Opéra de Dijon’s upcoming dance season appears to be one primarily of questions – questions of our society and our roles within it, of time and nature, and of our own perception and understanding of these aspects that are so intrinsic to our day-to-day lives. Existential-sounding perhaps, yet this is a programme whose strength lies in its universality. Choreographers Angelin Preljocaj, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Joesf Nadj, Daniel Doebbels, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Michel Schweizer, among others, approaches these topics in their own inimitable style, resulting in a strikingly diverse and innovative schedule.

Les Nuits / Angelin Preljocaj © Jean-Claude Carbonne
Les Nuits / Angelin Preljocaj
© Jean-Claude Carbonne

Angelin Preljocaj’s The Nights, premièred in April 2013 at the Grand Théâtre de Provence, is an exotic retelling of the story of Scheherazade, the woman whose own skill in storytelling saved her from the hands of a brutal despot. Distant in time and space, Preljocaj is able to use this ancient tale set in an imaginary Oriental land to engage an audience on a multitude of levels. Eroticism and surrealism exists alongside a debate on the status of women in society, and innovative choreography juxtaposes a similarly diverse range of influences, moving from contemporary to classical to hip-hop, to styles drawn from all around the world. With music by Natacha Atlas and Samy Bishai, it is unsurprising that this is a piece that continues to enjoy universal success and acclaim, and its performance at Dijon is certainly one of the highlights in dance this year.

The concept of time seems to be the primary focus in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Vortex Temporum. The late French composer Gérard Grisey, from whose mid-nineties seminal piece this work draws its name, wrote some of the most innovative music of the latter half of the 20th century in that timbre, and its development over time, became the foundation of his music. Keersmaeker is far from a stranger when it comes to working with the latest classical music. Steve Reich is a composer that she seems to be strongly attracted to, a connection which began with her creation Fase from 1982 that announced to her to the international scene.  Although Grisey, one of the founding members of the spectral school of composition, and the minimalist Reich may be as different musically as it is possible to be, in both their output, transformation and development over time is a fundamental aspect to their musical thought, albeit the approach they take could not be more removed. The choice of Grisey’s mature work around which to build the piece, performed at the Opéra de Dijon by her group Rosas and the ensemble Ictus, is therefore a fascinating choice, allowing Keersmaeker to explore the concept of time in a new light.  Dancers and musicians unite in a counterpoint of choreography and sound to investigate this “whirlpool of time” in a seamless combination of music and movement.

Vortex Temporum / Teresa de Keersmaeker © Anne Van Aerschot
Vortex Temporum / Teresa de Keersmaeker
© Anne Van Aerschot

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Genesis has enjoyed worldwide acclaim since its première in November 2013 at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.  Performed by his company Eastman, like Preljocaj’s The Nights, an imaginary, yet this time darkly dystopic-like, East is used as a basis for the exploration of a range of themes. The juxtaposition of themes, questions and cultures is not new to Cherkaoui, and indeed it appears that as a choreographer, it is this duality that inspires his most effective works. m¡longa for example, premièred this year at Sadler’s Wells, investigates the artistic collision between Argentinian tango and contemporary dance, exploring the style from a culturally unique viewpoint, being the first large-scale tango production by a non-Argentine choreographer. Like m¡longa, the crossing of cultures is explored in Genesis, yet here the context is very different. It is a work that confronts the origin of life, and the development and change that we undergo throughout our lives. In an almost surreal, and certainly disturbing manner, figures in laboratory coats and face masks carry out experiments on helpless subjects, a situation greatly heightened through dramatic, sometimes violent physical movements. Through dance, Cherkaoui is therefore able to effectively reflect on our humanity when subject to questioning, evaluation, and ultimately alienation from the world around us.

Featuring some of the most seminal pieces of the 21st century by the world’s most prominent choreographers and figures in contemporary dance, this is a programme that promises to challenge as much as excite. Without a doubt one of Europe’s highlights on the dance calendar this year, this programme is certainly not to be missed!