Dresden Semperoper Ballett: Impressing the Czar

Elena Vostrotina and Raphael Coumes-Marquet of Dresden Semperoper Ballett in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated from William Forsythe's Impressing the Czar Photo Ian Whalen 2

Elena Vostrotina and Raphaël Coumes-Marquet of
Dresden Semperoper Ballett in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated
from William Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar
Photo Ian Whalen 2

July 5, 2015
Semperoper, Dresden

Maggie Foyer

Art, in its many manifestations, fills and enriches our lives however when it rises to pretentious overpriced heights there is a temptation to stick your tongue out and rampage like a naughty schoolgirl. And this is something the company does to wonderful effect in the finale as all don gym slips and bob-style wigs and stomp around in anarchic glee. In Impressing the Czar, William Forsythe runs the gamut of art experience, the high camp, the commodification, the excesses and in the middle – definitely elevated – the transcendence of great dance. Forsythe is the choreographer par excellence: a fierce intellect who understands the finest nuance of ballet technique and its modern interpreter, the superhuman dancer.

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, most often seen as a stand-alone work is definitely best seen in its original full evening setting. Coloured by the extreme theatricality both before and after, the cool abstraction is enhanced. Always a wonderful ballet to watch, it just got better.

The ballet is an amazing twenty-seven years old but still screams like a new-born baby. Thom Willems’ blasts of sound ricochet round the stage colliding with bodies and punching them into extreme shapes. Forsythe takes ballet technique and starts to invent, he reverses, inverts and flips it head-over-heels. He knocks it off kilter losing the secure centre and finding dynamics in constant flow. Add the ‘don’t give a damn’ insouciance and you have the unmistakable Forsythe blend seen at its best with Dresden Semperoper dancers.

Elena Vostrotina and Raphaël Coumes-Marquet made the final pas de deux unforgettable, so attuned they worked as one, loving every moment. Sangeun Lee, too, showed her mastery of the form while Craig Davidson was a powerhouse of energy. The company, probably the world’s best in this Forsythe genre, speak his language, accent perfect, cool, elegant and with no visible effort.

Helen Pickett as super bolshie Agnes, led from the front in a tour de force performance as Mistress of Ceremonies, auctioneer and general loud mouth. Her authority ordered the surrounding chaos – well most of the time. Act One offers dozens of ballet and opera vignettes as divas and divos emote between despair and ecstasy. There is an injection of pure dance in the quintet that keeps the action on the rails while Svetlana Gileva and István Simon have incredible moments of hyper flexibility at high speed in their duet.

Bongo, Bongo Nageela from Impressing the Czar Photo Ian Whalen

Bongo, Bongo Nageela; the finale of Impressing the Czar
Photo Ian Whalen

Even the Brothers Grimm, Christian Bauch and Coumes-Marquet, have trouble keeping the story on track. Mr Pnut, Julian Amir Lacey, is the archer until finally floored by an arrow, adding neo-classical tone in sculptured poses and references to the artists’ toy boy, St Sebastian. The humour is sharp, physical and in keeping with the high octane evening – somewhat over the top. And then there are the cherries, large and golden in the first act and diminished and elevated in Act Two; a running gag that the dancers constantly refer to.

The evening is a glorious explosion of art, the high, the low and the magnificent and never for a moment is it less than riveting.