Bella Figura, Ooppera, Helsinki – review

Each work in Finnish National Ballet’s latest triple bill is an attempt to extend the boundaries of dance and, given the worldwide successes of all three, a challenge to the company to succeed in the choreographic mainstream.

The Four Temperaments remains one of George Balanchine’s most satisfying ballets and sees the choreographer experiment with new shapes, movements and poses, pushing against the boundaries of classical dance; now almost 70 years old, it remains fresh and quixotic and a serious test for any troupe. This was a confident performance by the company, carefully danced and true to the spirit of the work, but it lacked the mordant attack of the finest interpretations. The dancers were at their best in the gentler, more enigmatic episodes – Ilja Bolotov a fine-hewed Melancholic and each of the three introductory Themes outlined with care. And it was a performance with real bite of Hindemith’s eponymous composition by the Ooppera orchestra under Ollitapio Lehtinen.

The company’s soft-focus dancing style does not serve William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated particularly well; what should be startling, extreme, explosive becomes safe and polite. The Paris Opera Ballet and London’s Royal Ballet in the 1990s gave this work a weighty choreographic punch. By comparison, the Finns are too well-mannered, lacking the feeling of danger that characterises Forsythe’s iconoclastic approach to classical dance technique, and bringing little of the feistiness and sexual allure it requires; even Thom Willems’ crash-bang electronic score could do with being turned up a little – it simply wasn’t loud enough. Notable exceptions were Nikolas Koskivirta and Franz Valkama who understand the need for the most extreme of contrasts between slow and whiplash movements.

Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura suits the ensemble best of all. It plays with the concepts of performance: curtains rise and fall, open and close as the choreographer moulds the nine dancers in a series of episodes characterised by a dreamlike quality. After the bare stages of Balanchine and Forsythe, the theatricality is welcome. There is precious little of Kylián’s irritating jokiness here but rather movement of often surprising beauty, duets in particular demonstrating painterly harmoniousness, all performed to a pleasing potpourri of baroque musical favourites. The dancers perform it with aplomb, fully attuned to the choreographic fusion of classical and contemporary and the choreographer’s sure sense of theatre.

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