A surprising number of children were in attendance at the opening night of Bayerisches Staatsballett II’s mixed bill at the Hong Kong Arts Festival – surprising because the program did not offer the story ballet fare popular with families, and it was a school night. But enlightened parents expected magic from The Triadic Ballet, a recreation of Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer’s seminal 1922 experiment in geometry.

Florian Sollfrank, Black Series, <i>Triade Ballet</i> © Wilfried Hosl
Florian Sollfrank, Black Series, Triade Ballet
© Wilfried Hosl

While details of Schlemmer's elaborately stylized costume designs have survived, records of his original choreography have not. Contemporary stagers must therefore imagine the movement, impeded by the bizarre, machine-like contraptions that envelop the dancers. Schlemmer wrote that his designs were influenced by the new technologies of the Bauhaus era: “the scientific apparatus of glass and metal, the artificial members that are used in surgery, the fantastic military and diving uniforms.” A tutu of planetary rings was seemingly fired from glazed ceramic. Another was composed of gigantic gumballs. Yet another tutu resembled a partially collapsed Japanese lantern, in a pearly shade of nacre. No less fascinating was a midnight blue ramp that spiraled around one ballerina’s body. The men’s attire was equally fantastic: a wooden marionette without strings; a man engulfed in a tsunami of marshmallows; a menacing one-eyed penguin with a baseball bat in one flipper and a dagger in the other.

Some faces were partially or completely obscured by fanciful, elongated helmets; the rest were impassive. Were these figures prisoners or superheroes? They seemed to signal us (and each other) through a system of semaphore and with movements like tilting and swiveling.

Alisa Bartels, Alexander Bennett, Nicholas Losada in <i>Triade Ballet</i> © Wilfired Hösl
Alisa Bartels, Alexander Bennett, Nicholas Losada in Triade Ballet
© Wilfired Hösl

Schlemmer’s invention is prodigious, a bewitching conspiracy of line, color, shape and material. The artist reminds us that the figures of more conventional ballet – bodies machined into austere forms through spartan training – can seem no more human than these mechanical creatures.

Gerhard Bohner staged this reconstruction in 1977, which was revived in 2014 by Ivan Liška and Colleen Scott for Bayerisches Staatsballet and which the junior company has brought to Hong Kong. Costumes have been brilliantly reworked by Bohner and Ulrike Dietrich. Choreographically, however, Bohner did not animate his dancers convincingly. His movement explorations – playful teasing; attempts at courtship; vaguely menacing rivalries – quickly ebbed, and at 70 minutes, this iteration of The Triadic Ballet wore out its welcome. (Perhaps the original did as well.)

Nicholas Losada, Black Series, <i>Triade Ballet</i> © Charles Tandy
Nicholas Losada, Black Series, Triade Ballet
© Charles Tandy

The tedious minimalist score by Hans-Joachim Hespos provided no uplift until the penultimate episode in which the groaning, clicking and clanking of rusted doors gave way to a subtle, inspired burbling and rustling. It added a mysterious poignance to the perambulations of the regal Margarida Neto, whose black-clad figure was encircled and coroneted in coils of silver wire that flickered splendidly in the crepuscular light. Her two lieutenants, Sava Milojevic and Federico Bruccoleri, encased in shimmering gold beads stacked on celadon platters, strode about on cone-shaped legs defined by taut elastic cables. Together, this trio of spine-tingling beauty may be the most mesmerizing image of any ballet ever seared into my brain.

The balance of the mixed bill was ably pulled off by this vibrant young troupe, demonstrating their wide range of stylistic competence. The only downer was the taped music, which robbed the staging of some of its vitality.

The winsome lead duo of Bianca Teixeira and Francesco Leone dispatched the strenuous and tricky business of George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante with authority, musicality and brio. Leone’s main duty, as with most of Mr. Balanchine’s men, is to show off the ballerina from a variety of perspectives. But the job in Allegro is not entirely thankless, as Leone grabbed moments of intimacy in which both dancers seemed to delight.

Carl Van Godtsenhove, Fflemming Puthenpurayil, Francesco Leone in *Allegro Brillante@ © Charles Tandy
Carl Van Godtsenhove, Fflemming Puthenpurayil, Francesco Leone in *Allegro Brillante@
© Charles Tandy

A counterpoint to the windswept buoyancy of Allegro Brillante, Nacho Duato’s emotional portrayal of the hardscrabble existence of a farming community, Jardí Tancat, received a stellar outing on opening night. To the heartfelt wailings of Catalan singer-songwriter Maria del Mar Bonet, three couples pounded the barren earth, raged at the cruel gods, and supplicated for rain. Eloise Sacilotto and Margarida Neto stood out in their solo turns, despair coursing expressively through sinuous spines. The pairings of Sacilotto and Justin Rimke, Sinthia Liz and Christoph Schaller, Neto and Leone, and the powerful unison work proved spellbinding.

The newest of the four choreographies on offer in this program registered as the most dated. Richard Siegal crafted 3 Preludes to Gershwin in an alternately spiky and bluesy mood, with his carefree ‘Rialto Ripples’ rag thrown in as an encore.

Gershwin first unveiled the preludes in a 1926 New York concert, in the heat of a public debate over jazz. Gershwin positioned the concert as a response to a famous pastor who sought to outlaw this “music of the savage, intellectual and spiritual debauchery, utter degradation.”

Nicha Rodboon and Nicola Strada in <i>Jardi Tancat</i> © Charles Tandy
Nicha Rodboon and Nicola Strada in Jardi Tancat
© Charles Tandy


Siegal's dance is a Fosse- and Tharp-influenced romp for the coolly seductive Margarida Neto and three admirers. Neto’s knife-edge timing added sparkle to acrobatic grapplings that were by turns playful and sensual. She swished and Charlestoned about in a 1920s flapper-inspired fringed mini-dress while the men seemed to possess only one suit between the three of them: one sported a jacket, the second claimed the waistcoat, the third bagged the shirt. Neto flirted with each of them but it seemed clear that, until one of them could afford the full complement of evening dress, she preferred to remain single.