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Cullberg Ballet - 'Empty House', 'Aluminium', 'Negro con Flores'

Between Present and Future: Cullberg Ballet's New Route

by Rosella Simonari

March 19, 2006 -- Teatro Communale, Modena, Italy

Since 2003 Johan Inger has been the artistic director of Cullberg Ballet, one of the most prestigious dance companies in Europe. Founded in the 1960s by Birgit Cullberg, the company has achieved a cult status thanks to the choreography of Cullberg’s son, Mats Ek. Following his mother’s sense of humour and wit, Ek has developed a unique style made of a solid classical base mingled with everyday gestures. He is mostly known for his adaptations of classical ballets such as “Giselle,” “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Carmen.”  Inger’s past work has been complex and demanding, and his creativity promises a splendid future for the company.

At the richly decorated Teatro Comunale in Modena, Cullberg Ballet presented two works by Inger, “Empty House” (2002) and “Negro con Flores” (2005), alternated with the most recent piece that Ek created for the company, in 2005, “Aluminium.”

“Empty House” is a very energetic choral piece where the dancing perfectly combines with the ravishing music by Félix Laijkó. It starts off with a single female dancer on stage front right, dressed in an acid green skirt, with her torso bent and a man walking around her. In the stage back there is a big panel made of a sheet-like texture and another one starts unfolding in the shaded light of the stage.

The rhythm becomes faster and faster and other dancers join in, performing phrases of their own. They do not look at each other and when they finish their movements they often stay still with their back to the audience. The lighting design by Erik Berglund is carefully arranged, consisting of lateral spots placed on the wings which are closed by black curtains. According to Inger, the inspiration for this piece came from when Jiri Kylián left the Netherlands Dans Theatre where Inger worked as a dancer. “It’s about a state of loneliness of the kind you find in a big train station at night – people are sharing a space but never meeting.”

“Aluminium” is an abstract piece whose dominant colour is silver, the likeness of aluminium. There is a table with a pile of plates on stage front right and a woman dressed in a wide grey skirt. She approaches the table, performs some battements and bends in second position with her arms straightened. She then dances a series of steps actively using the table. With an abrupt gesture she throws away all the plates, the music starts and a man enters. They begin a convoluted pas de deux where the plates are placed between their faces. They are soon joined by a group of dancers whose movements in unison create a refined counterbalance. According to Ek the key word in “Aluminium” is resistance, “not necessarily in the political sense but more as a general attitude to daily life.” And the tension created in the duets as well as in the group pieces well embodies this concept. An intimate section follows; there are two couples performing a sequence which is nearly the same but with a few counts’ difference. This is followed by an explosion of energy with the full group dancing a high-paced piece with different tables moved and thrown.

“Negro con Flores” [Black with flowers] is quite different from the other two pieces. As the Spanish title suggests, it has to do with darkness and moving into the darkness that is  a difficult period of one’s own life. Inger also created the costumes -- coloured tops with baggy trousers -- and the set design made of a pendant lamp and of a television screen with images of faces. What is particularly interesting is Inger’s combination of movement and lighting. As he has stated in an interview with dance critic Ermanno Romanelli, it is “an experiment” and its structure is unusual and dependent on the source of light. Movements take place under the light of the lamp which is repeatedly turned on and off.

Another source of light consists of a kind of torch which is taken and moved by the dancers themselves. Their dance is made of wide ronde de jambe and fluid movements of the whole body. One of the dancers enters with a bunch of red flowers, which maybe represents a touch of colour in the darkness of the piece. There is a duet between two men and the flowers are thrown on stage where they create a coloured field. “Negro con Flores” is also characterised by irony as a female dancer repeatedly runs across the stage as if she were running a marathon. It is full of nice choreographic inventions. If Mats Ek’s figure is still today connected with the name of Cullberg Ballet, Johan Inger’s talent is definitely promising for the future of the company.

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