MIXED BILL at Theater aan het Spui in The Hague.

There was a definite theme running through Mixed Bill, through the first three pieces at least. Memory plays an important part in all our lives but those memories are often associated with loss the older one gets, and the view from the end of the road can only be backwards, not forward.

Mixed Bill was a very special evening, on several counts. It brought together three of the world’s foremost choreographers and, in three of the four pieces, featured dancers who one might have imagined would long ago hung up their pointe shoes and tights.

Jiří Kylián is, of course, well known as director the Nederlands Dans Theater but his opening piece of the evening was maybe not what one might have expected. Scalamare was a beautiful short film depicting the visit of an elderly couple to Ancona, the place of their honeymoon. The action takes place entirely on the vast stone steps that lead to a balustraded terrace overlooking the sea. Shot in contrasty black and white it was a film that the likes of Buñuel, Fellini, De Sica or even David Lynch would have been proud to have put their name to. There were moments of pure surrealism and Italian neorealism and this 10 minute gem almost seemed as much a homage to those genres and directors as to the story it told.

The elderly couple played and embraced, danced and laughed. There were some very funny moments as they toyed with and twanged bubble-gum in time to Mantovani’s schmaltzy Charmaine which formed the basis of the soundtrack. There was a wonderful sequence involving a pearl earring and a cascade of pearls down the steps. Sabine Kupferberg and Peter Jolesch were excellent and totally convincing as the aging couple still happy in each other’s company, but as dramatic shadows engulfed the scene and the sky grew dark one suspected the end was nigh. Brilliant.

The second piece, Axe, was by another dance legend, Mats Ek. Again we meet an elderly man, Yvan Auzely, incessantly and obsessively chopping wood. To Albinoni’s sublime Adagio in G Major, a piece often associated with death or funerals, he takes a log from a pile, splits it, takes another and continues. Then an elderly lady appears, Ana Lugana, and dances alone while he chops, never looking up. Is she a ghost, a memory from the past? She takes a log he is about to axe and embraces it like a baby before returning it to the pile. Finally he acknowledges her and they dance together. Moving.

Memory was another piece by Mats Ek and this time featuring the man himself dancing with Ana Lugana. Again, a lone elderly man is joined by a lady of advanced years as they dance with and around a television, a standard lamp, an office chair and a bed, memories perhaps of a place and life they once shared. Beautifully done.

In contrast, for the final piece, Emanuel Gat’s Sacre, we return to more familiar and energetic territory as five young dancers meet on a small carpet, bathed in red light in the centre of an otherwise dimly lit stage. To the familiar strains of Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring we discover a couple in a silent, still embrace soon to be joined by another boy and two more girls who proceed to dance the salsa to the melodic and melancholy theme of L’Adoration de la Terre. When the music becomes more dissonant and aggressive in the second part, so does the dance and all harmony and understanding evaporates as the dancers run in frantic patterns in the gloom, seemingly keen to avoid the haven of the red carpet. Sanity and calmness are finally restored with some more high precision salsa. There have been many interpretations of The Rites of Spring, but none like this. Exciting and original.

A wonderful evening that demonstrated the diversity and possibilities of modern dance. Loved it all.   Michael Hasted    7th February 2018