Opera House, Stockholm, Sweden; April 30, 2014

Maggie Foyer

The Royal Swedish Ballet in 'Artifact Suite' with Dragos Mihalcea and Sarah Jane Brodbeck centre.  Photo © Urban Jörén

The Royal Swedish Ballet in ‘Artifact Suite’ with Dragos Mihalcea and Sarah Jane Brodbeck centre.
Photo © Urban Jörén

It is so good to see William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite” join the repertoire of the Royal Swedish Ballet; just what the ‘classical’ wing of the company needs to provide challenges at every level. In this work Forsythe shows himself the post-modern heir to Balanchine as he plays with the endless possibilities of pattern and repetition. His reinvention of tradition chimes so well with Bach’s “Chaconne” presented in the original and then re-mastered by Eva Crossman Hecht. The women were in great form: lean, mean and well synchronised. The men too, in short solos and demanding ensemble work, pulled out the stops. It was heartening to see the company in such good form.

Nadje Sellrup and Nikolaus Fotiadis had the first duet. Sellrup approached the role with the right blend of nonchalance and courage; plunging into the penchées, sliding flat into splits, then striding off as though it was all in a day’s work. Mayumi Yamaguchi and AdiLiJiang Abudureheman in the second introduced subtle lyricism: arms that find the positions with ease, legs that arrive effortlessly and fluid bodies, all making a pleasing contrast.

Anthony Lomuljo and Anton Valdbauer in 'The Other You'.  Photo © Urban Jörén

Anthony Lomuljo and Anton Valdbauer in ‘The Other You’.
Photo © Urban Jörén

Crystal Pite’s, “The Other You”, premiered in 2010 is dark and intriguing. Antony Lomuljo and Hokuto Kodama, dressed in black suits and white shirts work within a semicircle of empty deckchairs that lend an air of expectancy. They seem to share an identity – but not quite. They play a game of one-upmanship and the dominant role switches from one to the other, at times even allowing one to manipulate the other’s body like a puppet master. An effective and expressive range of movements develops into full-on dance as they bask in the simulated moonlight to the strains of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.14. It is a slight piece but engaging and it was given excellent performances.

In “Bill” Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, choreographers and designers, repeat the concept of android-like human beings they used in “Corps de Walk” made for Norwegian company, Carte Blanche, in 2011. Again they subsume the dancers’ individuality in flesh coloured unitards, hair flattened with thick paste and eyes blanked with white contact lenses.  The strangeness of white lenses resulted in striking publicity photographs but was sadly less effective on stage and hardly visible after the first few rows. The obvious discomfort some of the dancers showed at curtain calls made one question whether it was worth the irritation.

Hokuto Kodama and the Royal Swedish Ballet in 'Bill'.  Photo © Urban Jörén

Hokuto Kodama and the Royal Swedish Ballet in ‘Bill’.
Photo © Urban Jörén

The company began the choreographic process with gaga dance classes. This movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, allows dancers to explore individual possibilities in movement and go beyond familiar limits. However the choreographer’s task is then to mould these creative individuals for a purpose and to communicate ideas. Naharin has proved he can do this but I wasn’t convinced by Eyal and Behar’s efforts. When the choreographer has few formal or technical elements to fall back on the focus is firmly on the creative. Constant repetition can be meaningless or – in the hands of Philip Glass – magnificent.  The ensemble repeating mundane moves to over amplified music in pop idiom held little appeal for me.

The seven solos produced the most effective choreography. Jérôme Marchard, who has just won this year’s Mariane Orlando stipendium, is a dancer who never fails to impress; and this he did in the opening and later the ‘Bill solo’. Also of interest were the strangely disjointed but hypnotic movements from Daria Ivanova and Kodama’s performance: always focused and always animated. The work seemed to divide opinion, the drive of the music enthusing pockets of the audience while failing to resonate with others.