12 Jun 2024

Ballet NdB 2, triple bill of new works

The junior company of Brno National Theatre Ballet are touring to London for the first time and open this years Royal Opera House Next Generation Festival with 3 recently created contemporary works…

Izabela Gracíková in Carolina Isach’s Distant Instant. © Arthur Abram/Brno National Theatre BalletIzabela Gracíková in Carolina Isach’s Distant Instant. © Arthur Abram/Brno National Theatre Ballet

Ballet NdB 2
Triple Bill: Symphony No. 7 Allegretto, Pampúšik, Distant Instant
London, ROH Linbury Theatre
11 June 2024

The Royal Opera House Next Generation Festival, which opened last night in the House’s Linbury Theatre, is a laudable enterprise that throws the spotlight on junior companies and senior dance schools - it’s the place to see emerging dancers and (often) new works you well might not have seen before. That was certainly the attraction to me of seeing Czechoslovakia’s Brno National Theatre Ballet’s junior company, if the sub-head of the billing - Brno National Theatre Ballet present a programme of works showcasing their 105-year history.” - was way, way, off the mark. This was actually a triple bill of new works; two premiered last year and one this year. As such, it was a night of exclusively modern contemporary dance - no pointe shoe classicism here, period.

In case you are wondering, Brno is the second-largest city in Czechoslovakia although it is physically nearer to Vienna than Prague. The ballet, along with opera and drama companies, all come under the banner of Národní divadlo Brno (= National Theatre Brno) and explains the NdB abbreviation.

Twelve strong NdB 2 opened with perhaps the most traditional of works created by the main company’s artistic director, Mário Radačovaský. Radačovaský has choreographed many works over the last 20+ years, and his earlier dancing life with Jiří Kylián’s Nederlands Dans Theater (among others) gives the movement flavour of Symphony No. 7 Allegretto. As a title, it’s probably a bit obtuse for many because this is a work about fascism and war and clearly a response to what’s going on in Ukraine, not so far down the road from Brno.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 is nicknamed the Leningrad and was created and dedicated to the city while it was under siege by the Germans in World War II. As used (in part) here, it’s a monumental work, but with occasional pastoral interludes, that fits the narrative of a happy young couple overtaken by war, invasion and summary execution. The movement is at its best for just the lovers with long, stretched limbs and satisfying, buoyant, entwined lifts. The militaristic routines and silly walks for the army, often arranged in lines etc, feel less engaging, if the glorious music draws you in deeper. Design-wise, it appears to be set in the Second World War and feels like an old work from the end of the last century rather than freshly minted last year. At times, I wondered what Rosie Kay, Crystal Pite and Mark Bruce would make of the subject and music. That said, I still remember the all-too-audible sobs of Rashmi Torres as she clutches her dead boyfriend. Good acting all around and old in style doesn’t mean unmoving.

Also from last year was Markéta Štofčíková’s Pampúšik. Following the story of a human puppet, the work encourages us to step out of our adult lives and encourages us to be carried away by the joy and silliness of childhood.”, says the blurb. It came over as 15 minutes of surreal madness as an animated white-headed mannequin bobbed around for a while, lost its head and tried to get it back from a bunch of passing dancers. Black set, black costumes and a mix of almost robotic and floppy noodling movement, this was danced with enthusiasm if rather received in bewilderment. I’m in favour of being a child, but this felt like it was reaching for grown-up Salvador Dalí madness. It didn’t seem to add up coherently.

Spanish choreographer Carolina Isach had her Distant Instant only premiered in March and, while it’s also perplexing at times, it rather struck a chord with me. The work is …inspired by philosopher Zygmunt Bauman and his concept of liquid modernity’ to describe the changing relations of today’s society.” And so, over 20 minutes, we get a series of unlinked scenes that starts with a glass bowl of water ostentatiously carried across the stage under some brief surtitle facts about water. It seemed a fussy, unhelpful start, but after that Distant Instants chameleon-like way provided a diverse movement taster. I particularly liked the duet for two women (Anastasia Lehmann and Laura Zelinová) with long, feminine, flowing movement - the movement of support and companionship. There was also a more conventional duet to some engaging Charles Aznavour from Adam Baštař and Izabela Gracíková - convincing lovers. Gracíková also had a magical solo involving a sheer drape and back projections that made her look almost suspended in bubbles before being set free and parading her billowing sail rather in the style of Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, currently being presented as part of the Frederick Ashton celebrations on the main ROH stage. It was a good look.

All up, I might not have learned much about Zygmunt Bauman’s ideas, but Distant Instant made a fitting closing work that tested what are likeable dancers in many ways. I hope they return, if in stronger work overall.