Opening this Zurich Ballet double bill, Johan Inger’s ballet Walking Mad, premiered by the Nederlands Dans Theater in 2001, aligns two stunning musical works: Ravel’s explosive Boléro with Arvo Pärt’s delicate and contemplative Für Alina. While the ballet’s set decoration (also Inger) is simple, it is effective nonetheless. A single wall, some eight feet high, spans left to right behind the dancers at the start, but later proves moveable, even ingeniously collapsible, such that it can be used as a platform. Both the sensation of delicate imbalance and the openly comical genre play leading roles in Inger's choreography. The troupe of male dancers – while appearing periodically in dunce caps – gave us vigorous, but masterfully coordinated, if sometimes purposely stilted, movements. The bowler hats and raincoats they donned were reminiscent of René Magritte and Surrealism.

Mark Geilings and Giulia Tonelli in Walking Mad (Boléro)
© Gregory Batardon

The second half of Walking Mad is set to Pärt’s signature tintinnabuli style of composition. In striking contrast to the choreography for the Boléro section, this second score features a sublime pas de deux by Giulia Tonelli and Mark Geilings. Their performance was as athletic as it was poignant, the dense weave of their movements, both as a study in perfect balance and mutual trust, a highly intimate reflection of Pärt’s delicate score.

Esteban Berlanga and Meiri Maeda in Johan Inger's Walking Mad
© Gregory Batardon

After the interval came Edward Clug’s choreography for Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, the score that is still one of the most daring creations of the modern musical genre, despite the fact that many of its first Paris audience in 1913 found the work “barbaric” and well beyond endurance. Close to a century later, Clug premiered his Sacre with the Slovenian National Ballet in 2012. In Zurich's staging, the dancers are all clad in flesh-toned leotards (costumes by Leo Kulas); the female dancers’ braided plaits convincingly render each one more girl-like, as well as paying tribute to the ballet’s original production. Martin Gebhardt’s stunning lighting sharpens the sense of ghostly recollection.

Lucas Valente in Edward Clug's Le Sacre du printemps
© Gregory Batardon

While the company’s unfailing precision and athleticism were highly commendable, a surprise effect was overwrought, even to the ballet’s detriment: midway through the ballet, hefty water showers drench the stage. While the downpour’s sound and visual effects were breathtaking at first, and the water's mirroring effects made for a striking new visual dimension, the water on stage ultimately lent the whole last half of this Sacre the flavour of a “ballet on ice” commercial.

Katja Wünsche in Edward Clug's Le Sacre du printemps
© Gregory Batardon

Shot away from – and into the arms of – her fine male partners, first soloist Katja Wünsche was scooted around like a mechanical swan or a fancy table decoration, and the gimmick went on for far longer than my patience could sustain. Less would have been so much more. That said, the dancers can, without exception, be commended for mastering the slippery surface with unfailing confidence, athleticism and grace despite the challenge – if not liability – of their escapade on ice. Under conductor Jonathan Stockhammer, the Philharmonia Zürich orchestra was at its very best, infusing majesty and poignancy into Stravinsky's score.