Matthew Paluch looks at London dance 2022.
Balanchine said something or other about the now. The present is all that matters.
So please forgive me Mr B, for I'm gonna be doing some reflecting. Probably verging on the self-indulgent… but when dance is good it needs to be savoured and revisited wherever possible. So let's have a little reminisce together over the highs and some lows of dance in London during 2022.
Things can only go well if January begins with a visit from Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch to Sadler's Wells performing Kontakthof. The work premiered in 1978 and was frozen in time. A time where things don't age or lose relevance. It's being interpreted incredibly well by a primarily new generation of company members and just keeps on improving – like a good blue cheese (Xmas pun!). And only Bausch can do nonchalant walking in silk and stilettos. No one else should even bother.
Hello March and hello the god that is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Rosas brought Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich to the Royal Opera House's Linbury Theatre and I couldn't have been happier. Actually that's not true – I'd have been even happier if De Keersmaeker performed it herself, but she's handed on the gauntlet to four company members who share performances one assumes. But in a sense her absence confirms what we already knew – it's the work itself that does the talking. And that's now non-negotiable. For the last 40 years Fase has remained as one of the key points of reference for contemporary dance of the 20th century, and I'll bet people will be pontificating something very similar in 2182. Do yourselves a favour and immerse on a regular basis. This is a fav recording of the fourth and final section – Violin phase. And cheers Steve.
March had other highs and lows featured in the Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels festival. Highs being Lucinda Childs' Dance performed by Lyon Opera Ballet. It was my first viewing of the work and I hope it won't be the last – it's mega. That rare concoction of minimalism and intricacy. The dancers flew through the relentless, stylised petit allegro propelled by the inspirational Philip Glass score, looking like a beautiful, balletically inspired breeze. Childs took a call at the end, and for a moment I was transported to the Judson Memorial Church in 1963 through pure awe.
A low was SOMNOLE by Boris Charmatz. Perhaps I'm to blame as my expectations were so high. After Partita 2 with De Keersmaeker and Musée de la danse at Tate Modern I thought I'd found a new guru. But SOMNOLE was a hot mess for me. A case of a little too much self-belief. I don't think we'll see it again, but if we do I hope there's been a serious rethink/redo/re-anything.
All hail Francesca Hayward. The ongoing love affair continued throughout 2022. First in Ashton's Rhapsody in April where she didn't disappoint. And the bar is very high – Viviana Durante high. Hayward was the music, was Ashton, was The Royal Ballet. Then came Tita in Wheeldon's new full-length Like Water for Chocolate in June. Tita gave Hayward a literary character to get her teeth into, and that she did. Personally, I can't wait to see it all unfold much closer in the upcoming cinema screening. And then her debut as Mary Vetsera in MacMillan's Mayerling in November. Mayerling as a ballet just gets better and better. It's so rich in depth, and The Royal Ballet of course know exactly what they're doing with it. But Hayward and Marcelino Sambé (also debuting very successfully) were ravishing. The final pas de deux in Act 3 was an out-of-body experience. How lucky they are to live out these epic roles, and we to witness them with all the consideration and risk they take.
English National Ballet had two major moments for me. The Forsythe Evening in April, specifically Blake Works and the extraordinary dancing of Emily Suzuki, Emma Hawes and Jeffrey Cirio. Cirio has since left to rejoin Boston Ballet. And we still weep. He's one of the best dancers around IMHO – very few people move like he does. And why is Suzuki still only a Junior soloist? It's verging on laughable.
The second moment was Mats Ek's new reading of The Rite of Spring. When I heard he was doing Rite, I kinda thought why? But after seeing it of course it all made sense. Some struggled with the Japanese-informed interpretation, but personally speaking, it worked no end. Seeing the juxtaposition between submissive ceremony and the total rejection of it all was deeply affecting. The incredible understanding and dancing of Suzuki (again), Erina Takahashi and James Streeter took the work where I imagine Ek wanted it to. A very worthwhile rendition to add to the ever-increasing Rite canon. The score not seeming to lose any of its appeal to those listening or those wrestling with it creatively.
Other important experiences (all with reviews waiting for you on Gramilano) were:
Gregory Maqoma's Black Sun for Ballet Black at the Linbury. An amazing work that explored ancestry and took the audience on an extremely visceral journey.
Oona Doherty's Navy Blue presented by Dance Umbrella at Sadler's Wells. A daunting and intelligent work that showed how narrative intention and choreographic structure are still very much alive in modern dance.
The duet by Markéta Stránská in collaboration with dance artist Charlie Morrissey that featured in Candoco Dance Company's 30th anniversary programme In Side Out at the Lilian Baylis studio. A work that gave insight into connection, process, and idiosyncratic creation. An honour to witness.
Pam Tanowitz's incredibly cool Dispatch Duet on the ROH main stage. Giving London audiences a real suckerpunch-style taste of what it means to see original, modern, contextually explored work i.e. a contemporary dance maker working within a ballet company environment, and how these two (contradictory) aspects can actually coexist and develop when both being acknowledged and empowered.
It's been another amazing year of dance. Made even sweeter after the reality of 2020/21. I hope you're as optimistic about 2023 as I am. And I hope you'll keep visiting us here so we can continue to share experiences and thoughts. See you in January to start all over again. Onwards!
Matthew Paluch was awarded a place at The Royal Ballet School in 1990 where he graduated in 1997. His first four years as a professional dancer were spent working with London City Ballet, Scottish Ballet, K-Ballet and English National Ballet, becoming a full-time member of ENB until leaving in 2006.
Matthew graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance, Professional Dancers' Teaching Diploma in 2007, and was fomerly on faculty at The Royal Ballet School. He completed his Masters in Ballet Studies at Roehampton University in 2011 and has been a freelance writer since 2010. He is a Trustee (2021) of the Royal Academy of Dance and works in the Law Sector.