Although Pierre and I try to choose a mix of styles when we pick ballets for our yearly subscription, I admit I have a preference for the more contemporary works. Which does not necessarily mean contemporary choreographers. There are plenty of modern choreographers who work strictly in the classical lexicon. For that matter, there are plenty of long dead ones whose work would still be considered avant-garde today.
But the risk with 20th & 21st century choreographers is that they often use 20th & 21st music, which is a bit of mixed bag for me. There are certainly pieces that I enjoy which were written more recently, but there's also a lot I find discordant and repetitive and I don't really know enough about music to get what they're trying to do conceptually. So while I was excited to go see a new program of three ballets by the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, I was a little wary that two of them were set to the music of Bartok and Schönberg. (Pierre on the other hand was thrilled)
But I'm happy to report that the even a non-fan of expressionist music like me could appreciate the emotion and sweep of these new-to-the-repertoire pieces. The first, titled "Quator n°4" after the Bartok music of the same name, featured four young dancers dressed in black skipping, twirling and falling in different configurations as a string quartet played on stage. De Keersmaeker's use of space - not just horizontally or diagonally, but vertically as well - is one of her trademarks and all three ballets showed off her virtuosity in that respect. I could have done without the deliberate flashes of white panties, which I imagine were meant to be playful, but came off a little too porn-y for my taste. But I appreciated the chance to see some of the younger members of the company shine and show off a bit of their individuality (I can't remember the last time I saw dancers actually smile on stage).
Beethoven's Grande Fugue, one of his most modern-sounding works, was the backdrop for the second ballet. "Die Grosse Fuge" featured a group of seven men and one woman (my personal fave Alice Renavand) dressed in crisp black suits, who became more disheveled and stripped down as the dance went on. The stark lighting (by Jan Joris Lamers and Vinicio Chell) and black & white costumes (by de Keersmaeker's company Rosas), as well a certain acrobatic playfulness, strongly linked this dance with the previous one both tonally and visually.
The last ballet of the evening, "La Nuit Transfigurée," was a bit different -- a romantic tale of male and female relationships, played out in an atmospheric forest setting (decors by Gilles Aillaud, lighting by Cheli, costumes by Rudy Sabounghi), set to Schönberg's lush score. The music is named after a German poem and de Keersmaeker herself was inspired by the work of Rodin, which explains the poetic and sculptural nature of the movements. The performance we saw was a who's who of Garnier's star players and showed off their dramatic skills as much as their dancing.
De Keersmaeker is one of those choreographers whose work I will always jump at the chance to see and I have to thank her too for breaking down a little bit of my phobia of atonal music. Immediately after the performance, Pierre wanted to go out and by all of the music and I just might listen along. To the Beethoven anyway.