When George Balanchine created his three-act ballet Jewels in 1967, he popped into the New York branch of the French jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels for the photoshoot. That moment cemented the relationship between the jewellery house and dance. Now, the company is scattering gems across London – not in the shape of its sapphire and diamond ballerina brooches (unfortunately) but in the form of a festival, featuring some contemporary classics and some pioneering new work.
The opening night of Dance Reflections, curated by Serge Laurent, in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House and Tate Modern, revealed its intent. Its centrepiece was a revival of Lucinda Childs’ Dance, made in 1979 and widely agreed to be one of the most significant and beautiful examples of “postmodern dance”, the re-examination of the principles of movement that began in New York in the 1960s.
The directness of its title is matched by the purity of a concept that sets 17 dancers, identically dressed in white, moving across the stage to a commissioned score by Philip Glass. In the nearly 20-minute first section, they repeat a set of simple movements – a little jump, a straightening of the arms, a step – with tilting grace, making minimal variations in angle and timing that alter the patterns and shapes they make. Then there’s a long solo for one woman, walking forward, turning, bending, before an accelerating final section of almost rapturous intensity, with Beverly Emmons’s lighting suddenly changing from cool white through red and blue to warm yellows.
The whole thing is encased by a 2016 recreation by Lyon Opera Ballet dancers of the 1979 Sol LeWitt film that provided the work’s original setting. The dancers are sometimes dwarfed by the huge figures projected on to a front screen, and sometimes wind among them. This has the effect of asking your brain to make complicated adjustments of space and trajectory, but the overall impression is contemplative. There’s a sense of falling into this endless, lovely movement. Childs took a curtain call, unbelievably glamorous at the age of 81, a true transformer of what we think of as dance.
Neighbours, choreographed by its dancers, Brigel Gjoka and Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, in collaboration with William Forsythe, another transformative force, shares Childs’s preoccupation with the way the tiniest inflection of movement can change everything. In an early section, Gjoka, who is Albanian, raises his arm to give a series of waves, each one subtly different in meaning, sometimes conversational, sometimes questioning.
Yasit is Kurdish-German, and this surprisingly emotional piece, performed with the Turkish musician Ruşan Filiztek, explores what binds neighbours together and what separates them. Different dance traditions also add texture, with Gjoka’s contemporary background giving his movements an astonishing fluent grace, full of beaten steps and fluid shifts of direction, while Yasit’s sensational hip-hop skills mean that he is more grounded but capable of defying gravity by a sudden one-armed handstand or a twisting of his legs so complicated you can’t quite work out what he’s done.
Often they dance together, entwining their arms like one of those linked puzzles you have to undo. Or they find ways to touch hands, tapping each other’s limbs to set off a complex sequence of pose and counterpose. The sheer variety of what they manage, both in silence and to Filiztek’s haunting music, in solos and duets, is impressive and always engrossing. Riveting.
Star ratings (out of five)