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Review: Ballett-Hommage Forsythe | Horecna | Lander at Vienna Staatsoper

The evening opens with Forsythe’s The Second Detail. When we see works like this, it’s clear Forsythe is such a great choreographer and his current strange experiments become even less comprehensible and more astonishing. But few people cared for Stravinski’s music in the 1920 so perhaps it’s we who just don’t understand.

Horecna Contra Clockwise Witness 1
Horecna Contra Clockwise Witness 1

The Second Detail opens up with a huge bright grey rehearsal space with just the words THE at the front. Thin white horizontal lines dividge the strange into precise grids. The dancers are in the same grey as the floor. I’m not quite sure why Apple is getting away with suing Samsung for packaging as Forsythe had the iPhone and MacBook Air boxing under control back in 1991 in Frankfurt. This is an early great work.

Vienna State Ballet company looks great dancing Forsythe these days. Under Legris, they’ve acquired both the élan necessary and the discipline necessary to put it all together. Strangely, the men have improved more than the women (who have been excellent as along as I’ve been in Vienna). Particularly notable is strongman Vladimir Shiskov but Mihail Sosnovichi also delivers an imposing performance while Eno Peci and Alexis Forbasco look good too. All of the men have developed powerful lower bodies and are a joy to watch.

In Forsythe, Olga Esina is in her element. Her perfect and pure lines outclass any other ballerina in the Staatsoper (and most in the world) even before she starts to dance. Forsythe’s dry emotions don’t even leave her colleagues a chance to make up for catch up ground.

Indeed, the whole company looked great with Nina Polakova in good form alongside Reina Sawai and Rui Tamai. Prisca Zeisel was given one of the more substantial roles. In her third season, Vienna’s child phenomenon has grown into a beautiful woman but needs to lighten her footwork is she is to catch the likes Polakova, Papava or Esina.

Rafaella Sant’Anna enters in a Greek toga in a large role as a woman from another time who wanders into this world of perfect bodies and machine like precision. She negotiates with aplomb tricky balance between balletic grace and primitive movement.

There was no orchestra playing tonight and I wondered why the stage was not built over the orchestra pit. The only issue with the whole evening is that the dance somehow seems quite far away. With an orchestra that’s justified but with an empty pit it makes little sense. In the end, the orchestra did arrive for Lander.

The second ballet “Contra Clockwise Witness” is the work of Slovak expatriate Natalia Horecna, a relatively young choreographer who only recently gave up her place as one of the stars at Netherlands Dance Theatre. I worried Horecna would just be another NDT dancer recycling what she’d seen as a poor reflection of the original.

The stage opens with choreographer dancer András Lukács with this head in a noose. It’s a lovely reference to Jeune Homme et la Mort which will follow Contra Clockwise Witness through its development. Three male angels of death gather with Greig Matthews as a imposing leader. The skull makeup, his two metre frame and fierce dancingf frighten like a good horror film.

At first we think it’s an execution but it appears to be more a suicide. While Lukács fathoms his own death a naked Andrey Kaydanovsky (curiously the other serious choreographer among active Staatsoper dancers) slides up behind him. Kaydanovsky will be Lukács spirit/shadow henceforth. Kaydanovsky represents mortality.

Five dancers in transparent gowns have entranced us now, Rafaella Sant’Anna keeping pace as a ballerina now in an excellent group of angels. The most remarkable movement was Avraam, whose movement is entirely otherworldly, controlled and abandoned at the same time. Céline Janou Weder and Ketevan Papava kept Avraam a close pace.

We then start to see episodes from other people’s lives as Kaydanovsky reads a magic silver book of tales. Emlia Barancowicz dances a charming comic book can-can, all gypsy red with a virile Mihail Sosnovichi with no pants and flowing hair. Alas they both die, falling through the floor.

The good angels leave us and we face hysterical dark angels in wigs, who shout in unison at us. In the back of the stage there is a giant door. Kaydanovsky tries to penetrate but he is pushed away by two male hands. Frantic Paganini violin solos animate ballerina shadows who circle the stage like abandoned wraiths. Two lovers push through long white tunnels to unite in the center of the stage naked, again Sosnovichi and Baranowicz. Now we get film music, as if from Hollywood but here à propos. The whole stage shakes with the low notes (whoever did the technical prep did a great job, I’ve not heard canned music sound so convincing in a dance performance). They shiver in the dark.

Lukács eventually wakes from his nightmare and goes on to live. A happy ending to a dark piece.

Horecna’s work is profound and shows the full potential of dance. When united with dramaturgy and adequate staging, dance can be life changing. Grigorovich understood that and gave that gift to John Neumeier and it lives on Horecna. Dance is just an element to help reveal the essential, asking questions like what is the after life, do we have a soul, can lovers meet in the after life.

Horecna’s answers appear to be yes we have a should but the next world is more frightening than we could ever possible imagine. Contra Clockwise Witness like Swan Lake or Giselle is the kind of work one can see again and again and find something new each time. This is a masterwork and Manuel Legris should be applauded for bringing it to the main stage in Vienna.

Horecna was with us tonight in Vienna: it’s thrilling to see true living choreography on our main stage.

The last piece begins in the dark with dozens of legs in near blackness executing perfect fouettés. To cloying music from dead Dane Knudage Riisager on Carl Czerny’s original Etudes. For almost ten minutes. I think this is the first time in my life I have not enjoyed the Vienna Philharmonic.

Fortunately the lights came up and we could see almost the whole company from Dagmer Kronenberg to the beautiful Hungarians. We could admire how comfortable ballet dancers can make uncomfortable poses look. Cypriot Ionna Avraam looked especially at ease with the legs twisted.

From there it just went downhill. Apparently the theme was how beautiful and remarkable the ballet is.

Roman Lazik was the first fall guy as the perfect romantic hero, prancing around the stage. Of course, showboat Denys Cherevychko was right in his element piroetting for applause. Peculiarly Cherevychko’s leaps do not fly as high as his self-esteem. His Italian point man Davide Dato managed to outdance the ambitious Ukrainian.

Lead dancer Kiyoka Hashimoto acquitted herself well, considering the vacuity of the material. She didn’t allow her smile to smudge into a grimace and always moved with grace.

Etudes could just work with dancers of the calibre of Olga Esina and Ketevan Papava. With the second tier, it’s a frightfully dull experience. Even worse than watching ballet rehearsal. More like watching ballet class. Watching musicians play scales.

If you visit Ballett-Hommage, you will lose little if you leave after the first two acts.

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