola in Mark Morris' 'Maelstrom'. Photo © Erik Tomasson

Sasha De Sola in Mark Morris’ ‘Maelstrom’.
Photo © Erik Tomasson

This being the evening of Bastille Day, one was hoping for a few fireworks on stage too. They came eventually, but while the programme opener, Mark Morris’ “Maelstrom”, is not exactly a damp squib, the audience reaction at the end said it all. Almost all ballets in the season have received long and rapturous ovations, but here it was much shorter.

“Maelstrom” is very musical and shows snatches of his very personal sense of humour; one would hardly expect anything else from Morris. But while well danced, it is an unsatisfactory ballet that is never going to set the World alight.

To Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 5 (op.70, no.1; ‘Ghost’), Morris sets seven couples in various combinations. There’s a lot of dancers running in and coming to a dead stop – usually with arms tilted in a straight line, one forward, one back – or running straight back out again. There’s a great deal of pointless (pun intended) flexing of feet that is inelegant and aesthetically displeasing. A repeated motif sees dancers flex their hand as if pushing the air – for little gain and no apparent reason. All in all, it’s busy, overly fussy and, it has to be said, looks rather dated.

What is there to say about Balanchine’s “Agon” that hasn’t already been said. Remarkably, it’s now 67 years old, yet it still looks as fresh and contemporary as ever. ‘Agon’ means ‘battle’, and it’s in the pas de deux where this is really seen. The intense Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham were the epitome of control and struggle. The way Sylve unfolded into some extensions and poses was spellbinding. Equally enjoyable was Frances Chung who was wonderfully incisive in the second pas de trois (the Bransle Simple) where she was partnered by Jaime Garcia Castilla and Hansuke Yamamoto.

Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in Christopher Wheeldon's 'Within the Golden Hour'. Photo © Erik Tomasson

Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Within the Golden Hour’.
Photo © Erik Tomasson

The evening ramped up further with Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour”. The dancer’s looked wonderful in Martin Pakledinaz’s jewel-decorated costumes is blues, greens and a sort of deep-orangey, rusty red. They have sort of a mystic, Oriental feel to them, although the dance is anything but. Above are three impressive dark wooden-looking panels (also by Pakledinaz) that change position for each section. A special mention too for James F. Ingalls’ lighting that alternately bathed the stage in blues, reds, and everything in between.

The dance, to a selection of strings only scores by contemporary minimalist Italian composer Ezio Bosso around the Adagio from Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in B-flat Major, features plenty of fine-looking choreography that is complex and skilful. It’s full of elegance with any number of slow, graceful lifts, off-centre supports, and airy jumps.

A corps of four couples frames four pas de deux, the second of which is for two men, with the focus in the others being generally on the woman who is variously guided and lifted and otherwise directed by the man. In the pas de deux, limbs constantly interweave in different ways as if the dancers were searching for the solution to a mysterious problem. There are complex lifts and turns. One of the women, having been held in a foetal pose, unfurls herself so fluidly over the man’s back, you wonder how it could be so easy. One image reminded me of ship’s figurehead. The partnering was magnificent throughout.

Each duet establishes a different mood. The first is a waltz that is charming, yet somewhat quirky, jaunty and fun, that was danced elegantly and lightly by Lorena Feijoo and Ruben Martin Cintas. A more contemplative mood is apparent when the second couple take over. Now the dance is more about sculptural qualities. It’s meltingly lovely. The outstanding Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham made everything look so seamless.

San Francisco Ballet in 'Within the Golden Hour'. Photo © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet in ‘Within the Golden Hour’.
Photo © Erik Tomasson

The third duet is for two men. It’s a frisky game of copycat – bright, brisk and winning; sharing the same material; moving together but without physical contact. Finally, Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz continued the lighter mood. In what looked like a private game, albeit one we were not privy to the rules of, they frequently mirroring one another’s steps. It was certainly good to watch.

The ensemble sections are structured deftly and are a delight. The energy and speed needed for some moments demands perfect timing and absolute precision. Just like from the lead couples, it got it.

“Within the Golden Hour” is a winner all round.