An evening of two dance world premières, and one Swedish première, by top international names is a rare luxury – but the Swedish Royal Ballet doesn’t hesitate to take on the challenge. The result is interesting and ultimately exhilarating. Starting with the elegance and force of William Forsythe, followed by a horrific scene by Chrystal Pite which could be fetched from a gothic graphic novel, and culminating in the cool, clubby gaga-dancing in Sharon Eyal's Bill, there were plenty of contrasts. And yet, in the programme booklet the Ballet Intendant is eager to point out the legacy that is summarized during these two packed hours: Chrystal Pite as the heir of Forsythe, Sharon Eyal continuing the work of Ohad Naharin.

Artifact Suite © Urban Jörén
Artifact Suite
© Urban Jörén

Opening with William Forsythe's Artefact Suite, the entire company is lined up across the stage in smooth, geometrical formations. It is the music of Bach which has inspired the choreographer – the mathematically organized Chaconne from the Violin Partita no. 2, in a recording by legendary Nathan Milstein. The jagged intervals and daring, arching phrases are reflected in the dancers’ sharp, sudden moves. At times, the shift in formations is so stylized that it brings to mind the angular design of Disney’s Fantasia – the scene from Die Kunst der Fuge, where the outline of the conductor looms larger than life, in multiple versions, over the orchestra. In a similar way, Forsythe's ballet uses the dancers as though they were armies of musical soldiers, moving with military precision and strength as they echo the counterpoint of Bach’s music.

For the second half of Artefact Suite, the musical background is a contemporary reinterpretation of Bach by pianist Eva Crossman-Hecht – jazzy, sometimes dissonant and unnerving. Running through the positions of the classical ballet, the dancers – all dressed in green – appear to be in rehearsal for a show... A lone figure – named The Mud Woman in the libretto (Jenny Nilson) – takes on the role of a shamanistic leader, in the finale beckoning her troops to a magnificent display of élan as arms stretch out and arch upwards, legs extended with muscular power. As a spectator, one experiences a feeling of release and jubilation as they join in a celebration of the beauty of the mind of Forsythe, and the spirit of Bach.

The Other You © Urban Jörén
The Other You
© Urban Jörén

Act 2 of Bill surprises with an extreme contrast: The Other You is more of a pantomime, frightening through it’s dark sense of humour. Two lone figures (Anthony Lomuljo and Anton Valdbauer) meet in a darkly lit landscape (lighting design by Robert Sondergaard, and the eerie soundscape by Owen Belton) and engage in a tug of war, with no apparent goal in mind. They fight, pull and drag each other, utter unintelligible phrases and burst into occasional screams. Their facial expressions echo the grotesque body movements: distorted  by anguish, like The Scream by Edvard Munch, they also take on a parodical quality. One is reminded of the tragicomedy of Charlie Chaplin – the seemingly futile efforts of the patient tramp, which are thwarted by a stream of new obstacles – including his own clumsiness and lack of bodily control. But also of the tragedy of Dostoyevsky’s double, betrayed by his shadow as he moves through the nightly shadows of St Petersburg. As the sad drama comes to an end, the beauty of Beethoven’s Moonshine Sonata underlines the loneliness of The Other You.

Bill © Urban Jörén
Bill
© Urban Jörén

The finale – Sharon Eyal’s Bill – is an exuberant display of the joy of moving and expanding the possibilities of the human body through music. DJ Ori Lichtik creates a soundscape vibrating with the energy of modern society, the ceaseless motion of youth and living masses. Identities are neutralized by dressing the entire company in palish grey – sexless, crazed beings filling the stage with the joy of releasing the body in gaga movements. Although the looks and expressions give the impression of improvisation, the ballet is minutely choreographed by Sharon Eyal and her partner Gai Behar. According to dancer Mariko Kida, gaga is about channeling emotions into the body without restraint – and not stopping when you feel exhausted. Instead, pushing the body beyond it’s limits gives way to the tremendous explosion of life as dance, manifested by the Royal Swedish Ballet.  And somehow, to the observer, this is why Bill is ultimately the most rewarding of the three pieces.  In the absence of a goal to present an entity that is beautiful or perfect, we are instead in the presence of something that is sensual without being sexual, humorous without elements of sarcasm, and intensely energetic. No wonder the younger members of the audience rise instantly to their feet as the curtain goes down: this is dance for the 21st century, in it’s essence.