Opera ballet

OPERA BALLET VLAANDEREN BRINGS CONTEMPORARY DANCE TO NYC at the Joyce Theater

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, artistic director of Ballet Vlaanderen (Flanders) since September 2015, has led the company in a diverse and versatile direction, bringing together forty dancers from more than fifteen countries. Cherkaoui bridges the gap between ballet and contemporary dance by bringing in some of today’s respected contemporary choreographers. The current program at the Joyce Theater includes three contemporary ballets by Akram Khan, Chrystal Pite and one of his own plays. This is an exciting program to bring to NYC. I too was thrilled to attend the opening night performance on March 3rd.

Wildlife to original music by Nitin Sawhney inspired by Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy, is a creation by Cherkaoui. I found this piece very sensual and touching. In this version, “the faun meets his female counterpart in a complex game of animal attraction”. The dancers, Philipe Lens and Nicola Wills danced with passion and fluid flexibility. Lens was particularly impressive with his lithe acrobatics and beautifully defined calves and feet, combining strong physical and artistic performance qualities. First, they each danced alone, then came together to create mesmerizing moves that often had them dancing together. The projection of a dark wood scene was projected on the background, scenography and lighting design by Adam Carrée. Lens wore gray boxer shorts and Wills wore a lighter gray half leotard and camisole top, a suit designed by Hussein Chalayan.

The famous choreographer Pite choreographed Ten rescue-themed duos, which “offers a very personal take on the themes of rescue and despair”. Lens once again stood out as one of five dancers in this work, joined by Matt Foley, Laura Fransen, Teun Van Roosmalen and Wills in this performance. Everything danced well. Although I enjoyed the performance, I was put off by the bright lights shining into the eyes of the audience, the lighting designed by Jim French. Maybe these lights were meant to be searchlights. Faced with such lights, I wonder why the choreographer chose to punish the fans who came to see the show impatiently. The street outfit was designed by Linda Chow.

The highly acclaimed British-Bengali choreographer, Khan, is responsible for Kaash, which means “If” in Hindi, on an original music by Sawhney, with a predominance of drums, which sets the tone. The fourteen dancers wore long black skirts, the bare-chested men, suits by Kimie Nokano. Khan presents his own vision of Shiva via his own idiom of powerful movement, rooted in the Indian dance form Kathak. However, it seemed to me that many dancers did not embody the true feeling and passion of dance. Their upper bodies seemed less than strongly engaged in the power that seemed necessary as they executed a series of arm movements through the compelling rhythmic patterns. (The passion of Khan’s own company performing this piece seemed to be more fully engaged. This is no doubt what made the work too long.)

Ballet Vlaanderen will be at the Joyce Theater until March 7.

Photo credit: Filip Van Roe