When dance companies attempt to incorporate classical ballet and modern dance into their repertories, they usually fail at one or the other. The differences in technical requirements in each discipline have advanced so far that they are simply too much for all but the best dancers to master. Dresden Semperoper Ballett, which brought just eleven dancers on this tour, emphatically succeeded at both and that is a rarity. This is not to say that they are among the best at either, because they aren’t. What this company is, is an assemblage of very talented and exciting dancers which made for an enjoyable evening.

A. Tsunaki, F. Pio Ricci, A, Gibson and Jón Vallejo in J. Hernandez's <i>Ganz leise kommt die Nacht</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
A. Tsunaki, F. Pio Ricci, A, Gibson and Jón Vallejo in J. Hernandez's Ganz leise kommt die Nacht
© Yi-Chun Wu

David Dawson’s 5, which originated with his wedding pas de cinq for Giselle, opened things up with classical ballet excitement. Alice Mariani’s brio was front and center as she hit and held her balances and completed multiple strings of difficult turns. She’s a dazzling dancer. Zarina Stahnke also stood out with her ease and freedom of movement. Dawson’s choreography in this piece made it difficult to know where to look as there was so much going on. He was intensely creative here, avoiding ballet clichés, and I was swept up in the constantly shifting motion. When these dancers went into a turn, I was never sure which way they would go when they came out of it. The sheer virtuosity of this ballet made it the highlight of the show for me. It’s so refreshing to watch a piece of new work and not have any idea what steps are coming next. That degree of originality puts Dawson in select company.

Ganz Leise Kommt die Nacht was a modern dance piece that I thought was well danced even if I didn’t enjoy it. This work wallowed in angst to such a degree that I thought it called for anti-depressants all round. By no means do I think that every dance should be cheerful but when you’re on a downer, you have to provide a context and a reason for us to follow you into your pit of despair. Ayaha Tsunaki was persuasive in her agita but this was mostly emotional self-gratification.

Julian Amir Lacey and Alice Mariani in David Dawson's <i>On the Nature of Daylight</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Julian Amir Lacey and Alice Mariani in David Dawson's On the Nature of Daylight
© Yi-Chun Wu

David Dawson’s On the Nature of Daylight brought back Alice Mariani partnered by Christian Bauch in a warm pas de deux. I’m often worn out by Max Richter’s bombastic music which stretches out musical climaxes over unendurably long stretches but it worked perfectly here. Once again, Mariani rose to the occasion and Bauch moved with a grace that complemented her assertiveness. It’s characteristic of Dawson’s choreography that the dancing is more balanced between the male and female. He’s not just standing behind her to support her in turns and pick her up in lifts. It takes some getting used to as you often have to make a decision as to which dancer to follow with your eyes. With five dancers on stage during 5, I missed a lot but during this pas de deux I was able to see and enjoy them both. 

Setting his Vertigo Maze to Bach’s Partita in D minor for violin and four voices, Stijn Celis elected to follow the violin musical line with his choreography rather than the voices which soared above. While this was good for continuity, I wondered what would have happened if he had assigned one dancer to each of the voices. This was another modern dance piece, and I enjoyed it very much. More than any other dancer in this piece, Ayaha Tsunaki managed to grasp the texture of Bach’s violin line. She’s an extraordinary dancer that I would like to see more of. Kanako Fujimoto also stood out for her keen musicality.

Dresden Semperoper Ballett needs to come back to New York with its full company and show us more. This was a tantalizing glimpse of what its dancers can do. They came across as seasoned and versatile performers who move with fluidity in diverse repertory. I sure hope we see them here again soon.