Unwilling to take the tributary of Tanztheater like his Wuppertal neighbours, Martin Schläpfer has steered Ballett am Rhein into the more mainstream waters of neo-classical dance, and now, in an intriguing mixed bill, focuses on two British choreographers: Antony Tudor and Frederick Ashton, as well as, unfortunately, offering a creation of his own.
The inclusion of a pas de deux from Tudor’s dreary late work The Leaves are Fading (forever referred to mischievously as The Fades are Leaving) is inexplicable. A droopy duet evoking the loves of youth, it was done efficiently enough but, shorn of its context and weighed down by Tudor’s flaccid neo-classicism, it counts for very little.
Far more exciting is the revival of Tudor’s 1936 masterpiece Jardin aux lilas, which stands as one of the great works of 20th-century ballet. A quartet of frustrated Edwardians communicate the strongest emotions by the smallest gestures, all to Chausson’s lush Poème for violin and orchestra, played superlatively by the Duisburg Philharmoniker and soloist Natasha Korsakova. With Thomas Ziegler’s new-ish designs – the lilacs heavy in the evening warmth – the small Duisburg stage helps concentrate the powerful emotions at play. Claudine Schoch was a needy, yearning Caroline, subtly yet clearly acted, and Louisa Rachedi portrayed An Episode in Caroline’s husband-to-be’s Past with genuine depth. I would have welcomed more variety from the two lead men but by any measure this was a fine performance of a precious work.
Two works to Brahms, one miniature, the other momentous; two choreographies, one sublime, the other ridiculous. Frederick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan is his brilliant evocation of la Duncan offered as a hymn to the ballerina Lynn Seymour. Seymour has now passed its subtleties on to Camille Andriot, and while the dancer lacked the blazing intensity of the greatest interpreters, she gave an honest and open performance, most at home in the upbeat third waltz, accompanied throughout with sensitivity by pianist Dirk Wedmann.
The orchestra blazed in the closing ballet, Brahms’s Symphony No. 2, Axel Kober eliciting silky strings, fruity brass and burbling woodwind in a concert hall-standard performance. Of Schläpfer’s movement, the less said the better, so devoid of structure is his approach. He contrives to make his dancers ugly; Kesko Dekker’s designs match his vision to perfection.