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Semperoper Ballett review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘breathtaking precision’

Natsuki Yamada and Houston Thomas in All Forsythe by Semperoper Ballett at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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For their first appearance at Sadler’s Wells, Dresden’s Semperoper Ballett make a judicious selection of William Forsythe works. His classical-based modernism is the perfect vehicle for a company that prides itself on its ability to move from 19th century classics to 21st century cutting edge works with ease.

Opening with the celebrated In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, the sine qua non of undressed-to-kill classicism from 1987, they tear through the accelerated work with breathtaking precision and an urgent grace.

To a soundtrack of thuds, crunches and groans which sounds like a pipe organ being stabbed to death interspersed with the electronic huffs of a robot with breathing difficulties the green-clad dancers perform razor-sharp lifts and filigree pointe work with a suppleness and strength that characterises the company. Forsythe’s cliche-free classical roots emerge in fleeting glimpses of steps from another century including subliminal references to Petipa’s Rose Adagio.

Neue Suite from 2012 is a series of short duets and solos that shows a gradual evolution from pure, lean classical movement to a more extreme form of contemporary angularity that relocates the dancers’ centre of gravity. Forsythe’s musical instincts are so strong he can take works of seemingly unrelated composers – Handel, Bach and Berio – and make it appear as if the score was written for the piece. He does something similar with movement in the final piece, Enemy in the Figure, in which shadows and lighting frame the dancers who whip though a series of gestures of extraordinary variety – classical, modern, jazz, even a sailor’s hornpipe – while making it seem a work of whole cloth.

The most intensely theatrical and dramatic piece of the evening, the shifting light source that creates silhouettes and shadows, the curvilinear plywood wall and a strangely animated rope combine to create an atmosphere of supercharged mystery that is as unsettling as a story by Robert Aickman. A thrilling night.

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Precision-tooled dancing from the Dresden-based company