Stepping ouside the box pays off sometimes. This was my thought while watching the only Berlin performance of the Romanian choreographer Edward Clug's works. Chance had it that I stumbled upon an under-advertised gem out of the ‘usual’ dance venues circuit. Opened in 1910, the Admiralspalast has seen a lot of dancing generally in musicals, concerts and cabaret, and Clug’s Radio & Juliet set to Radiohead tracks was not too far off. Still, the dancers (from the Mariinsky Ballet and the Odessa Opera) rocked the show. 

Clug, who trained in Romania and was a dancer at the Slovene National Ballet in Maribour before becoming a choreographer, has a long list of collaborations with major ballet companies around the world. Radio & Juliet is a piece he created in 2005 for the Maribor ballet whilst its artistic director. A reworking of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy in a contemporary setting, it features a retrospective perspective on the events. This eastern European dark punk take on the famous lovers’ story starts with a black and white projection. We see fragments, details of an interior and a body. Someone slept on a bed. Is this the person or simply his/her trace? The images alternating at high speed don't allow us flaky concentration. The risk is losing essential clues of this noir ballet. The dance starts with minimal design and a reduced plot, and features Juliet (Anastasia Matvienko), dressed in a corset, and six men in tailored suits and bare tattooed torsos underneath. Think of them as bad boys of ballet. Among them is Romeo, Denis Matvienko, a soloist of the Mariinsky Ballet. The sleek aesthetics are paired with a contemporary ballet language that blends fluid, languid movements with staccato, jerky steps, and clever counterpoint work. The material is fluid, never repetitive or obvious. Juliet’s robotic solo on a synthetic voice, inspired by Radiohead Fitter Happier, is mesmerizing – and so is Romeo, who is both charismatic and passionate. Overall, apart from the title, there is very little to remind us of the original story. Well-known scenes are almost unrecognizable – the masked ball is danced in surgical masks, and a mafia squad in surgical gloves disposed of Mercutio. Despite this, Clug manages to make us want to see how Juliet’s story, amidst bad boys, a priest in a surgical mask and, a lemon – that in an absurd twist appears at the very end of the dance – will unfold.

Besides being under-advertised, there was a general lack of information available (no programme) about the show which I felt was a shame.

The much shorter Quatro, nominated for the Golden Mask, is a ballet for four dancers, a pianist and a cellist. Set to a score by Milko Lazar, the dance goes back to melodies usually associated with contemporary ballet. It starts with the curtains being caught in mid-air, and a dancer levitating. It is an unexpected refreshing twist as we can only see parts of the stage, but it is not further developed. The dance consists of a sequence of tableaux, made up of movement material similar to that of the first piece – think Wayne McGregor without the distortion of the upper body – that lacks the pathos of a narrative line. So we see Matvienko playing with his fingers on the leg of a fellow dancer as if it were a piano, sideways bourres of doll-like dancers coming in on and out of the stage, and dancers initiating a chain of reactions when intervening in the other couples' dancing. One can also see Jiří Kylián’s influences in the off-balance transitions of the women who are generally passive, and manipulated by the men. The individuals in the couples seem to be caught in different realities running alongside each other with brief connections. The movement material is fast and at times the partnering is almost violent. Interesting are the sequences compositions, where the interactions – solos, duets and, trios – are never boring but rather take unexpected directions. What I preferred were not the partnering sequences but those group moments of synchronous or syncopated movements. Overall, the interpretation of this work seemed tired.

Despite the stage being too high, the technical glitches and almost inexistent PR, this production is of high calibre. Clug’s movement material and aesthetic are sleek and clean but not sterile and of course, the cast of étoiles from the Mariinsky and the Odessa Opera are beautiful to watch. Radiohead’s music is definitively the kind of soundtrack that dancers would move to in their rooms at night, when off duty. Clug is definitively one to watch and it would be great to see the company again in Berlin.

****1