Gdansk-based Baltic Dance Theatre is less than 4 years into its new existence under artistic director Izadora Weiss. She took over an old opera ballet company (her own training is in ballet) but her instincts are more contemporary with an expressive Kylian style of movement coupled with an interest in telling stories as well as creating dance for the sheer delight of moving bodies. BDT are now starting to garner an international reputation and perform occasionally on the huge stage of the Warsaw Teatr Wielki (home of the Polish National Opera and Ballet companies) – it’s broadly akin to Rambert being invited to perform on the Royal Opera House stage in London or Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet at the Met in NY. The Financial Times were there to review and some theatres were casing them out for a possible UK tour. I just hope they had as good a time as I did.
I saw the premiere of Weiss’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June this year and loved it for its earthy and clear telling of a complex story and its use of particularly soulful music by Goran Bregovic that varied from Spanish guitar and haunting vocals to Balkan thrash. The story is relocated to the present day, costumed by leading Polish designer Gosia Baczynska, and over 14 seamlessly-connected scenes, guides us through the ups and downs of all four couples, the mischievousness of Puck and the silliness of the Mechanicals, while all is watched over by the otherworldly fairies.
What I like most is the writing for the 2 pairs of lovers and the all-too-human jealousy and despair of the girls. Weiss and her dancers communicate with Kenneth MacMillan levels of expression and it touches you. If the lovers are touchingly normal then the flip side is Titania and Oberon as aged rock-stars and Theseus and Hippolyta as Fashionistas, layering on colour and texture. The set is also a delight as it moves and mysteriously reveals the action across the entire stage. Although it’s perhaps too slow in the building up, the end is also great fun as the entire company drop out of the story telling and dance madly as if we are all at a party, and the audience responds by clapping along. Some tightening there would be useful. You can see more of the flavour and many pictures in my piece on the premiere.
After the happiness of Dream comes The Rite of Spring, using the Stravinsky score that has challenged so many choreographers and audiences over the years. Created in 2011, Weiss again resets the action to the current day and a commentary on the treatment of women by men. I think only a woman could have made this and I suspect because of that its 35 minutes really made me ponder the various acts of love, control and violence that are part of life for many. Weiss insists her Rite is not a feminist statement and I believe her – more a series of pointed scenes between men and women.
Rite takes place on a podium, almost a boxing ring without ropes, and is all the more graphic for using a live video link to project parts of the action onto a large screen above – indeed I wish more was made of this. Weiss’s Rite is at its most savage in a scene as if of a strip-show that gets out of hand, the girl used and abused by all the men. But the killer punchline is the bevy of cleaners that appear afterwards to clean up the mess – women, used in so many ways. But the men don’t have it all their own way and throughout the performance you are trying to pick out who the Chosen One is and at times you think it might be a man and girl-power will triumph. Not for me to spoil the end but it still came as a shock. I’d seriously rate this as one of the most impressive and engrossing Rites I’ve ever seen.
This is as powerful as dance theatre gets and a bill that connects and chimes with us all. The company are all confident dance communicators and Weiss’s work really deserves a much bigger audience and world stage. BDT continues to build up its Jiri Kylian repertoire, and certainly working with him is a jolly good thing, but for me Izadora Weiss is the star attraction and her almost Matthew-Bourne-like ability to couple dance and drama in ways we all understand.
Many and great thanks to all at BDT and Baltic Opera who made my first visit to Poland so enjoyable.