Jumps and pirouettes at high speed, sexy distorted moves and a spectacle of light and sound: Richard Siegal’s double bill of Model and Metric Dozen, is all about extremes. John Simons, artistic intendant of the Ruhrtriennale, invited the American choreographer to create a series of performances based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Model is the first in a trilogy about hell, purgatory and heaven that premiered last summer in Germany. It is here presented to Dutch Audiences at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, preceded by Siegal’s earlier work Metric Dozen which was created for the Ballet National de Marseille in 2014. The choreographies are now performed by both contemporary dancers of Siegal’s own company The Bakery and classically trained dancers of the Bayerisches Staatsballett. Together, they form an interesting and expressive group to dance this dynamic, energetic and, well, hellish programme.

<i>Model</i>, Richard Siegal © Ursula Kaufmann
Model, Richard Siegal
© Ursula Kaufmann

Siegal overwhelms his audience from the start. A sudden darkness fills the auditorium and an unexpected loud noise announces the beginning of Metric Dozen. A bright spotlight shows a dancer in a provocative pose with tilted hips and an icy stare, only to disappear again in the blink of an eye. The light keeps turning on and off, dancers appear and disappear in ever shortening time frames making it difficult for the audience to keep up. Yet this is only the beginning. As the lights turn on and a group of dancers becomes visible, an extremely physical, extroverted and rhythmical performance kicks off, reminiscent of a video clip presentation or catwalk show. Highly energetic solos with awkward yet technically demanding moves succeed each other, giving the dancers no time to breathe. Siegal creates an overkill impression that gradually becomes fiercer and fiercer, and the dancers come to be the embodiment of a supersaturated visual culture. Metric Dozen is a compelling piece with a message. 

The piece is also is a preliminary study for Model, which is at least as overpowering and which also happens to be extremely oppressive. At first sight this work seems concerned with aesthetic, and it looks bright, but appearances are deceptive as the twirling ballerinas on pointe soon make way for contemporary movement in expressive solos which have the dancers, dressed in torn shirts and resembling skeletons, suffering and literally begging for mercy. Siegal cites classical elements, executed with remarkable softness by the dancers, and suggests parallels with awkward deconstructed moves, all performed to the sound of a heavy base mixed with the noise of gunshots and squealing tires.

<i>Model</i>, Richard Siegal © Ursula Kaufmann
Model, Richard Siegal
© Ursula Kaufmann
The stroboscope lightning is bright, cold and deliberately unpleasant. On a small screen in the background we read Jorge Luis Borges' words “for the rejected, an Inferno, and, for the elected, Paradise”. We are in hell. Metric Dozen is not a concrete representation of hell, but the suffering of the dancers and their urge to escape is. An interesting concept with an excessive amount of incentives that overwhelms but also leaves you as cold as the image it creates.

***11