A review of Thursday night’s performance by Lyon Opera Ballet, which treated the audience to compelling works by William Forsythe and Benjamin Millepied. The troupe performs again at Meany Hall on April 17-18.
William Forsythe has been an important choreographer for Lyon Opera Ballet, the stellar contemporary French ballet troupe now on an American tour. Director Yorgos Loukos has steadily acquired Forsythe pieces since the mid-1980s, and Forsythe’s demanding style is well-suited to the dancers’ technical prowess and emotional intensity.
Forsythe’s 1985 “Steptext,” a quartet for a woman, in a lipstick-red unitard, and three men in black, is the centerpiece of the Meany program. It’s a challenging work for performers and audience, full of jarring, hard stops in the music (a Bach violin solo), and house and stage lights that constantly come up and down. At several moments, the stage goes completely dark; the dancers continue to move and the only sound is the ballerina’s pointe shoes hitting the floor.
The effect is unsettling for a viewer and one’s appreciation of “Steptext” will depend on a tolerance for tension, even confrontation. Forsythe dares us to be participants in the ballet and, if we agree, the rewards are great.
Lyon Opera Ballet
8 p.m. Saturday (April 18), Meany Hall, University of Washington, Seattle; $47-$52 (206-543-4880 or uwworldseries.org).
As the sole female, Ashley Wright dances with an astonishing passion and fluency. As her partners twist her through contortions we usually see only at the circus, she maintains a coolness that belies the difficulty of Forsythe’s constant realignment of weight and balance.
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In their black unitards, Wright’s three partners — Raúl Serrano Núñez, Marco Merenda, Roylan Ramos — often fade into the all-black background, but when they are caught in a spotlight, each reveals a male ferocity that demands attention.
After PNB’s all-Forsythe program last month and now this Forsythe ballet, Seattle audiences have a chance to delve even more deeply into Forsythe’s distinctive aesthetic. Disregarding many of ballet’s conventions, Forsythe created movements that can originate in any part of the body and are both expansive and exquisitely detailed.
Bodies bend, buckle and curve in all directions and if we avert our eyes for even a second, we can miss something astonishing. It’s a special treat to see the world-renowned Lyon Opera Ballet performing his work.
The opening ballet, Benjamin Millepied’s “Sarabande,” also uses excerpts from Bach, in this case flute and violin solos. But the look and feeling are completely different.
Four men move through solos, duets and ensemble sections that showcase their capacity for a loose, fluid, almost improvisational style. Clad in gray pants and patterned shirts, Julian Nicosia, Alexis Bourbeau, Adrien Delépine and Mathieu Rouvière are playful, easy and natural in Millepied’s enchanting movements.
In one particularly delightful section, two of them mimic each other in monkey-see, monkey-do fashion, but rather than trying to outdo each other, they’re just having fun, and so are we.
The final work on the program is Emanuel Gat’s “Sunshine,” which he created for the company in 2014, and it’s a disappointing end to an otherwise wonderful program.
Like much of Gat’s choreography, “Sunshine” works far better as concept than actuality. Gat asked the dancers to create individual phrases within a certain framework, then combined those movements with a soundtrack that is deliberately random.
The soundtrack is recorded snippets of Lyon Opera orchestra’s rehearsals for Handel’s “Water Music.” Besides hearing the orchestra tuning up, we can make out the conductor giving instructions, and this is arguably the most interesting part of the work, at least for those who understand French. The choreography consists of nine dancers romping around the stage, mostly running and rolling on the floor, all of which becomes tedious after just a few minutes.
Note: This article was corrected on Thursday, April 23, 2015. Due to an unannounced program change on opening night, Ashley Wright was misidentified in the original review.