Opernhaus, Zürich, Switzerland; January 23, 2015
The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is important enough to be enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence and if you have forgotten what pure light-hearted enjoyment is to be found in an evening of dance, then the new triple bill from Ballett Zürich may come as a timely reminder. “Strings” offers two new creations: one from director Christian Spuck and one from Romanian born Edward Clug, director of the Slovenian National Ballet (SNG). In different ways each is infused with lightness and humour and in this jolly company William Forsythe’s “workwithinwork” assumes a serious self-conscious modernity in place of the anti-establishment punch we usually expect it to land.
“workwithinwork” to Luciano Berio’s “Duetti per due violini” (1979-1983) is a work we don’t see often enough. The music stimulates a variety of emotions coupled with choreography that foregrounds the dance and the dancers in fierce modern ballet. It challenges on all fronts and the company know just how to engage with it.
Wei Chen was in his element combining street rawness with classical precision, Francesca Dell’Aria has the length that brings post-modern panache to every Forsythean stretch while the duets, with elements of both discord and harmony, make exhilarating encounters. Stephen Galloway’s costumes that look for all the world like the dancers’ own practice gear – but with sharper colour sense – are so right and so practical in a work that prioritises shape and structure.
Comedy ballets are in short supply so the subversive humour in Edward Clug’s “Chamber Minds” is hugely welcome. This is ballet knocked off its classical perch; each comedy moment carefully set up and performed with astute timing to provoke occasional laugh-out-loud moments but more often just warm, pleasurable humour.
If it hadn’t been for the other nine excellent dancers, Surimu Fukushi might well have stolen the show with his extraordinary physical comedy. He was well teamed with Giulia Tonelli who displayed a startling ability to wind herself into sinewy shapes and he faced strong competition from a buoyant Andrei Cozlac while a classy duet from Manuel Renard and Juliette Brunner added a more sophisticated touch. The spontaneity seemed effortless but there was no doubting the industry behind the humour.
The designs, too, have a part to play. Two columns rising up on the side of the stage seem impermeable but actually have a porous interface, allowing an arm to insinuate and caress an onstage dancer or reach out to remove an unwanted garment. A web of strings traversing the stage make constant shifts in gradient
and height and are alive with an insistent vibrato.
Milko Lazar’s “Ballet Suite”, highlights the humour and accentuates the whimsy in an awesome balance of sweet and sharp. Lazar is a composer that Clug has worked with previously and is a gift to any choreographer. His music is alive with sounds that paint a collage of vivid pictures something not always found in contemporary music.
The programme opened with Spuck’s “das siebte blau”. Written for fourteen dancers, it is an ensemble work finely crafted in the ballet tradition: the purity of the arabesque is undefiled, the arms are beautifully shaped yet it is unmistakably modern.
Katja Wünsche played a central role and brought her deep humanity and passion to the choreography. She was paired to good effect with Arman Grigoryan and also with Tars Vandebeek, each duet adding another layer to the rich mix, but this was a dance work with something for everyone. It’s not all hard graft; there are moments of off-task relaxation and informal camaraderie as dancers break out of line and are called back with loud whistles.
The sentience to fellow artists is also a feature of the string quartet who first play centre stage before decamping to the apron. The music is an interesting mix; the lyrical beauty of Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, is spiked by György Kurtág’s “12 Microludes for String Quartet” op. 13 and a whispered sound collage from Dieter Fenchel. Clean costume designs from Miro Paternostro and the hint of a set complement in cool minimalist style. It was a joy from start to finish.