The first half an hour or so of Body.Dance.Nation.City was a largely uninspiring bout of contemporary dance. True, the synchronised ensemble work was impressively performed by the 16-strong cast but joint choreographers Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten just couldn’t resist the obligatory running-around-in-circles scene, the random shouting bits or even the mercurial face-following-the-hand moment.
Then suddenly the dancers started doing a bit of ballet and things got interesting. Ripping vast chunks of steps from classics such as Swan Lake and Giselle and setting them against music that constantly switched between hip-hop, reggae and Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty was highly effective. Solos, duets and ensembles jostled for position and the stage was immediately full of unpredictability and possibility.
While the classical dancing was a little too uncontrolled to satisfy the purist, the dancers possessed an edgy attack that gave an exciting purpose to their work. Big bolshy jumps and aggressive spinning showed that these guys looked liked they meant it – if ballet ever resorts to breakdance-style street battles then, no question, Ballet National de Marseille would kick Paris Opera’s arses all day long.
The staging was curious and just the right side of penetrable. Three huge chain curtains formed the walls of the stage and through them you could see dancers in various states of waiting. Masks were a recurring theme and Clifford Portier’s ribbed flesh-coloured body stockings gave an appealing alien quality to the performance.
So, what had started out as a clock-watching kind of night turned out to be a pretty good one in the end.
Ballet National de Marseille’s Body.Dance.Nation.City continues at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank Centre until 6 August 2016. The Southbank Centre website has the tickets.