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Cullberg Ballet

'Out of Breath', 'Within Now', 'Walking Mad'

Triple bill showcases Inger's eclectic choreography

by Annie Wells

May 5, 2004 -- Brighton Festival, Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, Brighton, U.K.

Under the auspices of its annual arts festival Brighton found itself in the privileged position of providing Sweden’s leading modern dance company, Cullberg Ballet, with its only UK venue this year. More is the pity for those who were unable to get to the coast to catch this brief visit. The triple-bill presented a well selected showcase for the idiosyncratic work of Cullberg’s new artistic director, Nederlands Dans Theater ex, Johan Inger, who hit-the-spot perfectly by being refreshingly different and uncommonly good in every respect.

Imbuing each work, the absurd-style theatricality for which Inger has been noted ran through the programme like a unifying thread. So too did consistently strong performances from a uniformly fine group of dancers. Mature, intelligent, physical and emotional interpretations maximised the impact of material that see-sawed bathetically between the comic and the tragic, the weird and the wonderful.

Even from a more inland location, "Out of Breath’s' evocations would have carried as swiftly to the sea. The six dancers inhabited avian allusions in Inger’s choreography and Mylla Ek’s costume so persuasively that they seemed actually to transmute into a flock of ocean-dwelling gulls. As their calls and caws echoed in the strings of a violin, the slanting structure Ek had set centre-stage came to represent the waves that rise from their watery habitat.

Of the paradoxes with which Inger teased all evening, the first was in the incongruous physicality of these bird-creatures he had created. Chuckles in the auditorium were repeatedly caught as what resembled clumsy pecks and awkward waddles stretched seamlessly into soaring lifts and surf-skimming dives.

Oddness and beauty spilled next into the more human but equally bizarre world of "Within Now". Ek’s striking costumes played another central role; as reinforcement to form and content they gave vital information about the character and order of the depicted community. The odd tailoring of black and white checked suits linked in with stiff angles and strange poses to caricature the couple they clothed. The contrasting orange of layered and ruched, seminary-style uniforms together with corps-like, deferential movement patterns regimented six other dancers into the service of these strange masters.

Subtle contradictions continued to confuse reaction. The chequered duo’s encounters with a footstool and a rope were as tragic as they were comic, and there was as much horror as marvel in the ‘sci-fi’ way the male’s body was pixelated by the light which Erik Berglund flashed onto his costume.

The double-edge of the drama in the programme’s concluding work, "Walking Mad", was much sharpened by its set, staging and soundtrack. The dance follows the basic pattern of a chase over, around and about a movable, multi-door fence. The fence proved to be both an inclusive and exclusive factor in the lives of the characters represented by the eight dancers. Just as one door had opened to welcome someone in, another one slammed to shut someone else out. The angle of the fence was a space for individuals to dance out their joy or desolation, and for couples either to express love and passion for one another, or to indulge in fighting and abuse.

While Ravel’s "Bolero" injected the chase with its swelling drive, the mood of more static moments was set by the piano of Arvo Pärt’s "Für Alina" or silence. Tension naturally mounted along with the volume and pace of the "Bolero". The party hats were discarded when minor keys replaced majors in the different modulations. The initial fun and frivolity taken from the recurring melody was replaced later with a sense of nightmarish compulsion. The escape? A spectacular but suicidal leap from the fence into darkness and silence.

Edited by Jeff.

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