Echoes of Time

Century Rolls, Moving Rooms, Artifact Suite
John Adams / Ashley Page; Alfred Schnittke, Henryk M. Górecki / Krzysztof Pastor; Johann S. Bach, Eva Crossman-Hecht / William Forsythe

Ballet evening in three parts

World Premiere: Polski Balet Narodowy, 17 November 2012

World Premiere: Het Nationale Ballet, 19 June 2008
Polish Premiere: 17 November 2012

World Premiere: Scottish Ballet, 15 September 2004
Polish Premiere: 17 November 2012

Three choreographies, three outstanding artists from the turn of the century, and pieces of music that have little in common but which still get miraculously combined into a single whole by the dancers of the Polish National Ballet. Artifact Suite (2004) by William Forsythe – to music by Bach and Eva Crossman-Hecht – is virtuosity of the highest quality. Moving Rooms (2008) by Krzysztof Pastor – to music by Alfred Schnittke and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki – is pure expression. Finally, Century Rolls by Ashley Page – to music by John Adams – was created specially for the Polish National Ballet by the British choreographer and combines the unpretentiousness of living figures with player-piano mechanization. Not every company is given the right to perform Forsythe’s choreography. The Polish National Ballet has obtained that right. Chapeau bas!


  • Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times,

    A Turning Point for a Polish Ballet Company

    WARSAW — “In the future we will say, “before ‘Artifact’ and “after ‘Artifact,”’ said Krzysztof Pastor, the director of the Polish National Ballet, in a speech at the reception that followed the opening of a triple bill by the company at the stately Wielki Theater this week.

    Mr. Pastor was signaling an important moment for his company, which has existed, in one form or another, since 1785, when King Stanislaus Augustus formed the 30-strong group of “His Majesty’s National Dancers.” In the 19th century the company ranked high among European troupes (both Filippo Taglioni and Enrico Cecchetti were directors), but Poland’s traumatic 20th-century wars and their consequences for the country have meant a low artistic profile on the dance front — and, for the most part, modest artistic ambitions.

    Yet how quickly things can change. Two decades after the end of Communism, and eight years after joining the European Union, the Polish National Ballet is performing a program as international and as challenging as any major company today.

    Called “Echoes of Time,” it features the brand-new “Century Rolls,” by the British choreographer Ashley Page; a 2008 work, “Moving Rooms,” by Mr. Pastor; and William Forsythe’s seminal “Artifact Suite,” taken from his 1984 full-length “Artifact,” and still a thrilling primer for the development of post-Balanchine classical ballet.

    Together the works form a pretty good picture of what contemporary ballet looks like today: the fleet athleticism, the tricky, intricate partnering, the play with point of view through lighting and stagecraft. But those are just the common denominators; as theatrical experiences, these works are wildly different.

    Mr. Page’s “Century Rolls” is the second work he has made this year to the music of John Adams (the other, “Guide to Strange Places,” was for the San Francisco Ballet); he obviously likes the infectiously dancey propulsion of Mr. Adams’s compositions, and their joyful exuberance. “Century Rolls,” a piano concerto written in 1996 for Emanuel Ax, is inspired by the 1920s technology of piano roll music and the way it transformed the sound of the instrument — something that Mr. Adams evokes in the clattering sounds of the score.

    That idea of technology as artistic fodder is also suggested in the ballet’s front curtain, a reproduction of a painting, “Abstract Speed, (The Car Has Passed),” by the Futurist painter Giacomo Bello, and in Tatyana van Walsum’s ingenious backdrop — a slowly scrolling, hugely magnified piano roll through which light shines, creating shifting, abstract patterns that sometimes look like far-off cityscapes.

    The score cites Gershwin, Fats Waller and Conlon Nancarrow with as much relish as Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Satie, and Mr. Page responds to its jazzy rhythmic complexities with deft musicality. The piece is arranged around three couples, with each getting a major duet and many minor ones, as well as a single woman (the imposing Marta Fiedler) pursued and accompanied by two leaping men (Bartosz Anczykowski and Oskar Switala) and an ensemble of six women.

    Mr. Page’s most interesting material is for his soloists — the couples and Ms. Fiedler flash on and off the stage, jumping, turning, whirling, sliding over and under each other’s bodies — while the ensemble forms mostly contrapuntal, slightly dutiful contrast. The effect is often exhilarating, particularly in the sections for Yuka Ebihara and Sergey Popov, and Mr. Page weaves his patterns with skill and considerable choreographic invention. But the relentless pace of the music and the rapid, kaleidoscopic shifts of the dancers is, by the end of the long first movement, a bit numbing.

    There is a beautiful duet for Ms. Ebihara and Mr. Popov in this section, its slow, off-balance leanings and extensions seen through a scrim and evoking moody poetry. But the third movement returns, musically and choreographically, to the perky brightness and speedy rhythms of the first, and if Mr. Page doesn’t quite escape a certain monotony of tone by the end, he does evoke a sheer, pure pleasure of dance.

    Mr. Pastor’s “Moving Rooms,” created for the Dutch National Ballet, where he has been a resident choreographer since 1998, provides a dramatic contrast to the untroubled cheeriness of “Century Rolls.” (Mr. Pastor is still a resident choreographer at Dutch National, and is also the ballet director at the Lithuanian National Opera; presumably he never sleeps.)

    Dark, literally and imaginatively, “Moving Rooms” opens with the jagged violin strains of the Cadenza from Schnittke’s “Concerto Grosso No. 1” as a lone man (Carlos Martín Pérez) in black reaches and lunges in a square of light. He is gradually joined by 12 more dancers in flesh-colored leotards, who form symmetrical lines across the stage in their own boxes of light, before dissolving into the darkness. To the dramatic “Rondo,” the black-clad Maria Zuk and Vladimir Yaroshenko dance with plunging dramatic intensity, then mutate into a langorous tango as the music slows with unexpected playfulness.

    The mostly overhead lighting, by Bert Dalhuysen, alternately imprisons the dancers in brilliant cages, or swallows them in blackness, adding greatly to the enigmatic world that Mr. Pastor has created onstage.

    The use of lighting as a powerful theatrical element has been one of William Forsythe’s major contributions to ballet over the last few decades. But it is only one of the many ways in which Mr. Forsythe has influenced the art form.

    In “Artifact Suite,” he shows many of the elements that choreographers like Mr. Page and Mr. Pastor have absorbed into an idea of what contemporary ballet can be: the give-and-take partnering, in which the man is as dynamically implicated as the woman; the unexpected extensions of ballet technique beyond its conventional lines and shapes; the initiation of movement from different points on the body; the transposition of shape from one part of the body to another.

    “Artifact Suite,” set to the sublime Chaconne from Bach’s “Partita No. 2 for solo violin in D minor,” and to a piano score by Eva Crossman-Hecht, is a hugely demanding work for any company. It demands both a rigor of execution and a visceral, to-the-limit, force of performance, and it is to the great credit of Kathryn Bennetts, who staged the piece, that it looked as good as it did on a company that has never previously performed Mr. Forsythe’s work. (It will undoubtedly look even better as the dancers absorb the through-the-body dynamics over time; this isn’t movement you can learn by rote.) “Artifact” undoubtedly marks a pivotal moment for 20th-century ballet. As Mr. Pastor pointed out, it signals one for the Polish National Ballet too.


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