The pas de deux has always been an intrinsic and integral part of classical, or indeed any other ballet. The most famous and popular pas de deux by the likes of Petipa, Ashton and MacMillan tend to be in the great ballets like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Coppélia et al. One thinks of the great pairing of dancers like Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn and even Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines in the film White Nights. So, bearing that in mind, it is surprising there has been no real emphasis or effort made to find specific new talent in this important aspect of dance.
The Rotterdam International Duet Choreography Competition was created in 2018 by Scapino Ballet dancers Maya Roest and Mischa van Leeuwen aiming to change that situation. In the past four years, despite Covid, the event has firmly established itself on the international dance calendar with a format so obvious and successful that one wonders why nobody thought of it before.
After sifting through the hundreds of video submissions from around the world sixteen finalists were invited to Rotterdam. Held over consecutive nights, the two semi-finals resulted in the selection of seven duets to take part in the grand final on Saturday night hosted by the genial Dutch actor Jan Kooijman.
Any duet is fundamentally going to be about the relationship between the two dancers and if there was a theme that ran through this year’s RIDCC finals is was one of the resolution of conflict, of resolving the dominance of one partner over the other. Perhaps the most demonstrative of these was Nature by Lotem Regev, danced by himself with Sándor Petrovics, which started by one having his foot firmly planted on the other’s head. Hmmm. As the dance progressed the power ebbed and flowed between the two until finally an understanding was reached.
Another two-man duet, Where to Start by Englishman Liam Francis, was perhaps the most dramatic of the evening. Lit by a single spotlight from behind Francis and co-dancer Clark Avery Griffin, were revealed sitting on a bench in their street cred hoodies. To a soundscape of urban traffic sounds and occasional birdsong the two explored their relationship and, as Francis asks in the programme notes, “Are our conversations and conflicts ever really with anyone other than ourselves?”
Perhaps a more conventional and lyrical exploration of conflict within a relationship was presented by Megan Doheny and Ilya Nikurov in their piece Escape. He in a dark suit, she in a silky brown dress, it all started very pleasantly but as the layers of their relationship peeled away a darker side was revealed, a side from which they only wanted to. . .err . . . escape.
Lifting and carrying are an integral part of any pas de deux but it is usually the guy who does the work. In her piece I Carry, You Hold, it is Olivia Court Mesa who performs the heavy lifting. Much to the astonishment of the audience, she lifts and carries her partner, Yochai Ginton, around the stage without so much as a wobble or clenched teeth – and he was twice her size with a very large beard. You could almost hear the jaws dropping all around.
After we had seen all the duets we adjourned to the foyer of Theater Rotterdam, drinks in hand, to await the awards presentation. Finally the presentation party arrived led by Maya Roest and Mischa van Leeuwen and announced the winner of the XL Prize to be . . . of course, the very strong Olivia Court Mesa for I Carry, You Hold. She also, not surprisingly, won the Audience Prize. I should say that my review was mostly written before the award presentations. Michael Hasted 26th June 2022
Winners of the Partner Awards were:-
Nederlands Dans Theater Anat Oz
Dutch National Ballet Beatriz Mira & Tiago Barreiros
Korzo Partner Liam Francis
Sally Liam Francis
Skånes Dansteater Liam Francis
Club Guy & Roni Olivia Court Mesa
Codarts Rotterdam Noam Segal & Tamara Dekel London
MiR Dance Company Olivia Court Mesa
Dansateliers Liam Francis
Avant Garde Dance Selene Martello & Dario Wilmington