Opernhaus, Zürich, Switzerland; December 14, 2013

Maggie Foyer

Madoka Kariya in Douglas Lee's Iris. Photo © Judith Schlosser

Madoka Kariya in Douglas Lee’s Iris.
Photo © Judith Schlosser

Zürich’s Junior Ballet performs regularly with the main company but also have their own performances, this one with three strong choreographies providing a well balanced platform for their talents.

In “Iris”, Douglas Lee takes as his starting point that part of the eye whose colour, texture and pigment are as unique as our fingerprint. He imitates its function, absorbing the abstract energy of the light and translating it to become the subtext that inspires the movement. A matter-of-fact voice fills in the biological details as the dance, athletic and modern, takes the stage.

In the designs the concept becomes explicit in ranks of bulbous metallic eyeballs that truck across the stage. Madoka Kariya’s convex bubble of a tutu skirt – a novel twist on the ubiquitous wired plate – catches the light in an iridescent glow. Trained in her native Japan and later at the Palucca School in Dresden, Kariya is an intense performer with a stage presence that draws the eye. She dispenses with the skirt in the intimacy of the duets where Lee shows his power of invention in unfamiliar and innovative shapes. The four men and three women all get their share of the action in a work which wears its structure lightly while maintaining a strong dynamic.

Lauren Baznik in Christian Spuck's Solitude.  Photo © Judith Schlosser

Lauren Baznik in Christian Spuck’s Solitude.
Photo © Judith Schlosser

Moving from the ophthalmic to the philosophical, director Christian Spuck offers “Solitude”. Set to the ordered music of Vivaldi and Scarlatti and juxtaposed with new music by Martin Donner, the quality of the movement is central. Donner has a way with percussion, creating sounds that are as deep and cavernous as a depth charge while the rhythmic swing of the pendulum, a silver cone-shaped weight on a single wire silently dissects the space separating the dancers and increasing the solitude.

Spuck has created arresting stage pictures. With the precision of a visual artist he places his dancers to frame the action; contrasting stillness and movement. But the chief joy is in his choreography particularly in the fluid duets where bodies engage and disengage seamlessly. The choreography is of the moment but the base is unambiguously classical defined in clear positions, accurately placed arabesques and exact footwork. The dancers excelled; proving both their classical and contemporary credentials.Stephen Thoss’ “Bellulus” was the perfect finale. The opera house audience roared at the operatic jokes and the dancers seemed to get equal enjoyment. A plush red sofa set at an angle is festooned with the naked limbs of dancers draped like puppets in their lifelessness. The tone is set by the music: a collection of the most emotive and over-the-top of the grand opera arias – a diva delight!

The ethereal chorus from “Madame Butterfly” heralds in a figure bearing a candelabra headdress of light. Kariya gets the one serious and very beautiful solo, “Elegia”, set to the only modern music – the “Requiem” from Bernd Alois Zimmermann – but for the rest it is full-on madness. As Pavarotti is sadly no longer with us, it was left to Surimu Fukushi, to hit the heights and practically launch into orbit with his interpretation of “O Sole Mio”. Tars Vandebeek, quivering with pent up emotion in the Toreador’s song, found his match in Klaudia Görözdösova’s smouldering Carmen. She enters on a prat fall and ends as the record sticks in the groove. Comedy is not always easy for young performers, but this group took to it like ducks to water. The raggedy, overtly theatrical band were boldly upfront when required but kept a tight rein on the quick asides and timed the physical comedy with professional skill. The company well deserved the long applause and many curtain calls given to them.

Zürich Junior Ballet in Stephen Thoss’  'Bellulus'. Photo © Judith Schlosser

Zürich Junior Ballet in Stephen Thoss’ ‘Bellulus’.
Photo © Judith Schlosser