I struggled through a number of ballet classes during my athletic career and consequently developed a healthy respect, if not an aversion, towards this physically demanding art.
While living briefly in Russia, I had the privilege of witnessing Swan Lake at the Mussorgsky Ballet. After a few shots of Russian Standard as my aperitif, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece was my entree. I was enthralled by lithe, agile bodies and engaging choreography. The dancers were performing for a discerning Russian audience, and their performance seemed to reflect the standards of the crowd. I was hooked.
Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the World Premier of Ballet d’Europe’s H2O: Memories De L’eau, led by renowned choreographer, Jean-Charles Gil. Ballet d’Europe presented an astonishing, challenging and provocative production. Gil artfully fused the rough break-dance acrobatics of SisQuo and his team from Tangiers with the technical excellence of Ballet d’Europe.
Set to the abstract and repetitive music of Laurent Perrier, the performance opened with hooded jumpsuit-clad dancers sliding onto the stage on lying flat on their backs. Their motions were abrupt and sharp, evoking the idea of something primitive and elemental. The anchored and halting motions of the Tangier break dancers stood in sharp separation to the vertical body language of the dancers of Ballet d’Europe, who soon entered.
Gil explains that the heavy movements of the break-dancers symbolize oxygen atoms. These grounded motions contrast with the lighter hydrogen represented by the movements of ballet. As the first part progressed, the two distinct sets of dancers began to interact. Often three dancers moved together, representing the formation of water. These pairings would break apart and recombine with new combinations of dancers.
With the creation of water, a new form of life-giving energy is created, explains Gil. “This energy frees the movement and allows the bodily intensity and fluidity to gush forth in a vision of water on stage.” The dancers formed into an evolving set of circles and chains. Arms and legs reaching, grasping, the dancers lifted and moved each other in and out of place. The complexity of water in motion was exquisitely portrayed as was the complexity of the organisms to which water gives life.
The second part, “Memories of Water” opened with bold choreography and very minimal costuming. Sensibilities of some in the audience, including those of my companion, may have been challenged. The male form was very much on display, signaling a shift from elemental components and primitive organic associations towards a distinctly human understanding of water.
Gil explains this as “the reappearance of ‘the Dancer’, a sculpture immersed for centuries…[in] the Rhone. Its discovery and that of statuaries of Gods, Goddesses and Men of Antiquity, plunges the spectator into what water renders from our cultural past…nudity, sensuality and fluidity.”
The second part continues this theme as the kinetic and minimalist costuming motifs take the spectator on a mesmerizing and temporally disjointed tour of the Ancient World.
The two shores of the Mediterranean are tied together as increasingly areal break-dance interacted with technical ballet. At times the styles meshed and at times they were distinctly combative. The cold, staccato precision of ballet spared with high-kicks and inverted areal parkour maneuvers of Tangier break-dance.
The image of ‘the Dancer’ appears again, played by SisQo. “He intrudes upon us” explains Gil, “and lets us understand the frailty of the human being, the need to preserve water, which is the source of life.” The performance concluded with a visually powerful areal silk dance performed by SisQo on a single rope suspended from the stage ceiling. As the show closes he remains motionless and lifeless, allowing the audience to reflect on the power and importance of water and the fragility of the life it creates.