By: Sacha Knox
In a first for South Africa, Introdans (Holland) delivered a repertoire of technically brilliant neo-classical ballet performances to the stage of the 15th Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience. This repertoire consisted of: ‘Polish Pieces’ by Hans van Manen, ‘Evening Songs’ by Jiří Kylián, ‘Pas de Danse’ by Mats Ek, ‘Anaphase’ by Ohad Naharin, and ‘Sinfonia India’ by Nacho Duato. There was a real sense of excitement as the audience swelled into the Sneddon; smartly dressed couples, parents with children, groups of women beautifully adorned, their hair in extravagant swoops. I could not help but feel a sense of the magic of the ballet; nostalgia for some of my first theatre experiences, a smudge of that awe able to immediately dissipate stubborn-faced- frown for fancy dress.
And yet, despite this, I have to admit that I left feeling slightly deflated. Perhaps this had something to do with the format in which, practically speaking, none of the elaborate costuming and scene setting, typical to classical ballet, could occur- aspects that contribute to suspension of daily banality, to engulf of experience. However, in this observation perhaps lies a nub- I am not sure that that the ‘neo’ was successfully negotiated within this repertoire- the dominantly classical dance style almost called for some of that exuberant excess but was paired down to a place in which I am not sure that experimentation or the ‘contemporary’ was sufficiently present to strike a balance. Unfortunately I felt this in the themes as well- the narratives of classical ballet often move in elaborate plot, twist and turn to snap up the audience. Without this, these pieces were somewhat skeletal, left the gendering of classical ballet painfully glaring. In fact, all of these pieces spoke to interactions between men and women as embodiments of dominant masculinities and femininities. Most tragically, for me, was a sense that no human interactions could be thought of without or imagined beyond this. Over-sexualised gestures were particularly present in Ohad Naharin’s ‘Anaphase’, and superficial, stereotypical feminine violability, and lack of agency, played out painfully in Jiří Kylián ‘Evening Songs’.
It is a pity that these aspects overshadowed the experience for me because the dancers were, indeed, strong-centered and brilliant, executing each and every movement in perfect synchronisation, effectively masking any efforts of the masterful. My critique being stated, Mats Ek’s ‘Pas de Danse’, brought a frivolity and humour which the audience seemed to revel in, and Nacho Duato’s ‘Sinfonia India’ was accomplished and effervescent. In the end, it seemed that for most, any unfavourable observations were subdued to the beauty of bodies, exceptionally polished and poised, as the audience rose in standing ovation.