Surimu Fukushi in Ben Van Cauwenbergh's 'Les Bourgeois'. Photo © Judith Schlosser

Surimu Fukushi in Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s ‘Les Bourgeois’. Photo © Judith Schlosser

Opernhaus, Zürich, Switzerland; December 17, 2014

Maggie Foyer

The thirteen young dancers from the Junior Ballett had their own full-evening performance, the first of three, on the main stage at the Zürich Opera House. In line with many dance graduates their technical standards are very high but more interesting, and more important for a professional career, was their individualism and versatility.

The evening of mainly new works also revealed the choreographic talent emerging from the main company ranks. Dancer and ballet mistress Eva Dewaele choreographed “Passing By” and principal dancer, Filipe Portugal’s ballet, “Tauwetter” formed the second act.

Two comedy favourites were a welcome addition. Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s “Les Bourgeois” to Jacques Brel’s song was the perfect vehicle for Surimu Fukushi’s fearsome technique and comedy skills. His timing was spot on as he nailed every aerial manoeuvre with ease and his performance earned the roar of audience approval it deserved.

Itzik Galili’s “Sofa” is another treat. Tom Waite’s “Nobody” is a triangular search for love that delivers unexpected relationships. With the improbability of cartoon characters the trio flip, flop and fly over, behind and onto the yellow sofa. Michael Samuel Blaško is what you might call the ‘straight’ man of the three; pursuing first the feisty Clarissa Pace and then pursued by the racy Mackenzie Farquhar.

Clarissa Pace and Mackenzie Farquhar in Itzik Galili's 'The Sofa'.  Photo © Judith Schlosser

Clarissa Pace and Mackenzie Farquhar in ‘The Sofa’.
Photo © Judith Schlosser

The broad physical comedy is underlined by the nuanced subtext as male, female, straight and gay, repeat the same choreography with each new context generating startling consequences. The comedy was played to perfection and delivered with professional élan. For those who think comedy doesn’t travel consider this integrated fusion of Czech, Italian, and Canadian and think again!

Christian Spuck, director of Ballett Zürich, contributed, “Paysage Obscure”, set to the intense adagio movement from Schubert’s “String Quintet in C Major”. It has his hallmark of taking the ballet vocabulary to the edge creating new forms that resonate with meaning. Ina Buschhaus’ dark costumes encase the dancers’ limbs with both men and women in wrapped in pleated skirts while the detail of tight skull caps and small, very dark glasses for the men added a direct inquisitive gaze. The cutting edge designs extend to Spuck’s enigmatic set of a pile of discarded chairs

The dancers worked with serious intent to shape the movements. This same caring attitude was given to Dewaele’s short piece, “Passing By”. Also choreographed on demi-pointe but with a more evident classical base and coloured by a slight undercurrent of emotion as the dancers react to Glen Gabriel’s score.

Lydia Bevan and Michael Samuel Blaško  in 'Tauwetter' by Filipe Portugal.  Photo © Judith Schlosser

Lydia Bevan and Michael Samuel Blaško in ‘Tauwetter’ by Filipe Portugal.
Photo © Judith Schlosser

The focal work of the evening engaging the full company was “Tauwetter” by Portugal. He is a choreographic voice to get seriously excited about. The work is tooled with craftsman care in every detail. The movement is twenty-first century ballet: light, fluid pointe work, the extensions high but not overblown exploiting torsos that bend and arch freely. The structure is complex, the stage sectioned by gauzes that draw areas into shadow or silently part to reveal the dancers by degrees. In this constantly shifting landscape Portugal weaves his dancers with assured ease to create an intricate fabric of quality design.

The music is thoughtfully chosen: Philip Glass’ “The Secret Agent”, interspersed by Max Richter’s sounds of rain before warming to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”. Portugal shows sharp theatrical nous, so while the detail in each department is intense, the overall effect is cool and minimal. The young dancers responded magnificently, notably Keren Leiman, an interesting dancer of hidden depth who brought the work to a quiet, compelling close.

Ballett Zürich is a company in rude health as talented young artists rise to meet flourishing choreographic talent. The members of the Junior Ballett are seen regularly in company performances and each has the potential for a successful professional career: here’s hoping the finances permit.