June 3, 2012

HIBC: Petipa Paused

After three evenings of classical variations, the semifinal round of contemporary dance was like a breath of fresh air - much like the rather chilly June weather in Helsinki. And no offense to Petipa and Co, but there's such a thing of too much of a good thing, especially if it means parading one Sleeping Beauty after another onto stage. I counted eleven, and I'm not kidding. Beauty is popular, but it is also frequently misunderstood. Aurora may be for some the epitome of the ballerina-in-a-music-box, but she is also a young girl on the verge of womanhood. Aurora knows her childhood is about to end, and that is her duty to wed. Yet she never loses her dignity, nor her spirit - and we get to see her blossom into a sensuous woman. So you see, Sleeping Beauty's variation has more to it than dainty port de bras and prettiness.. 

Non-competing Wang Ye was a sublime Esméralda to partner
Sun Ruichen (China, senior). Her dancing was elegant, tasteful and sensuous.
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

Of course, it is challenging to dance a variation out of context, even when it's been practiced close to perfection. How do you interpret the role, how do you bring the character across to the audience? How do you let your personality shine through? High extensions, loose-hipped arabesques and multiple turns are everywhere, and they alone do not a great dancer make. Clean technique and beautiful lines, ballon, elevation, musicality, confidence, good taste, personality and artistry - these are the qualities I keep looking for. A dancer who is technically strong and confident and happy enough to take some risks on stage. Someone who understands that every step, movement and moment has to have a meaning in the dance. And that is not to showcase your über-flexibility to the judges. This is not So You Think You Can Dance..

Then again, I would have wished for some of the "sick" street dancing you see on SYTYCD, instead of the lyrical jazz, neo-classical ballet or Forsythe knock-offs we were presented in the second round. Too many dancers relied too heavily on what they know best: classical ballet technique. Adding a flexed leg here and there, or being serious instead of smiling does not yet a contemporary choreography make. I would love to see these young and very talented dancers be more brave and daring in their choices. But I do get it. Sometimes it feels better to play it safe and at least show off your bravado technique and facility. At best you can hope to get a contract, and with that hopefully access to some really interesting new choreography!

Jingchang Gu, in "My First Modern Dance". Choreography: Tisa Zhang
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

Still, despite my ramblings to the contrary, there were some noteworthy highlights last night. Jingchang Gu (male, born 1997) from China danced an amusingly titled "My First Modern Dance" - and I bet my pointe shoes it won't be his last! The movements reminded me of Eastern martial arts and yoga, minus the cliches. This was not Karate Kid gone ballet, but intense and bold modern dancing. Bravo! Another personal favorite was Franceso Gabriele Frola's (Italy, born 1992) pas de deux - with another male dancer! From a strictly girly point of view, it doesn't hurt the eyes to watch two semi-nude male dancers (who happen to be in great shape and very handsome) on stage. From a more critical POW, the choreography also had artistic value. Although the dance could have benefited from a little less pathos and a change of music (not a huge fan of the Eurovision-style soundtrack). But you have to credit Frola for taking the path less danced - he is one dancer to look out for!

Franceso Gabriele Frola (long leggings) with Lorenzo Eccher in "Magnificat".
Choreography by Francesco Frola. Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

I also enjoyed Stephanie Chen Gundorph Møller's (Denmark, born 1993) interpretation of "Thirst". She was partnered by the non-competing Lukas Møller (her brother?), who is also the choreographer. I had seen Stephanie before in the variation from The Flower Festival in Genzano, and her clean Bournonville technique had made an impression. Yet she was more interesting in this contemporary dance, and I was happy to see her express herself in a non-conformist manner. Go Stephanie!

Stephanie Chen Gundorph Møller and Lukas Møller in "Thirst".
Photo courtesy of HIBC / Sakari Viika.

I should also mention Candice Adea (Philippines, born 1986), she is a favorite of mine from the first round. Her pas de deux titled "Evacuation" made me think of pair skating with its many innovative and very tricky new moves. I wish I could have seen a different side of Adea's personality, something more vulnerable perhaps, but I do appreciate the novelty act of their choreography. It certainly was a big crowd pleaser!

Tonight: Second round of the semi-finals.

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