SCAPINO BALLET’S new TWOOLS at Rotterdam Schouwburg

In addition to tulips, cheese and windmills the Netherlands is also one of the world’s leading exponents of contemporary dance – unlikely and inexplicable maybe, but it’s a fact. This small country has companies, dancers and choreographers that are equal to any on the international stage.

I am sad to say, but last night’s visit to the Schouwburg in Rotterdam was the first time I have seen the Scapino Ballet, sad because it means I have missed many of their previous performances in the eighteen months I have now been living in Holland.

Last night was the première of Twools, hailed as “Scapino’s ballet overdose”. I don’t know about overdose but it was certainly a style of dance to which I could easily become addicted. The programme consisted of six short pieces, often funny, always dramatically and immaculately presented.

First up was Ryan Djojokarso’s While the Leaves are Blowing which was a sort of spoof BBC2 wild-life documentary about mating rituals – complete with a quote from David Attenborough in the programme notes. With no real music the piece was danced to a voice-over commentary à la Attenborough and very funny it was too as the dancers preened and strutted their stuff until they finally pulled. Sadly, at the end there was one girl left who had not scored and was, we were told, destined to spend the rest of her life alone.

It’s Gonna Rain, by Maciej Kuźmiński, started in very dramatic style with the dancers standing in silence for a few minutes until some excellent dramatic staccato lighting by Pawel Murlik spurred them into action. There were moments of humour too – I loved the pastiche of the Dance of the Little Swans from Swan Lake by three masked dancers.

Equally dramatic, complete with billowing smoke, was Kiss the Void of East and West beautifully danced by Dalma Doman, Daphne van Dooren and Alexandre Jolicoeur who was probably the most outstanding single dancer of the evening. Xavier Spruit Bleeker’s excellent lighting and Petra Finke’s costumes also deserve a special mention.

I loved Marcos Morau’s Shin A Lam which took as its unlikely premise the eponymous Korean fencing champion’s defeat at the London Olympics. The two girls and one boy togged-up in full fencing gear, including helmet-like face masks (which luckily, were soon discarded) vied for each other’s attention along the white runway performing area. Great fun.

Norai was another three-hander. Migual G Font’s original choreography mainly involved two dancers, whose limbs were attached to lengths of spider’s-web-like elastic, entering from opposite sides of the stage struggling to make contact in the middle. When they did, the strands became an intricate cat’s cradle until they were finally cast off.

Last up was the very science fictiony Ladder 8, by Joeri Alexander Dubbe, which involved a dozen or so dancers all dressed identically in shiny black and red. They moved like jerky robots in a never-ending circle with only one of them breaking ranks in some assertion of independence. Towards the end there seemed to have been some software glitch and for a moment the androids ran amok asserting themselves as individuals before order was resumed and they fell back into line. Great stuff.

Each of the six pieces was outstanding and it would be hard to pick a favourite. Each was visually exciting and beautifully presented and each was danced with great skill and style. The whole programme blended  perfectly, each piece complementing the others and, importantly, there was underlying humour throughout.

Sadly it is not possible to list all the music or name all the dancers and those involved in the lighting, costume design or any of the many other elements that made this a very special event. They should all be very proud.

Twools will be in the company’s repertoire for some time to come so there will be plenty of opportunities to see the excellent Scapino Ballet. If you haven’t seen them before, I urge you to do so – and don’t wait as long as I did.   Michael Hasted    7th June 2018