“Herman Schmerman”, “Insiders”, “M/C”, “Lost by Last”
Royal Ballet of Flanders
Theatre ‘Het Eilandje’
24 November 2007
by Marc Haegeman
(copyright 2007 by Marc Haegeman)
The Royal Ballet of Flanders opened its season with a quartet of contemporary works, including three world premieres (by Matteo Moles, Cayetano Soto, and Jorma Elo) and the company’s premiere of William Forsythe’s “Herman Schmerman.” If it weren’t for the presence of the latter, the evening would have been, choreographically speaking, one of the weakest we've had in years. At times, I felt like watching a workshop for wannabe dance-makers instead of the opening night of a company like the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Programme-wise there wasn’t enough diversity for the long 2 hours 30 and if it hadn’t been for Bernard Herrmann’s lush Hollywood scores used by Jorma Elo, musically, the evening would have been a total non-event as well.
The opening “Herman Schmerman”, in its complete form with the pas de deux following the piece for five, was in any case the most rewarding ballet of the evening and I hope the dancers will get further in exploring it. Aki Saito, Claire Pascal, Courtney Richardson, Craig Davidson and Mikel Jauregui gave a smooth, polished rendition of the first section without ever seeming much to enjoy the dance. It’s not the most varied Forsythe around, although it’s the kind of Forsythe this company should relish. However it needs something more than a mere execution of the steps to save the piece from monotony. The pas de deux, danced by Geneviève Van Quaquebeke and Alain Honorez, remained sketchy and was also taken far too seriously. If one can judge by the reaction of the audience nothing much came across as fun except the plain obvious — Honorez appearing in yellow skirt.
Italian Matteo Moles and Spaniard Cayetano Soto are laureates of the choreographic project “Uncontainable”, set up in the margin of the 2005/06 season to give young choreographers a stage to try out their creations. Both were invited to create for the Royal Ballet of Flanders.
“Insiders” from Matteo Moles is “a search of human’s identity to fulfill this sense of loss often given by today’s society, marking a constant bounce between existence and essence.” Sure it is. Moles’ past lies with Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and with Jean-Christophe Maillot; he now has his own dance troupe in Belgium. Allegedly inspired by the electronic noise from Scanner, aka Robin Rimbaud the British sonic manipulator, and the string quartet from Sofia Gubaidulina, Moles lets an ensemble of seven mixed couples loose at each other in obligate aggressive and utterly unappealing activity. Barefooted, outfitted in shirts and trousers, the cast was pulling, pushing, coiling, falling, hands touching body (or body touching hands) in what seemed an interminable 18 minutes, while the promised development of chaotic and energetic dance into “a refined quest of human relations” sadly remained wishful thinking. “Insiders” is a complete windbag, its vocabulary a string of clichés of the genre without the slightest hint of originality. For a piece commissioned for the Royal Ballet of Flanders one is entitled to expect something more. The most intriguing part was the clattering score although I still haven’t found out whether the scratching disc and static were part of it all, or just the tape playing too loud.
Cayetano Soto attempted to bring something more. He packaged his piece “M/C” with a literary subject. Whether the dance world has been waiting impatiently to see the relationship between Marilyn Monroe and Truman Capote transferred to the stage, Soto or his playwright Nadja Kadel will surely know best. If anything, the 20 minutes of “M/C” made it clear that he would have been better off without this self-defeating subject. The pages in the programme book devoted to explaining the Monroe/Capote connection were naïvely redundant in this respect. Tell a story or not, but don’t make it look like an old dog who has forgotten where he buried his bone. Now it seemed as if Soto didn’t trust his own choreographic invention and as a result failed to go anywhere. While his succession of movements for six couples in 1950’s bathing suits might have been sufficient in itself, the piece was untimely scuttled by its imponderable references and gaudy theatrical effects, which caught the ever-enthusiastic dancers in often embarrassing or idiotic scenes. “M/C” breathed an air of indecision, incompleteness and lack of focus, just as its patchwork recorded score (Milt Buckner, George Shearing, Al Caiola and others) playing indistinctly in the back. “Unforgettable”, crooned Nat King Cole when the curtain came down. Unfortunately this can’t be said of Cayetano Soto’s “M/C.”
As with “Insiders” I fail to see what the company is trying to prove by taking such pieces into the repertoire. Even if Jorma Elo didn’t really nail it with “Lost by Last” either, at least it gave its ten dancers, 6 women and 4 men, something worthy of their talent. Like Forsythe, Elo starts from the classical vocabulary and molds it into a language of his own, while his response to the score is undeniable. After the musical onslaught of the rest of the evening, Elo’s choice of music was as refreshing as suddenly hearing Mozart in a Bierstube. Fragments from Bernard Herrmann’s tense scores for “Fahrenheit 451”, “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest” immediately installed a brooding atmosphere, emphasized by the lighting and partly reflected by the dance. As if to remind us of his roots, the women were dressed in blue tutus and wore crowns like classical ballerinas, but no pointe shoes — not that this was of any consequence. Elo’s fascination with these frenzied semaphoric arms and hands motions which can also be found in his earlier creations prove irksome, yet while aggressive (or energetic, depending on how one looks at it) confrontations and extreme physicality are about the only known entries in Moles’ and Soto’s dictionaries, Elo has flair enough to balance them with passages of lyrical reflection, and even some fluent duets. At times it feels as if he wants to express too much for his own good and the overall structure remains as much off-kilter as his motions. “Lost by Last” is a by moments interestingly crafted piece, but one that neither gets to the climax one hoped for, neither sticks in one’s mind for long after the curtain came down. It nonetheless triggered the dancers’ response. Especially Wim Vanlessen, Mikel Jauregui, Aki Saito and Yuri Matsuura, in changing pairings, were all remarkable.
Not the most memorable start for Kathryn Bennetts’ third year at the helm of the company. But the near future looks hopeful, still. On next is a revival of Marcia Haydée’s “Sleeping Beauty” and in April follows a Stravinsky triple bill with George Balanchine’s “Apollo”, Michael Corder’s new “Orpheus”, and Jiri Kylian’s “Symphony of Psalms.”
Top: "Herman Schmerman": Geneviève Van Quaquebeke and Alain Honorez. Photo: Valentin Fanel
Bottom: "M/C": Karina Jäger von Stülpnagel, Altea Nuñez & Wim Vanlessen. Photo: Valentin Fanel