For Nachtträume, his new creation for Ballett Zürich, choreographer Marcos Morau deliberately targets the opposite of any tradition that idealises harmony and flowing movement. Instead, he presents a kind of pandemonium of what is fast, bizarre and jagged, filled with complex contrasts or rhythmical shifts. Morau's is a palette of short studies that “threaten worlds”, ballet that suggests dictatorship, warped society, loss, frustration, crises, revolution and authority. Morau’s point in these “night dreams” is less to tell a story than to present what he calls “an open landscape, one for the audience to fill (in) with its own dreams and ideas.” As such, his is a call to each of us to be inventive and creative in our own right, to assemble a narrative that works for each of us. That alone may be “worth the price of admission”, the chance, by contrast to the usual ballet narratives, is a call for engagement, a “make your own story” of what you see and hear. Rather than being just a “sit back and marvel” experience, Morau’s challenge demands personal interpretation and assignment to one’s own here and now.

Dancers of Ballett Zürich
© Gregory Batardon

The score, by the Barcelona-born composer Clara Aguilar, is a marker of its own kind: a good deal of clash and percussion, bursting dynamics and vivid colours. But the production also features songs by Schubert, Rachmaninov and Weill, and often a woodwind or a stringed instrument accompanied the dancers. Near the end of the ballet, this included Heinz Della Torre’s superb solo horn. And the narrator and diamond-decked “queen”, bass-baritone Ruben Drole, actually sang something of her Schubert song at her “party”, although that performance may seem something of a parody.

Riccardo Mambelli, Lucas Valente, Chandler Hammond, Francesca Dell'Aria
© Gregory Batardon

Max Glaenzel's set had to be fairly modest, given the recurrent large number of dancers on stage. The striking chandelier that held court above them, could be raised and lowered, however, making a striking marker under which much of the action took place.

Most importantly, the dancers were nothing less than marvellous. In keeping with the frenetic tempi in their large group configurations, they mastered intricate steps, jagged gestures, and unwieldy contortions that were nothing short of legion. The eclectic score included street sounds, clang and bangs, even fragments of Rachmaninov. You never knew quite what you were going to get. Already in one of the first scenes, the Queen says “we must sleep, and dream new dreams,” suggesting that that the human body can be limitless in its movements and meaningful gestures whatever the background: the first lesson of this ballet.

Ruben Drole
© Gregory Batardon

Over and beyond the shrill Queen, one humorous scene included a dozen dancers in straight-laced business suits, all without heads. Equally amusing, in a perfectly coordinated game at a huge table centre-stage, the dancers’ limbs moved like a collection of industrial sewing machines. Despite the racing tempi and sheer density of vigorous movements, none ever conflicted with a prop, nor one another. Overall, to its great credit, the work more or less sprang the usual demands of dance; its palette of vignettes made one wonder what was secure or accountable, or where any one of us might to turn in a crunch: a fitting message for our time. And as a grand pastiche of figures and fun, the ballet not only demonstrated great popular appeal to the first night audience, but took a hearty standing ovation... a rare treat in this house.