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By French Clements
Stockholm 59˚ North
Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Anna Valev and Jan-Erik Wikström of Stockholm 59˚ North in Mats Ek's Pas de Danse at Jacob's Pillow.
As an off-season side project comprising soloists of the 235-year-old Royal Swedish Ballet, Stockholm 59˚ North rarely appears in the U.S. When they do, it’s at Jacob’s Pillow, where the ensemble first performed in 1997. Given their parent company’s history, these dancers—among them their artistic director, Jens Rosén—must relish each chance to merge new into old. This summer they appeared overwhelmed, physically and programmatically, in seizing that chance.
The night’s most attractive work was a world premiere by Cristina Caprioli, an Italian working in Sweden. Her Cicada benefited from numerous details, including a murderously plangent piano score by “post-minimalist” Kevin Volans; a strange effect illuminating only the performers’ lower third; and chic lime-green frocks that the women, in a coy motif, hiked up partway. Dancers twisted and inverted classroom steps, though so cautiously that the conceit felt novel. Cicada’s mystery seemed solved by its conclusion. In a dark corner, Nadja Sellrup unfurled brisk pirouettes on pointe, over and over as the lights dimmed. Such feverish abandon—which only Sellrup displayed—may yet make Cicada an oddball success.
The show’s remainder held fewer glimpses of promise. A pas de deux from Mats Ek’s Apartment did little justice to the choreographer's reputation as a master of invention. His usual psychological acuity also felt lacking. Two talented adults acted juvenile, a prop door nearly got a good knock, and jarring lifts hinted at misogyny. Ek’s trifling Pas de Danse, a last-minute replacement for his Pointless Pastures, pushed the program further into bewildering farce. To lurching, carousel-style folk accordion, it vamped up a sneezing man and his handkerchief, lampooning, who knows, people who sneeze too much?
Nor would Nacho Duato’s Castrati be counted among the choreographer’s finest moments. The company’s men, in corsets and sadistic-priest garb, hunted down a castrato-to-be, played by Rosén. Duato’s energy, infectious as always, merged well with a narrative impulse he doesn’t often reveal. But what a mish-mash of cynical ideas: the patronization or outright scorn of un-masculine men; its tone-deaf evocation of AIDS-era sexuality; its fashionable ransacking of the baroque.
If Rosén and his group are striving for anything more than side-project status, they have several more degrees to go.
What do you think? View excerpts from Pas de Danse and Castrati here.