Vertigo: A Trio of Contemporary Styles


The Czech National Ballet’s latest premiere features pieces from three contemporary choreographers from throughout the continent. Rain, Vertigo, and Cacti dance across a range of themes, emotions, and movement styles that are as diverse as their names imply.

Rain: A Theatrical Journey

The lights rose in Prague’s New Stage (Nová Scéna) to reveal dancers decked out in dresses, hairstyles, hats, and suspenders reminiscent of the early 20th century. They began by racing across the stage, and then stopping to breathe together, before moving into six snippets of individual stories.

Moldovan choreographer Radu Poklitaru says of his cast of characters, “They are bearers of different cultures, they speak different languages, live in societies whose values may differ, yet they still have a lot in common.”

Those cultures include “Georgia”, “Oriental”, “Israel”, “France”, “Russia”, and “Moldova”, which were represented onstage through a variety of relationship dynamics at the Czech National Ballet’s June 10th premiere. The music included pieces by Johan Sebastian Bach, Jacques Brel, and folk music from the respective regions.

Mathias Deneux and Andrea Kramešová shared a passionate exuberance in “Georgia”, although her excitement was directed at her man, while his was focused on his suitcase. In “Israel”, Giovanni Rotolo showed off his skills as a comedic character actor, leading a group of dancers that mimicked his movements. Alexandra Pera stole the show with an unimpressed pout and impatient sighs directed at her partner Guido Sarno‘s flailing movements in “Moldova”.

Alexandra Pera practices her scowl towards Guido Sarno in "Moldova"

Alexandra Pera practices her scowl towards Guido Sarno in “Moldova”

Poklitaru’s Rain is filled with interesting shapes and graceful transition. A head peeks through a triangle of two legs, and later a body stretched in a straight line from fingertips to toes rests precariously on another dancer’s thigh. Yet somehow, the choreography maintains a natural, pedestrian feel amidst these complex lifts and intertwined limbs.

Vertigo: A Showcase of Technical Excellence

While Rain played on accessible stories and the emotions of everyday people, Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti’s Vertigo focused on moves that only superhuman dancers can master–and the newly crowned Artistic Director of Milan’s Scala Ballet intended it that way.

“The body’s possibilities are led to the extreme, to the threshold of vertigo, without coming across as athletic but maintaining a great expressiveness,” the artist’s statement explains.

Veteran dancers Michal Štipa and Miho Ogimoto accepted the challenge with straight faces and not a toe out of place, weaving their limbs together over a dark, melancholy soundtrack by Dmitrij Šhostakovič. The choreography included some sharp elbows and a few off-centered postures, but Bigonzetti’s piece drew on strong classical influence, with Ogimoto the only woman of the evening to don pointe shoes while they executed lifts and turns with absolute precision.

Cacti: a Plant-Based Parody

Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman closed out the evening with Cacti, a comically defiant commentary on the pretension and wordiness of the contemporary art world. Ekman created the piece in 2010, as he was learning to deal with critics and being a public figure.

“I wanted to give them lots of chances for verbal diarrhea about what it means,” he told Petr Zuska in a public conversation about the show. And he finds it just as relevant today. “I think it still serves an important message, and the audience still reacts to it. We can make fun of the high brow, artsy-fartsy people and laugh at it a little bit.”

Cacti is a prop-heavy performance, from boxes to cats to plant life

Cacti is a prop-heavy performance, from boxes to cats to plant life

Cacti is a full-scale theatrical event, with its elements, from music to mood, impossible to summarize in a single word. It opens with the dancers dressed androgynously in nude body suits, industrial black coveralls tied at the waist, and black caps covering their hair.

Cacti‘s soundtrack is a mix of Schubert, Haydn, and Beethoven intermixed with spoken-word. Much of the music is played live onstage by the four-person Hans Krása String Quartet, who circle, dodge, and intermingle with the routine.

In the opening section, each dancer interacts with a square block, whether dancing on top of it, hiding behind it, or moving it into a new formation. The dancers stomp, smack, breathe, shout, and convulse with movement, often in groups or waves, but it’s in moments of synchronicity that it’s most powerful.

Alice Petit and Matěj Šust drew laughs in the second, crowd-pleasing section of the piece, which chronicles two dancers rehearsing a duet with running commentary of their thoughts, ranging from “No, come over here so I can place my knee…here.” to “I can’t do this anymore.”

Cacti asks the audience, “What did we see? What was revealed? What does it mean?” Ekman doesn’t give you the answers, but he did offer one. When asked about the significance of the cacti themselves, his reply reflected the spirit of a piece about critics looking for too much meaning. “It’s just a random, funny object to put on a stage.”

The next performances of The Czech National Ballet’s Vertigo are June 22, Aug 27, Sept 10, and Oct 10 & 11 at The New Stage (Nova Scena).

– Auburn Scallon, Opus Osm writer

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