August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, written in 1888 during his ‘naturalistic’ period, has been performed around the world many times in its original dramatic form, on film and, inevitably, as dance. Now it comes in the shape of a brand new ballet, choreographed by the much acclaimed American Stephen Shropshire who has made his home in the Netherlands. I was lucky enough to see its world premiere tonight, a joint production by the Holland Dance Festival, The Shropshire Foundation and the Danish Dance Theatre.
Strindberg’s Miss Julie is the tale of the aristocratic, capricious daughter of a Swedish Count who, to relieve her boredom, flirts with Jean, her father’s valet who is actually engaged to kitchen maid, Christine.
Julie (Jessica Lyall) dances playfully with Jean (Stefanos Bizas), much to the consternation of Christine, danced by Merete Hersvik, who is disturbed by the escalating attraction between the two. But soon Miss Julie’s light-hearted relationship with the valet turn into something else, and the dangers looming are beautifully illustrated by her attempt to balance on a very slim, gymnastics-type beam and repeatedly falling into his arms as she gradually seduces him, seemingly against his will.
Christine, Jean and Miss Julie find themselves in a triangular tug-of-war from which there seems no escape, as the two women link arms, each wanting to pull Jean away from the other. Julie manages to interpose herself between Jean and his fiancée and, by dint of her superior social position, she wins the battle. In a frenzied pas de deux, the passion between Jean and Miss Julie reaches a climax until their love is finally consumed.
Christine re-enters, frantically trying to regain her lost love. After attempting a compromise, by linking hands and arms in subtle, conciliatory moves, Jean undergoes a dramatic change – now despising himself, he assumes the role of the cruel man, rejecting Miss Julie by repeatedly flinging and slapping her down onto the floor, at one point holding her head down as if trying to drown her. Miss Julie is broken as he whirls her around like a spinning top until she collapses. In one last attempt to regain control, she balances on the thin beam, watched by a dispassionate Jean waiting for her to fail, until she finally collapses to the floor, extinguished.
All three dancers performed beautifully, but inevitably, Jessica Lyall proved the more enthralling. Jessica, who danced with the Compañia Nacional de Danza in Madrid where she rose to soloist in just three years, danced with great passion and was entirely convincing as the foolish girl playing with fire. I was however mystified by the almost total absence of music or sound scape, something which would have done much to underline the drama of the piece. Astrid Burchardt 7th February 2018