Aszure Barton created Come In for Mikhail Baryshnikov during her residency for his Hell’s Kitchen Dance, in 2006. It set the presence of the sombre, veteran dancer (then 58) within a dozen young men (many still dance students) in a work that was created for the opening of the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York (although it was initially performed on tour because the new theatre was not ready).

Gustavo Carvalho and Dukin Seo
© Bettina Stöß

Barton has now restaged Come In in western Germany, at the invitation of Ballett am Rhein director, Demis Volpi. Losing the mature and magnetic presence of its original megastar appears to have had little, if any, impact on the poetic, hypnotic quality of the work, emphasised in the hybrid of Vladimir Martynov’s ethereal score and the arresting, simple musicality of Barton’s choreography, heavily accented by gesture and expression.

Martynov’s eponymous composition, created for two violins and small chamber orchestra, is themed around the entrance of a soul into Heaven (hence Come In as the title), as denoted by the regular punctuation of beats on a woodblock to signify knocking on Heaven’s door and an accompanying brief celesta melody –  such a simple device but the tune remained in my head for days! The film direction gave a brief introduction to the masked orchestra, conducted by Marie Jaquot, playing the opening to the first of six uneven movements, all slight variations on the same core indelible melody. Martynov is a composer from the same generation and, on this evidence alone, much in the same mould as Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass.

Gustavo Carvalho
© Bettina Stöß

The dual impact of choreography and music created momentary illusions of timelessness, absorbing attention that was periodically broken by the woodblock and celesta but, taken as a whole, made a brief work (just 26 minutes) seem longer. Certain small sections remain imprinted on my memory: an early duet that suggested separation (identifying dancers was not easy but I believe they were Michael Foster and Miguel Martinez Pedro); the anguished and enigmatic expressions of Vincent Hoffman; and the closely co-ordinated movement of the group seated on fold-up chairs each with one hand clutching at their throats. The light faded out on the empty chairs in a false ending that reintroduced Gustavo Carvalho (who I am guessing performed the Baryshnikov role) for a concluding solo that ended with him releasing something (his spirit?) from within his closed palms. Some of the close-up camera work – focusing on arms or shoulders – made me wonder what I was missing out of shot. 

The work was altered to conform with Covid restrictions but the uniqueness of Barton’s choreographic style remained crystal clear, especially in her idiosyncratic use of simple movement devices, such as subtle weight transfers, simple gestural motifs and a strong neoclassical focus on épaulement and in the extensions of hands and arms (often stretching in off-kilter balances). There are memorable patterns of flowing movement in the group sequences. Her choreography is counter-intuitive to the heavenly theme of Martynov’s music since the movement is largely grounded and despite the obvious virtuosity of these excellent male dancers, there is no requirement for showy jumps or athleticism. It left me wishing that I had seen a ballet about entering Heaven being performed by the dancers of Hell's Kitchen!

Pedro Maricato and dancers of Ballett am Rhein
© Bettina Stöß

One small silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity to experience contemporary work by new companies through digital means. Ballett am Rhein is one such new find for me. Jointly based in the Rhineland cities of Duisburg and Düsseldorf, it is a company that has not hitherto enjoyed a strong international reputation although one senses that this is changing under Volpi’s leadership.

This programme was a double-header with Inquieto, choreographed by Henrique Rodovalho for the São Paolo Dance Company, as part of an intended programme of artistic exchange stimulated out of the friendship between Volpi and the Brazilian company’s director, Inês Bogéa. I was greatly looking forward to seeing how the São Paolo has shaped up through this dreadful period of artistic restrictions and so was disappointed to discover that this film of Inquieto was recorded way back in June 2013. It is, nonetheless, a fascinating (if now dated) introduction to the playful and energetic choreography of Rodovalho and well worth seeing for the thematic development of a silent, comical trio into a fast-moving ensemble (driven by the swirling electronic music of André Abujamra) with the dancers often conjoined through a chord of stretchy rope. Interesting to see how the company was in 2013, but I had rather hoped to see today’s troupe (although accepting that this legacy film may have been necessitated by the heavy impact of covid in Brazil). Hopefully, if this creative exchange has legs for the future, it will feature more recent work emanating from São Paolo.  

This performance was reviewed from the Deutsche Oper am Rhein video stream