The historic Zurich Opernhaus usually seats an audience of some 1100, but in accordance with the latest Swiss corona regulations, a (masked) audience of only 50 members attended the season’s first ballet evening. The event marked a welcome back, and was testament to the excellence of the Zurich Ballet company, especially under such unusual circumstances.

Théo Just and Aurore Lissitzky in Chamber Minds
© Gregory Batardon

It was for this company that Edward Clug choreographed Chamber Minds, his 2015 work whose frequent minimalist movements sometimes verge on the robotic. While the dancers’ bodies are consistently celebrated as a compendium of mechanical parts, the performers are also asked to move from that to the nonchalance of the commonplace, namely, simple strolls and startled jumps. Clug’s intertwining of bodies, the formation of novel configurations, and the precision with which the dancers interlock and intertwine with one another was highly compelling.

Inna Bilash and Lucas Valente in Chamber Minds
© Gregory Batardon

Marko Japelj’s simple stage design was striking. Far above the dancers, spanning the stage left to right, were two sets of slim cables that could be raised and lowered to effect new visual geometries. The “strings” underscored the human need for attachment, much like each dancer depended on the dynamics of his or her counterpart to lend dimension to the work. With her “stringed” instrument, gifted violinist and concertmaster Ada Pesch, joined by Naoki Kitaya on harpsichord, accompanied the ballet with a compelling work by Slovenian composer, Milko Lazar.

Meiri Maeda in Walking Mad
© Gregory Batardon

Given that no refreshments could be offered in the foyer, the stage curtain stayed open during the interval, revealing the fascinating work of the set-change by an energetic team including a sweeper tidied, whose work almost recalled a Charlie Chaplin short.

Johan Inger’s ballet Walking Mad followed the interval, where the only set decoration (also by Inger) was a vertical-planked wooden fence centre-stage. This fence was of a type that might separate the gardens of two modest urban housing developments, but here on stage, the dancers could bang up against it, take a door through it, or refigure it into a low platform to dance upon. Ravel’s familiar Boléro was the ballet’s first musical accompaniment, used as a backdrop to petty human dramas and silliness among partygoers, whether they were in party hats, or in bowlers that recall the famous images of René Magritte. Later, Arvo Pärt’s short and quiet Für Alina invited us to something less burlesque and, appreciably, more sublime.

Mélissa Ligurgo, Achille De Groeve, Riccardo mambelli, Kevin Pouzou, Luca D'Amato, Théo Just
© Gregory Batardon

While Walking Mad intentionally breaks the border between dance and theatre, its reprieve here in Zurich gave little more than a sense of over-exhausted vocabulary and Broadway banality. The dancers, showing their usual aplomb, precision and tremendous adaptability, went along with the gag by showing patience, determination and a complete command of the choreographic overload. They were superb. But the work itself, which was premiered by the Nederlands Dans Theater in 2001, seemed to breach as broad a range as from the Vaudevillian comic to an urban and confused pathos. It was too easy to get lost. And we in the audience weren’t even dancing.