American-born choreographer, Germany-based William Forsythe has generated a lot of heat in the dance world over the past two decades.
In the last few years the Bayerische Staatsballett has earned the reputation as one of the best contemporary ballet companies in Europe.
Tuesday night's Taiwanese premiere of Forsythe's Limb's Theorem by the Munich-based company proved that both reputations are justly deserved, not just PR fluff.
In return, the dancers received as close to a standing ovation that audiences in Taipei are likely to give: prolonged, enthusiastic applause, with some loud cheers from the upper tiers of the National Theater and several curtain calls.
Limb's Theorem is the kind of piece that not only leaves you yearning to see more of the choreographer's work, it makes you feel like dancing all the way home.
At a press conference on Monday, Bayerische Staatsballett artistic director Ivan Liska said how happy he was that the National Theater had taken the risk of choosing a piece like Limb's Theorem, since promoters usually play it safe with classical ballets when the troupe is invited abroad.
Limb's Theorem begins quietly, the stage dark, with just the silhouette of the giant sail-like sculpture, under which those sitting in the orchestra level can just make out a few dancers stretching. The only light comes from stage left and is barely enough to illuminate that side of the stage. As the pace of the “sound installation” by Thom Willems picks up, more dancers join the stage. Sometimes all that you can see is the women's bare arms (black sleeveless leotards and sheer black tights and black toe shoes served to emphasize the arms). As the sail is turned, the dimensions of the stage change, as does the lighting.
In Act II, there is a large, wavy wall that divides the stages, and a white rope that the dancers manipulate that mirrors the pulsing in the score, or the energy on the stage. The lighting is brighter, the energy more intense.
Act III has big, clunky lights moving up and down and a moving slice of what looks like the roof cover for a space telescope.
In solos, quartets, trios and duets the dancers stretch, dip, turn, partner up, separate and come together again. They run, they walk, they throw themselves at walls. The pace shifts at the drop of a hat. Forsythe uses the classical ballet vocabulary, but only as a basis; you can see the start of a step before it segueways into a new movement. The dancers arms are constantly moving, creating momentum to carry the dancer through the next steps.
No performance of Limb's Theorem is exactly the same as the next. The dancers improvise, the size of the stage affects the placement of the installations and lights, even the soundtrack changes. For the audience, what you see and what you remember depends entirely on where you are sitting. If you are up in the top balcony, there are probably big chunks of Act I that you can't see.
The company shone as a whole. There were several standouts, but given the lighting — and the lack of a program with photos to match with names — it was not always easy to pick out faces. However, Lukas Slavicky, Ryan Ocampo and Olivier Vercoutere were exceptional.
There are two more chances left to see the Bayerisches Staatsballett. Tomorrow night and Sunday afternoon they will perform their Gala program, a mixed bill of pas de deux and ensemble pieces by five choreographers. Sir Frederick Ashton's Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, however, is off the menu because of an injury.