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Royal Swedish Ballet

Time Themes

by Maggie Foyer

March 7, 2013 -- Royal Opera House, Stockholm, Sweden

Johannes Öhman, now into his second year as artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, has his critics. He spent most of his performing career with the RSB but when he retired from dance to take over the directorship in Gothenburg, the critics grumbled that he was too classical for such a contemporary company. However in his years with Göteborgs Operan he enhanced the repertoire and introduced cutting edge works to bring the company to prime position on the Nordic contemporary dance scene. Then, moving back to Stockholm to take directorship of the Royal Swedish Ballet, the complaint came that he was too contemporary for Sweden’s only classical company! So he more than most understands how important it is to find the right balance in maintaining traditional ballets alongside more contemporary works. The last few productions seem to reflect the divisions, classical evenings – Marcia Haydée’s Sleeping Beauty and Natalia Makarova’s Giselle - interspersed by very contemporary works like Stijn Celis’ Mass in C. However Mats Ek’s Julia and Romeo premieres in May and hopefully this will be the work that creates the needed cohesion in the company.

Marco Goeke was already in the process of creating a new work for the latest contemporary programme when he was taken ill and Johan Inger leapt into the breach. He was able to offer I New Then, a work he had recently written for NDT2; and what a treat it was. Inger is back on form with that gentle irony and puckish humour that characterised his earlier works. His choreography is full and varied, accessible to his audience and allowing the dancers to stretch themselves physically. Van Morrison’s moody music and impressionistic lyrics provides the springboard for the waves of empathy that permeate this youthful work. The choreography creates a language that communicates through the group; full of the feel good factor as the movements ebb and flow.

The middle section has a neat comic storyline as two of the dancers, Mariko Kido and Luca Vetere, peel off from the group to stand transfixed in a forest of poles, gazing into each other’s eye in one of those ‘Romeo meets Juliet’ moments. Anton Valdbauer, a small guy with huge talent, takes an unlikely voyeuristic role. He watches with fascination as they very slowly and very purposefully remove individual items of clothes interpreting their desire in excited moves and empathetic sounds - a language more meaningful than mundane words. The mood infects the rest of the company who join in and strip down to underwear in a party atmosphere. Good dance and good fun.

If Inger’s work is about togetherness, Time Themes, choreographed by Emanuel Gat, is a study in separation. His programme notes refer to music and dance finding their own paths; individual but parallel. However the two spheres were so different that it was more a case of split vision than contrasting coordinates.

The four men dressed in jeans and tight orange tops with close cropped hair present a tough masculine presence. They work primarily on the apron of the stage, moving in parallel time and space but each man for himself; the moments of contact more functional than emotional. However the choreography is powerful, fluid and dynamic and the dancers, Jerôme Marchand, Anthony Lomuljo, Kristóf Várnagy and Hokuto Kodama, interpreted it with passion and power.

The black clad quartet of male singers, placed in the dimmer back regions of the stage, inhabit a quite different world. Facing inward in a tight circle their voices blend harmoniously in Schubert’s sombre, death laden songs: Grave and Moon and Melancholy. It was unfortunate that so much individual talent didn’t find an integrated unity.

Öhman has introduced a range of pre-show and interval fillers to extend the shorter contemporary programmes. During the late summer a wide screen erected outside the Opera House gave an insight into rehearsals plus interviews with the dancers, while in the adjoining Kungsträdgården , the King's Garden, the dancers performed extracts of Alexander Ekman’s Tyll, the humour and lively choreography instantly engaging with the audience of passers-by.

In the interval of this programme Rachel Tess commandeered the Gold Foyer for her solo number, It’s Not That Red; her vivid red bomber jacket juxtaposed unnervingly against the gilt and mirrored splendour. It was a puzzling piece: her labours heaving hefty logs of wood scattered over the stage area into a pile at one corner briefly interrupted by setting up and playing a vinyl recording of Schubert’s Trout quintet. Interval numbers present very specific problems; audiences generally need the break to mull over the last act and prepare for the next –preferably accompanied by a glass of wine. I can think of a number of successful site specific dance works that gave the audience a sampling of dance snippets: Jirí Kylián’s preshow excursions into the underworld of Copenhagen’s Gamle Scene or Ekman’s interval antics during Triptych at Dansenshus. But something so dominant, and filling the whole intermission, as Tess’s work did, left a feeling of cultural overload and I was grateful the programme closed on Inger’s light-hearted work.

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