Known for its bravery in commissioning up-and-coming choreographers, Stuttgart Ballet returns to London with two programmes – the first of which, fittingly, is a mixed bill. Since all but one of the pieces on show involved more than two dancers, the programme also illustrated the extraordinary leading dancers of the company, which has not performed in London since 2008.
John Cranko, the company founder, is responsible for three works here. Both 3rd Movement from Initials RBME and Pas de Deux: Hommage au Bolshoi demonstrate Cranko as a man of simplicity. Costumes are almost regulation-uniform-like, movements are never showy – pirouettes, for instance, are rarely more than a double.
The daring “Russian lifts”, as envisaged by Cranko for the endearingly short Bolshoi tribute, have a great sense of abandonment from Maria Eichwald and Filip Barankiewicz. Cranko’s Romeo & Juliet pas de deux, however, jars with the rest. It’s a perfectly good ballet in itself but, stripped of its setting, story, characters and context, it feels oddly over-the-top.
The drama works slightly better in John Neumeier’s pas de deux from The Lady of the Camellias. Sue Jin Kang is breathtaking and, in her sombre dress and hair, conveys a world apart from her delicate partner, Marijn Rademaker, even if the sex scene is a little unnecessary. It is, however, let down by a subdued rendition of Chopin’s Ballade No.1 in G Minor – for me, it did not convey the escalating chaos in the climatic final section, and nor is it reflected in the choreography.
It’s the contemporary works that stay in the mind. The pas de deux from Kazimir’s Colours, by Mauro Bigonzetti, sees the dancers – Anna Osadcenko and Friedemann Vogel – twisted and stretched into angular shapes. There is no clear narrative, but the tenderness in their partnering and her constant propping up by her partner hint at love in the face of death.
Then there’s the visually stunning Fanfare LX by Douglas Lee, an Englishman who has spent his professional life at Stuttgart. Set on a blacked out stage bar a light installation, with Osadcenko and Evan McKie in stark scarlet costumes, it’s an athletic and supremely confident piece. Their bodies ripple and contort into strange angles – at times reminiscent of Wayne McGregor’s style – with hyperextensions so sharp they could cut through glass.
The biggest crowd-pleaser of all was Itzik Galili’s Mono Lisa. Under row upon row of low-hanging stage lights, and accompanied by a soundscape of manual noises, Alicia Amatriain and Jason Reilly create fine lines that mirror those created by the lights.
The choreography is demanding – especially for Amatriain, who is rarely not in the splits – and it is almost like capoeira at times as the couple duck each other’s advances. They walk with a swagger that turns this duet into a tongue-in-cheek battle of the sexes, including Reilly’s otherwise-unexplained bit of stripping.
Reilly and Amatriain also appear in the polar opposite of Le Grand Pas de Deux, a comic work by Christian Spuck. Taking its cue from the classical Russian tradition, you can spot signature moves from Swan Lake, Giselle and Sleeping Beauty. It’s not subtle: it’s a sledgehammer of a slapstick piece. It’s not quite on par with the Trocks, but Reilly does a great turn by playing it totally straight.
Other pieces in the programme are a bit more hit and miss. Spuck’s Finale from The Seventh Blue has a more subtle humour and beautiful costumes, but ia less memorable choreographically. Edward Clug’s Solo from Sssss…, the newest piece on the bill, was nicely danced with an urgency by Pablo von Sternenfels. Some of Elvis’ best-known songs set a paradoxical backdrop for an over-controlling woman in Demis Volpi’s Little Monsters, all frantic bourées and flinging arms, but too strong a reliance on repetition.
The two pieces by resident choreographer Marco Goecke are stylistically very similar, with their exaggerated portrayal of masculinity. But for all the side shuffles, head-scratching and muscle-flexing, it looked more like a bloke home alone on a Friday night: semi-naked, drunk and messing about.
Totaling thirteen works, split into three parts, this is surely one of the busiest mixed bills there’s ever been. The sheer number of dances the audience has to sit through is mind-boggling, with barely any time allowed for absorbing and reflecting on each piece. It would have been a more enjoyable experience if it had been in any way edited and I must say I wouldn’t have been sorry to lose the whole first section.