Junior Ballett Zürich open the Young Talent Festival at the Linbury, which in the next three weeks will feature a wide range of junior companies and dance schools. From the UK there is Rambert 2, the Rambert School and the Royal Ballet School, and from Europe Norwegian Ballet 2 and Dutch National Ballet Junior Company. It’s a chance to see young dancers at the beginning of their careers, and also promises to bring many new works specially made for them.
The Zürich company, established in 2001, gives an opportunity to its dancers via a two-year engagement to make the transition from dance school into a professional career. In addition to appearing with the main company, the dancers are featured in a programme specifically made for them. The triple bill they bring us here was premiered last autumn, and includes work from Filipe Portugal, a soloist with the main company, and two choreographers both new to the company, Louis Stiens who has made works for the Stuttgart company, and Goyo Montero. The twelve dancers are a mix of nationalities, attractive, lively and energetic, fortunately possessing the stamina required to get through a demanding programme.
The strongest work was the opening item, Echo of Elements by Filipe Portugal, perhaps reflecting a closer knowledge of the dancers, as it was well tailored to their youth and energy. The works in the second part of the programme (Wounded by Louis Stiens and Submerge by Goyo Montero) though well performed didn’t offer much of a contrast to each other. In both cases there was much haze, rather gloomy lighting, very plain costumes in bland colours and a general air of angst. By the end of the evening I was hungry for colour and light. The dancers were impressive throughout.
Wounded, like the rest of the programme, is very much a group work. Each of the twelve dancers gets a chance to shine but there are no star roles. The vocabulary isn’t particularly balletic (no pointe shoes). The women’s’ hair is loose. There’s a curious repeated gesture where the dancers hold their hands in front of their chest palms down, as if imitating a dog’s paws. The soundtrack is sometimes cacophonous, maybe the sounds of a busy city, and the movement becomes more convulsive to match. It’s an enigmatic piece. At one point a dancer pulls a red ribbon from the front of another dancer’s costume and ties it around him briefly, possibly the wound of the title. There is clearly anguish in the movement, ending with three dancers in a silent scream, but it remains curiously unspecific and opaque.
In Submerge, Goyo Montero dresses his cast in dark blue all in ones that might just invoke wet suits. We see them first lying down in a line at the back of the stage, and the dancers are on the floor often throughout the work, rolling and twisting. Often a hand is held in front of the face and the dancer peers through the fingers, looking concerned. The lighting by Martin Gebhardt sometimes brightens up with shafts of illumination from the sides though the haze. Owen Belton’s soundtrack surely belongs to a disaster movie, heavily portentous and foreboding. The dancers split into two groups and face off against each other: it looks as if conflict will erupt but the tension dissipates. Ultimately the dancers shed their outer costumes. It invoked ideas of an insect larva transforming into some new state. Stripped down to their underwear, the dancers suddenly looked younger and more vulnerable. It’s a downbeat ending to the programme.
A variety of factors made the opening work Echo of Elements the most appealing work of the evening. The music here was by John Adams, and it was eminently danceable and propelled the movement effectively. The lighting was mainly bright enough to see the dancers clearly. There was a curious slowly changing video backdrop by Bertold Stallmach, a tiled perspective which mutated and shifted. Choreographer Filipe Portugal seemed to have the measure of his dancers and made the most of their youthful exuberance and energy in a fluent and lively work. Sometimes the Linbury stage looked a little small for them, as if their leaps and lifts needed broader spaces.
This was the only piece of the evening that featured pointe shoes so we got a better idea of the women’s ballet technique. This was clearly a post-Forsythe world with legs whisked skywards and lines pushed to extremes. There was a pleasing sense of order and organisation in the choreography. Duets and trios alternated with group sections and nothing lingered too long. It did look like a structured ballet rather than the other two, more amorphous, dance pieces on the bill.
It’s impossible to pick out any particular dancers from the dozen featured here, since the nature of the creations tended to celebrate the group rather than the individual. Nevertheless, in the intimate spaces of the Linbury where you can hear the dancers breathing in quiet moments, the dancers’ individual personalities were able to register. They looked fresh, strong and confident, at home on the stage, ready to progress their careers. The Young Talent Festival is bringing us much new choreography, including names that aren’t that familiar. Filipe Portugal was new to me: and, as with the Zürich dancers, I was pleased to make the acquaintance.