A prolific season for Balet Bratislava: tonight saw the third full evening of new choreography from Mario Radacovsky’s young company.
The opening piece Slovanské Dvojspevy (Slavonic Duets: Czech choreographer Libor Vaculik) tells a playful tale of Slovak courtship. The long white skirts and the white shirts of the men gave the stage the lightness of spring and early summer. The music is much heavier though Antonin Dvorak’s Slovak Dances opus 46 and 72 and one of the Moravian dances too). Sadly the sound system in Novaj Tsena is simply not adequate for classical music: played too loud Dvorak descends into cacophony.
While on the subject of the theatre the stage seems too small as well for this piece. With ten dancers forming two groups at the same time, you did not have the feeling of observing Slovak courtship rituals in fields or the countryside but rather a kind of back urban alleys version. Basically, too much furniture in a room. Whether Slavonic Duets would be any better on a larger stage is an open question: I believe a catastrophic Ivan the Terrible I once saw in the SND was also the creation of Libor Vaculik.
The performances were evenly adequate with one exception: Klaudia Bitterová stood out for her radiance, her poise and the lyricality of her movements. There was no Katarina Kosiková to share the stage with and Bitterová took full advantage of her opportunity to shine. Andrej Szabo as the lead among the men presented himself an ideal partner to Bitterová.
The next piece was a real surprise: guest artists Petr Zuska and Zuzana Susová brought Zuzksa’s Lyrická (Lyric), in incredibly moving duet set to a traditional Rusin and Slovak folk song). Susová emotional dancing sent shivers through the audience. Zuska’s mature appearance and practiced movement provided an interesting contrast to the relative striplings of Balet Bratislava. In the end, it is much more attractive to watch grown men live relationships of depth and passion than to see teenagers go through the motions. Experience has its merits. For this ballad alone, the evening was worth the trip out for me.
Petru Zuska is director of the National Ballet of Czech Republic in his day job: amazing the form he retains. Zuzana Susová is a great Czech star who due to injury doesn’t dance on point anymore. Kudos to Mario Radacovsky for casually bringing such distinguished guests to Bratislava (we’ve seen Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato, James Kudelka and now Peter Zuska just off the top of my head).
Falling Angels, a great Kylian classic from 1990, followed. The stage opens to dramatic African style drumming (Steve Reich) eight women all dressed in dark woolen jumpsuits. Over the next twenty minutes, they shake as a group and then each takes a short and distinct solo. It is bravura performance for each performer and the group. Credit to the women of Ballet Bratislava all. Nominally Ballet Bratislava is a company of ten with five women. Barbora Bláhova and Veronika Hollá were the newcomers, the beautiful Hollá taking time out from her work at SND.
Particularly fine work from Klaudia Bitterová. Rival Kosiková and Natália Nemethová were both in fine form. Particularly sinuous was Hollá.
I’m not sure what the hair suits and the African music means. It is more a call back into our primitive selves, an ornate tearing away of the veil of civilization within the temple of ballet. In any case, Falling Angels sent the audience wild.
Again the stage is a bit small for the work and despite the presence of Kylian’s main lighting collaborator Kees Tjebbe, there was none of the distinct squares of light on each performer. Simply not enough lighting gear available. Kylian’s movement and Reich’s music are strong enough that just the atmospheric dimming and raisig of the lights sufficed, but a certain polish remains missing. One cooks with the ingredients one has.
The penultimate act of the evening was Jiri Kylian’s Six Dances. If you haven’t seen it before (what rock are you hiding under: it’s in the Vienna State Opera, Opera de Paris, Boston Ballet among another twenty companies), Six Dances is an absurdist diversion on Mozart’s Six German Dances. The stage opens to Baroque gentlemen and ladies in their undergarments with mussed hair. As the piece goes on, they couple and they triple, often the women leaving the men with one another.
The men cross dress in elaborate black rolling gowns. All the men wear white wigs and bright red lipstick. Six Dances in short is a meditation on gender and sexuality but it is mainly a lot of fun. Behind the hijinks, Kylian suggested he had a more serious message:
I have set six seemingly non-sensical acts, which obviously ignore their surroundings. They are dwarfed in face of the ever present troubled world, which most of us for some unspecified reason carry in our souls.
Both Nemethova and Kosikova were delightful, with Nemethova’s dramatic gifts taking the lead over Kosikova. Nemethova’s hair was crazier and her wildness more convincing than any of the other dancers. Dan Datcu and Arthur Abram both stood out among the men as convincingly Baroque gentlemen. The normally excellent Szabo for some reason didn’t really hit his stride this evening.
Along with Kees Tjebes, Radacovsky did manage to bring in Roslyn Anderson for a total of four weeks as repeition master. Anderson for thirty years has been Kylian’s choreographic assistant and has worked with most of the world’s great companies and dancers. Bringing in professionals of such a high caliber does wonders for the development of the company. All year they’ve been working under great tutors and one can see enormous progress in the young dancers over the course of the year.
With the exception of the rather messy Slovanske Dvojspevy, the staging of the evening was excellent and Balet Bratislava did an admirable job with some challenging work. Still, taking on masterworks which can be seen in direct comparison with the world’s best dance companies is a risky strategy in my opinion. It’s difficult to win with a local company however great their heart. You will always be less good than Opera de Paris or Netherlands Dance Company I.
Of the three premieres this year, the original and incomparable modern work of Three Pieces seems the best path forward. You can only see these works here on Ballet Bratislava and its damn good work. But we have no reason to complain after such a rich first season. Mario Radacovsky with his dedicated young dancers are doing a splendid job of offering us very good dance in Bratislava.
If Mario Radacovsky is again offered the helm of the ballet of SND, I hope that this second company can continue to exist to provide an alternative stage with very good dancers for modern and new choreography. The Slovak and Bratislava dance world is vastly enriched by Ballet Bratislava’s existence.