Three different, highly-spirited works, each of which the Junior Ballett Zürich premiered in nearby Winterthur last fall, recently took to the stage at the Zürich Opera House. First on the programme was Echo of Elements by the charismatic soloist and choreographer Filipe Portugal, whose distinguished career in Zurich makes aficionados here like to claim him as one of their own. Inspired by American minimalist John Adams’ music, Portugal used the four elements – fire, water, earth and air – to underscore his ballet with an immediate and emotional charge. 

Riccardo Mambelli, Arianna Soleti and Luigi Amado Vilorio in Echo of Elements
© Gregory Batardon

Fourteen gifted young dancers showed a spectrum of moods ranging from coquettish to chipper, from fearless to moody, just as Nature’s elements, too, are subject to change. Some two-thirds into the piece, slower musical segments are accompanied by repetitive sweeps of the dancers’ limbs like caterpillar segments in motion, movements which contrasted to the high energy and inventiveness of the other components. But overall, this gifted generation of dancers expressed the power of Nature with terrific agility and vivacity, showing Her ability to expand, morph, and – as we all hope – survive. Injecting a wholly electrical charge into the piece, Portugal’s ballet might also embody a call for sustainability. 

Emma Antrobus and Gary Solan in Wounded
© Gregory Batardon

In Wounded, Louis Stiens uses current developments in youth culture as his Leitmotif, setting poignant solo and group sequences of his ballet to heterogeneous contemporary music; “United in Flames” is an assemblage by the French team, “Malibu”, that juxtaposes pop with other sound landscapes, including classical fragments. Uniformly cast in light grey bodywear, the Wounded dancers gyrated over the stage like an approaching wave at first, but then showed agitation one might liken to body tremors. As a lover left behind, for example, one dancer withered like a torture victim, while Martin Gebhardt’s effective lighting, here in red, echoed his desperation. An insectile reference also underscored vulnerability; at one point, the dancers’ arching up from all fours on the floor made spindly praying mantises of them. And against a threatening, constant pulse of the electronic score, tension and vulnerability were all but palpable. For the finale, the whole company, hands on their hearts, opened their mouths into a silent, tortured and seemingly endless scream as the solo cello played a lonely line, making for a gripping conclusion.

Emma Antrobus and Riccardo Mambelli in Submerge
© Gregory Batardon

Last on the programme, Goyo Montero’s Submerge brought us underwater; the dancers figuring almost like mermen and mermaids. Montero sets out to explore the strata of depth and time a diver passes through, each level spurring inward reflection. Animated by Owen Belton’s forceful, mixed genre score, the eleven dancers stood frontally at first, much like a line-up of crime suspects. But they moved on into a highly acrobatic, even confrontational, mode. Gebhardt’s superb lighting lent an intergalactic effect to the stage, underscoring the sense of disorientation. The music’s heavy downbeats spoke of conflict and confusion, the shadows they created lent an unsettling tone to the piece. In the end, the dancers, all facing upstage, shed their coloured garments to reveal the simplest, beige-coloured skin-wear. From there, the intertwining of their strong bodies recalled the great Hellenistic sculpture of the priest Laocoön and his sons, all three under attack and entwined by sea serpents. Known as the prototypical icon of human agony in Western art, the monumental piece invariably leaves the viewer close to breathless. That said, the three ballets in Kreationen do much the same thing.