Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève

October 23, 2007

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève

The Joyce Theater, NYC

Oct 23–28, 2007

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Since its modern iteration began in 1962 (the Grand Théâtre was founded in 1876), this company has been guided by Balanchine, Alfonso Cata, and Patricia Neary. But in its New York debut, it presented not classical repertoire, but works by three contemporary choreographers with intriguing modern visions.

    In addition to choreographing Para-Dice, Saburo Teshigawara designed the atmospheric lighting and the costumes—the women’s a striking acid yellow, down to the shoes. In the opening scene, eight dancers in a line ratcheted their arms and legs in hypnotic rhythm. They broke out into pairs, then solos, before the men performed a big, brisk section. The women danced a lovely, quiet passage dotted with classical touchstones, to accompanying delicate organ music. (Willi Bopp created the sound).

    Andonis Foniadakis set Selon Désir to sections of Bach’s St. Matthew and St. Jean Passions. It is difficult to compete, even co-exist, with this glorious music, but Foniadakis tried, perhaps a bit too hard. The unisex skirts, the womens’ loose hair, the electronic tweaks of Bach, all felt like he was trying overly hard to be  rebellious. But the cascades of frenetic movement—wild steps alternating with prosaic ones—built and crescendoed, and the dancers looked to be in a convincing state of rapture, if not exhaustion.

    Wim Van de Cappelle designed the entrancing set for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Loin—sheer bronze curtains through which people entered/exited. The piece began with armwork—a pair clasped elbows and rapidly chopped their forearms. They were joined by 10 couples who lined the stage apron, similarly working their arms. Movement built, and soon the pairs were moving in a manner of a peculiar folk dance, until they each collapsed face down. A couple performed a romantic, mannered duet, and another a more athletic sequence. The other dancers burst through the upstage curtain; lined up downstage, and began to tell a funny story about touring in China where cockroaches crossed the stage. What seemed to be one person’s idiosyncracies in speech and gesture were parroted by the whole cast. A later spoken passage, in Chinese, raised further questions about language and meaning.

    The costumes, by Isabelle Lhoas with Frederic Denis, added to the ritualistic undertone—short, kimono-like tunics and long skirts. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber composed the music, at times courtly, and other times mirroring the rushing, spiraling movement at hand. Cherkaoui’s time spent studying with De Keersmaeker can be seen in the energetic, physical style, and a flair for theatrical and spoken elements. This company, a surprise standout in New York’s jam-packed dance season, admirably handled the three differing styles.