Norwegian National Ballet 2
Young Talent Festival: Departures, Valse-Fantaisie, Pas de Sept from A Folk Tale, Some See Stages, Left from Write
London, Linbury Theatre
21 June 2019
The Royal Opera House’s inaugural Young Talent Festival is a celebration of UK and European junior companies and dance schools. Norwegian Ballet 2, launched in 2015, displays a very Nordic sense of egalitarianism, according to the short introductory video that was screened (oddly) before the last piece in its mixed bill. The 16 dancers perform in main company productions, but also have their own repertoire including specially commissioned works. This showcase certainly showed the variety of work they tackle.
Departures, by the American choreographer Garrett Smith – one of the company’s first commissions – was a vibrant opener. Six dancers clad in black (the men bare-chested) were spun into propulsive movement by a John Adams score that echoed with the sounds of plane and train travel. They kept up a determined, pioneering purposefulness and a sense of journey, as Smith’s jittery choreography of tics and flicks kept them in a constant state of motion, whether in solos, duets or as one group. But the shadow of Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV loomed large over the piece, and – despite some lovely work from Alex Cuadros Joglar and Heidi Christensen in particular – rather diminished it.
Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie was a huge step-change: all pink and flowers and net skirts and floaty prettiness. Glinka’s fast, light waltz is complemented by Balanchine’s intricate variations of classical steps for the five women and one man – it’s a charming nine-minute bauble of a piece, but punishingly difficult to make look flawless, and the lovely Shaakir Muhammad, as the sole male, looked somewhat flustered by the whole thing.
Everyone looked on surer ground with the Bournonville pas de sept from A Folk Tale. They captured the exuberance and fluid phrasing of the piece and skipped through furiously fast footwork while keeping gracefulness in their arms and torso. Even the tambourine sections were bearable.
The second part of the programme was a determinedly modern, pointe-free zone. Some See Stages, a curious abstract piece by the Norwegian Ballet dancer Cina Espejord, made desultory use of two steel-like boxes for no apparent reason. The movement switched back and forth between flowing and marionette-like stiffness, which the five dancers handled with notable skill – they also showed wonderful precision in the fiendishly hard sequences of lifts that Espejord had devised. However, gloomy lighting and rather dirge-like electronica, courtesy of Olafur Arnalds, added to the sense that this was a piece that took itself much too seriously.
Finally, a burst of manic fun, and a world premiere. Left from Write, by the Royal Ballet choreographer Charlotte Edmonds, started with typewriter sounds and suitably punchy movement, as letters spun across the stage in Ryan Joseph Stafford’s lighting design – although that thematic thread soon disappeared. The 12 dancers, sporting white polo-necks, pants and grey knee socks, entered into the energetic spirit of the piece and proved gloriously watchable – Muhammad’s central solo showing off all his athletic skill. And as it slunk into its hip-wiggling, clubby denouement, Simon Regourd was another stand-out presence in the group, adding a tinge of arch humour to the bacchanalia unfolding around him.
In some ways, the intimate Linbury space seemed rather a harsh setting in which to view these young dancers – sitting in the stalls you could see every barely supressed grimace and frozen smile as something went slightly pear-shaped. But it was also rather lovely to be reminded just what is required to dance these pieces, and see new talent rising to the challenge.