Norwegian National Ballet

October 7, 2005


Norwegian National Ballet
Den Norske Opera, Oslo, Norway

October 7–22, 2005

Reviewed by Allan Ulrich


In seeking to raise the profile of his company, both within Scandinavia and abroad, artistic director Espen Giljane achieved a significant success with “4X,” a quartet of dances created by the team of Paul Lightfoot and wife, Sol León. The pair has rarely ventured far from the orbit of Nederlands Dans Theater, where English-born Lightfoot has served for many years in the shadow of Jirí Kylián. These dances, some new, others retooled, and all in their Nordic premieres, suggested that a distinctive choreographic personality, one that fuses a musically inspired movement orientation with theatrical dazzle, has developed in the duo.

In the premiere of the radically revised Softly, as I leave you (1994), Lightfoot and León united seven dancers with six composers, from Puccini to the ubiquitous Arvo Pärt. This wily, whimsical suite directs its dancers to emerge from stacks of boxes and strut their moments upon the stage. The extraordinarily supple Maiko Nishino explored the limits of her enclosure with uncommon liquidity, later joining Richard Suttie for a heavily weighted duet. Two men squirm in unison, then exit, cavorting to Offenbach; another man arises from a coffin to confront an indifferent world. Tom Bevoort’s extraordinary lighting fixes the vision. And gradually, a theme comes into focus: Is an obsession with freedom a restraint in itself?

The briefer Shutters Shut (2003) duet showcased Christine Thomassen and Andreas Heise, who built complex phrases to a recording of Gertrude Stein reading her “If I Told Him.” Not only do Lightfoot and León translate the poet’s speech rhythms into cogent movement phrases, which energize arms as much as legs; they bring out a latent musicality in Stein’s fanciful verse.

Group versus solo/duet tensions propel both Shangri-La (1997) and the more tonally assured Subject to Change (2003). In the latter, the slow movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet frames a monochromatically dressed (barely) sextet of performers and an unfurling carpet of blazing crimson. Aggressive unisons yield to a scorching pas de deux for Suttie and Victoria Herbert. Limbs entwine voluptuously and, in a mesmerizing sequence, the power games rise irresistibly to the level of metaphor. See