Palmos is a ballet that comes infused with its music – songs taken from albums by American artist Active Child (Patrick Grossi), who has also written two new tracks for the show. It’s a mix of electronic shimmers, ultra-minimal R&B beats and Grossi’s ethereal falsetto voice (he’s trained as an altar boy). But it also comes with a dark chill, like an icy chill sent across the stage.
Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis has chosen to collaborate with Grossi on this new piece Palmos – which means “pulsation” – created for the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen in Antwerp (there is also additional music by Julien Tarride). The theme is connection, or our memories of connection, what we miss in this year of separation. If in Palmos the dancers overlap for the most part, it is rather a fantasy of connection: accelerated, hungry and chimerical, nourished by months of famine.
The characters of Foniadakis are never still, the music, the lights and the dance flicker. There are ripples and spirals through the bodies, limbs like tendrils, torsos twisting artfully as if trying to touch every bit of air around them with every rib. The bourrées en pointe are a recurring motif; small steps repeated on the spot (or thereabouts), they give the feeling of both action and nervous anticipation. There is a hard side to some choreography for women that is common in contemporary ballet. It’s a conscious display: protruding hips, chest forward, chin up, sleek angles and lots of high, almost weaponized kicks. You can imagine Beyoncé doing it, long hair brushing, point shoes like the highest heels. It’s all very seductive and fits with the avant-pop soundtrack, the black stage lit by red or white fluorescent strips and the high-cut, bare-backed leotards.
The partnership shows an intense connection in the sense that the dancers are perfectly in tune technically, very impressive in these convoluted sequences of lifts, holds and acrobatic gymnastics. But these are not exactly stories of human hearts colliding. There is a credited playwright on the show, but let’s just say their influence seems minimal. That said, the constant movement works as a foil the few times Foniadakis slows the pace. And it’s the men who get the most tender duos, the time to feel each other, to explore intensity and ambiguity. There is a particularly striking pas de deux by Morgan Lugo and Daniel Domenech, the latter in pointe shoes, and unusually for a masculine pas de deux, dancing characteristic “feminine” movements: a dramatic curve of a backbend, an arabesque pointed at the ceiling. Unlike the comedic pointe shoe roles the men occasionally dance to, it’s completely compelling and authentic to the moment.
The last pas de deux by Aaron Shaw and Claudia Gil Cabus is a more animal and instinctive encounter. They are both in nude bodysuits, Gil Cabus barefoot, devoid of artifice. They become two parts of the same organism, continually shifting into form, though for a few seconds they simply turn to each other, holding hands, and finally appear to be two people, actually connecting.
Some people will find Foniadakis’ ballet warm and hypnotic, others will find it hollow, but it truly meets its music, with an atmosphere that is by turns epic, lonely, lush and aching, enjoying moments of sonic brilliance, while living in the darkest corners of the night.