The Royal Ballet of Flanders
Birmingham Hippodrome; April 25, 2012
After their London performances, the Royal Ballet of Flanders moved up to Birmingham to kick off the city's 2012 International Dance Festival. And what a cracking start they gave it. Even very well known visiting dance companies sometimes struggle to sell at the Hippodrome, so it was nice to see the theatre almost full, and give the company a great reception.
"Artifact" is without doubt a modern classic. It has an uneasy beauty as the comfortingly classsical collides at speed with the unsettling, the unexpected, the strange and the new.
A figure in historical costume (Kate Strong) wanders around. Looking for all the world like a cross between Carabosse and some ancient queen. A figure from ballet's past, she is lost in her memories. She invites us to “Step inside”. She asks, “Can you see what I'm saying?” “Can you remember what I'm forgetting?”. Addressing Eva Dewaele, an almost formless human figure, perhaps representing someone from the dustiness recesses of the archive (although she could equally have been a new born), she says, “I forget the story about you.”
White haired Nicholas Campion, meanwhile, meanders around with a megaphone, more often than not, looking down. “Rocks… sand… dust…,” he mutters, as if that is all that is left of ballet’s past. And how appropriate that comment is given the uncertain future of the company. In June this year, Artistic Director Kathryn Bennetts, formerly Forsythe’s assistant at Ballet Frankfurt, leaves the company, a victim of the Belgian government’s decision to merge the company with the Flemish Opera under a single director. It seems most of the company dancers will be following her out of the door.
Around the couple Forsythe constructs some beautiful choreography. The way he marshals his 30-strong corps provides a link to the classics, but his formations are innovative and unusual. Straight lines abound. The second section is especially outstanding. Eva Crossman-Hecht’s music for piano, beautifully played by Margot Kazimirska, is replaced by Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor for solo violin. Framed by the corps mostly performing simple class port de bras and steps, two couples dance a sleek and athletic double pas de deux full of razor sharp movement, fast turns and extreme extensions. I could have watched Aki Saito and Wim Vanlessen in particular for hours. Before long, the curtain bangs down time and again, on each occasion rising almost immediately to reveal a new order as the work, and ballet, evolves.
Talk of Forsythe and we think of deconstructing the classics. Well, yes, but if there is one thing that strikes home above all else with "Artifact", it is just how classical it is. Our figure in historical costume might have forgotten, but he had not. Bennett's departure and the likely reinventing of the Royal Ballet of Flanders will be a huge loss to the art from. But here's a thought. Forsythe, generally, is seen far too rarely in Britain. What chance a British company picking up this or some of his other work?