This year’s four-part Junior Ballett Zürich evening featured choreographies by Jiří Kylián, Filipe Portugal, Benoît Favre, and, for the first time in our city, Cayetano Soto. 

Jiří Kylián choreographed Un ballo in 1991, his first ballet for the junior company of the Nederlands Dans Theater. “A dance, music, nothing more” is how the Czech choreographer describes the piece, “an exercise in musicality and sensibility between male and female partners”. Indeed, the dancers' paces here in Zurich closely reflected the swells and recesses of their emotive music throughout: first, the minuet from Maurice Ravel’s wistful Le Tombeau de Couperin and secondly, his melancholic Pavane pour une infante défunte

It was no surprise, then, that the ten dancers in Kylián’s ballet were all in black. The women were in corsets and voluminous long skirts whose diaphanous fabric was used to great advantage. In the first of three pas de deux, for example, one dancer and her partner once held up her shirt in front of their bodies, just their two faces visible, and the woman slid horizontally across its upper seam towards him as if on a T-shaped slide ruler. Equally novel were the instances when the skirts themselves created striking images and structures, such as in the last vignette, where each of the five pairs clumped together on the stage, the female dancers’ legs wrapped in the thin fabric and jutting upwards from the clumps of their bodies. If those weren’t spring bulbs showing new growth! 

The second piece was Benoît Favre’s Disrupted. A former member of the Junior Ballett Zürich, Favre joined the professional Zurich company in 2014, and had already attracted international attention as a choreographer before joining the Finnish National ballet company as a dancer last year. He also designed this production’s set, whose first scene shows a woman inside and confined to a 3-storey light-metal cube. There’s a liberation, of course, her and her lover’s conflict with an opposing party, and a kind of reunification towards the end. 

Favre’s signature movement for the piece was have the pair on all fours, shoulders back, the curl of a back drastically arched towards a long upwards stare, and that stance nicely punctuated the whole. The story of a couple forced apart by circumstance, and the interaction of each with the opposition, ultimately finds its resolution. But the set gave the dancers problems when it came to re-arranging the stage and restacking the three large frames of the cube/dwelling. They had to juggle its layers into its final position, and had trouble finding the corners’ locks, which was disconcerting. What’s more, guitarist Joel Gilardini’s otherworldly soundscape, while inviting at the start, lost its grip and grittiness over time, and ultimately resorted to something rather brow-beaten and banal. 

After the interval, Filipe Portugal – himself an acclaimed Ballett Zürich soloist and choreographer – created a contrast in the form of a straightforward, if conventional, pas de deux. Behind the Mirror is set to the poignant Lento movement of Dmitri Shostakovitch’s brilliant first piano concerto. While paired with the polished Cohen Aitchison-Dugas, the young Belle Beasley was dancing the role for the first time, and she suffered a degree of nervousness that was occasionally palpable. Then again, the work’s movements were so intertwined – even convoluted – that they sometimes prohibited easy flow. And as the only dancer in the evening’s performance who was dancing on pointe, Beasley had to accommodate twists and vigorous athletics that made the formality of the ballet shoe seem somewhat of an anomaly.

The final piece, Cayetano Soto’s Maraschino Cherries was a delightful parody on ballet dancers themselves. The costumes (also by Soto) had the company all wearing skirts made of imitation beige leather, which moved in ways so wily that they alone were worth a giggle. The male dancers brought out the whole hackneyed catalogue of exaggerated gestures: the runway model’s self-conscious catwalk, the picky snooty-ism of showmanship, and all of what’s considered effete. The three female dancers who joined them also played along beautifully with the spoof. Nonetheless, it was the flamboyant male contingent that stole the show: here was a kind of “Cage aux Folles” revisited, but one on steroids.