Close in Oslo

GERARD DAVIS reviews the Norwegian National Ballet 'live' on stage in Oslo

@anne-sylvie bonnet - 2006 - Melissa - Oslo Opera - 5 ballerinas- approved by Melissa -  in HD-1.jpg

Norwegian National Ballet in 5 Ballerinas
© Anne-Sylvie Bonnet

HOLD THE FRONT PAGES – dance is back on stage! Not in front of a paying audience, admittedly, but back on stage nonetheless. Norwegian National Ballet have come up with Close, a double bill of new work performed on the stage of the empty Oslo Opera House and filmed for the delectation of the whole world. After a prologue with concert master Catharina Chen beautifully playing J.S. Bach’s Sonata for solo violin in G minor in front of the deserted auditorium, we’re straight into Melissa Hough’s excellent 5 Ballerinas.

Hough is a principal dancer with the company but is steadily making her mark as a choreographer of substance. She’s particularly adept at absorbing music into her physical vocabulary and the propulsive baroque of Heinrich Ignaz Biber is a perfect foil for her blend of classical elegance and idiosyncratic arm-work. It’s an abstract piece; five dancers – Eugenie Skilnand, Maiko Nishino, Whitney Jensen, Erika Pastel and Silas Henriksen – weave around the stage in close proximity to each other but they rarely touch. Interspersed with small periods of isolation, they’re often doing similar things as an ensemble but in subtly different ways; the moment when they hug an invisible partner is the moment it dawns on the watcher that although this is a work informed by life under a pandemic, it’s not constrained by it. Darn, it’s so good to see proper choreography again, danced so well and with such expression.

Next we switch to black and white to see Lucas Lima’s Distant Closeness, a work with a rather touching back-story. The five dancers – Eugenie Skilnand, Stine

Østvold, Cristiane Sá, Victoria Francisca Amundsen and Kári Freyr Bjørnsson - were all due to retire this spring but Norway’s coronavirus lockdown intervened and denied them their farewell performances; Distant Closeness is therefore their opportunity to say goodbye. With each dancer performing in their own spotlight, the set-up is lovely but the choreography they’re given is an underwhelming array of yearning reaches and lonesome gestures. The ending, however, is very powerful; watching from behind we see all five line-up at the front of the stage to take their bows only for each spotlight to switch off one after the other. It’s deeply moving to witness their dancing careers end in such a manner.

Close is ostensibly two works of dance but there’s another art-form at play here; the cinematic direction of Emilie Norenberg and Haakon Mathisen. They’ve shot both 5 Ballerinas and Distant Closeness in one live take with the camera-operator roaming around the stage as though they were another dancer. The result is aesthetically interesting from the filmic point-of-view in that bodies come and go and that dancers are frequently framed in unusual close-ups, but while it produces an excitingly spontaneous feel, it can also make for some surprisingly clunky camera-work. On the other hand, the overall structure of the film is intelligent, the lighting is superb and the terrific backstage intermission is disarmingly sci-fi in its depiction of machines rumbling along in a world devoid of humans. Sadly for the machines, we humans may be absent for the moment but, as Norwegian National Ballet have so wonderfully proved, we’ll be back.

The programme can be viewed here for the next two weeks