Opernhaus, Zürich, Switzerland; April 24, 2014
“Notations”, the triple bill from Ballett Zürich, included two works by leading German choreographers and the first ballet by Wayne McGregor for the company. It was good to see McGregor back on form with a work, “Kairos”, that like his hugely successful “Chroma”, is the seamless marriage of design and structure. The Zürich dancers are well equipped for the choreography of this nonconformist – although the neat lines of echappés and relevés show the master may be coming more affectionate towards the form. This particular section, five female dancers in spartan leotards executing crisp pointework, was the height of cool. The five men also had their moment but the work is centred on McGregor’s characteristically acrobatic duets.
The duets of extreme lines and ascetic positions looked good on the company, the lighting playing its part in sculpting the shapes and giving a hint of drama. It may have been the dancers’ interpretation but at times they invested the actions with a hint of emotion, colouring them in an appealing fashion, and softening the sobriety of the work.
The designs by Idris Khan and lighting by Lucy Carter are nothing short of brilliant. From the opening strobe effect that frames fragments of movement through a front cloth of dense staves of musical notation, every moment is cropped, framed and lit to make even the familiar into high art. Max Richter’s “Vivaldi Recomposed”, a reworking of the “Four Seasons” provides power and passion. “Kairos” exemplifies collaboration of the arts in synergetic harmony and makes rewarding viewing.
Director Christian Spuck’s “Sonnet” made a compelling contrast through its innate theatricality: the dance contextualised by the figures of The Dark Lady (Eva Dewaele) and The Poet’s Shadow (actress, Mireille Mossé). Spuck has not chosen the Shakespearean Sonnets of summer days and beauty, but the darker ones of destructive passion and ambiguous sexuality to make an intense and engaging ballet.
Dewaele, a compelling and constant presence, finds fulsome expression through her arms and body but remains outside the main action, often on the periphery or facing upstage. The exaggerated train of her voluminous dress, another effective creation from Emma Ryott, winds around her legs or billows like the sails of a ship when she makes a rare and dramatic run across the stage.
The dwarf figure of Mossé delivers the sonnets forcefully in German and French, in contrast to her diminutive size. Neatly expressing the balance of love and hate in the poems, she walks along the extreme edge of a plinth with the skill of a tightrope artist. She too remains on stage throughout, a catalyst to the dance. Spuck’s choreography is formal in construction, mirroring the sonnet: in Shakespeare’s hands a form that rarely deviates but finds infinite expression within the formal frame. So too the choreography, classically based but always offering something unexpected and richer.
The first series of pas de deux, in sharp neo-classical style are performed on isolated plinths – islands of movement on a stage backgrounded by a cloth on which is projected the image of the poet. Spuck is a master of theatrical staging. The plinths become part of the choreography as they are moved by the dancers to create new pattern and the ensemble are able to make sudden and effective entrances ducking under the back cloth to instantly fill the stage.
A trio of men break the regularity of the duets. They included Andrei Cozlac, a Romanian dancer of appealing looks and great promise who is currently in the Zürich Junior Company. The score, predominantly from Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 8, provides an insistent pulse that together with Martin Gebhardt’s lighting, ensures the drama remains taut.
Marco Goeke’s “Deer Vision” has a dynamic opening as Chris Haigh’s music, “Drummers of Vengeance” is animated by the dancers, armed with drum sticks, rushing onto the stage to pound the floor in unison. The stage is black, filled with billowing clouds of mist descending from the flies (a welcome change from the hiss of dry ice emanating from the wings). Figures appear and then dissolve into the mist in this intensely sombre work, the larger part set to Arnold Schönberg’s evocative “Transfigured Night”.
The choreography is less interesting as Goeke uses his signature bound movements and twitching hands and bodies in gripped static positions with little relief. Only in brief moments do the dancers free up and at these times they are a joy to watch. A final dramatic moment comes as the mists part to reveal a cloth covered structure huge and oppressive to create a final enigmatic picture in a less than satisfying work.
In these three ensemble works there were few opportunities for individuals to shine but the dancers, versatile in style, expressive in movement and beautifully trained and rehearsed, proved themselves stars.