Rotterdam International Duet Choreography Competition

The XL Production Award of €100,000 goes to  Kwame Asafo-Adjei for Family Honour

The worlds of arts, entertainment and . . . well, the whole world really, is a fairly competitive, unforgiving place. But rejection is in the job-description if you are an artist or performer, so is it fair or justified to place them on stage to battle it out to see who is the best? For €100,000 first prize I think there would be a resounding YES echoing through the dressing rooms and your average backstage area or dance class.

How do you judge art, and in this case in particular, dance? It’s always going to be subjective decision and it’s those emotional reactions that lead to the amazing diversity we have in contemporary dance. Yes, you can judge technique objectively but virtually all other calls are based on what you think or feel.

The 2nd Rotterdam International Duet Choreography Competition whittled down over three hundred applicants from around the world to just sixteen couples who were happy to face to rigours of selection and rejection so they could be put forward to the last six for last night’s final.

The pas de deux is an intrinsic, if not the most important, element of classical ballet so to isolate that and present it as an end in itself was a stroke of genius and I believe this is the only event of its type in the world.

I don’t know about the last sixteen finalists but last night the all six choreographers were actually performing their pieces – but this was not a prerequisite for the competition. I can understand how this happened though as all the pieces were, by definition, very intimate and maybe, with the involvement of a third person, some of that would be lost.

The proceeding got underway with a good half hour of talk hosted by the personable Jan Kooijman who presented a short video of the competition’s creators, Maya Roest and Mischa van Leewen, before going on to introduce the evening’s guest of honour, English dancer and choreographer, Cathy Marston.

First up, when we finally got to the dancing, was the UK based Kwame Asafo-Adjei who performed his Family Honour with Catrina Nisbett. We were presented with a small wooden table, with a chair on either side, on which sat the two performers. From the title I am supposing this was a domestic scene, and a violent one at that, with most of the action taking place on the table top – if you imagine an elaborate form of arm wrestling, you’ll get the idea.

The Gyre was choreographed and performed by the Swiss/French couple Angela Rabaglio and Micaël Florentz. This mesmeric piece consisted entirely of the couple walking round and round each other in a tight circle. Initially there was no contact but towards the end contact was made with hands over mouths and on heads. I thought the soundscape for this was particularly effective suggesting an ever rotating machine mixed with rain and thunder.

The third piece, Grayscale, was by Russian Anastasia Belyaeva and Justin de Jager of the Netherlands. The lights went up on an almost pieta scene with the two dancers dressed in identical black tops and tight white trouser but developed into an cats-cradle of precision arm and leg intertwining. This was one of the few presentations that involved real music.

My first impression of Mermaids by Dereck Cayla, with a soundscape of the sea and gulls by Chris Watson (unforgivably the only composer to get a credit!), was The Tempest with the two rather Ariel-like dancers. That image soon faded and I was put in mind of Nijinski in L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune. Beautifully executed and danced by Frenchman Cayla and Victor Callens. Mermaids was danced almost entirely in unison. I really liked this piece.

Next up were da boyz n da hood Rhys Dennis and Waddah Sinada whose piece Ruins had street cred in abundance and one was never sure when they were fighting and when they were embracing. I liked the (false) ending to this when they kept disappearing into the darkness only to re-appear several times, rather confusing the audience as to when they should applaud.

The final offering was by the Dutch/American pair Matteus Paul van Rossum and Rebecca Laufer. This was the most balletic performance by the couple who are based in Israel. Maramu was full of silky-smooth grace and some fine virtuoso dancing.

For me it was almost impossible to choose a winner. They were all good and one could select any of them for different reasons. Luckily I didn’t have to and afterwards we all sojourned to the foyer for a glass of wine and a comparing of notes until the jury, after much deliberation, announced the winners – the XL Production Award of €100,000 went to Kwame Asafo-Adjei for Family Honour. Not a surprise, but then I don’t think any result would have been. The audience prize, which was money we pledged during the break after we had all voted on our phones, was awarded to Grayscale by Anastasia Belyaeva​.  Michael Hasted    30th June 2019