Dancing up close
In Close, two film directors, two choreographers and nine dancers meet on the spectacular Main Stage of the Oslo Opera House. Melissa Hough’s 5 Ballerinas and Lucas Lima’s Distant Closeness are connected by an intermission highlighting the opera house as a living organism.
After a prologue, during which concertmaster Catharina Chen performs Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata for solo violin in G minor in front of an empty theatre, the audience is catapulted into Melissa Hough's abstract piece 5 Ballerinas. Hough, a principal dancer at the Norwegian National Ballet and choreographer, sets the stage for five dancers: Eugenie Skilnand, Maiko Nishino, Whitney Jensen, Erika Pastel and Silas Henriksen. Without touching, they lace around each another in close proximity. While they often move in an analogous fashion, subtle shifts can be perceived. In a review, Gerard Davis of Dance Europe considers her 'particularly adept at absorbing music into her physical vocabulary and the propulsive baroque of Heinrich Ignaz Biber is a perfect foil for her blend of classical elegance and idiosyncratic arm-work.'
Although this is a work informed by life under a pandemic, it’s not constrained by it.
Distant Closeness was created on the occasion of 5 dancers retiring this season after 20 years in the Norwegian National Ballet company. Due to Corona restrictions, the Opera House in Oslo was closed and all ballet performances had to be cancelled. As a consequence, Cristiane Sa, Eugenie Nyberg Skilnand, Kári Freyr Björnsson, Victoria Francisca Amundsen and Stine Østvold were going to miss out on their farewell performance in June.
Dancer and choreographer Lucas Lima grew up ‘watching these 5 beautiful dancers in the company, friends who inspired me and who were my mentors, so many people who’ve shaped my life as an artist, so I couldn’t see them leave the company after 20 years without having an opportunity for a ‘last dance’ on stage’. He created Distant Closeness placing each dancer in a different spotlight on stage. While this positioning was born out of social distancing, it became an artistic statement giving them a last opportunity to have their own light, their own place to shine as they had during their careers.
As its title reveals, the piece deals with different notions of distance and closeness. It reflects on what it means to be distant from one another in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. It also transcends that specific context, asking what it means to feel distant in moments of uncertainty and anxiousness about an unknown future after 20 years of an active dancing career. Despite the physical and existential distance, the piece also celebrates being close on stage with colleagues of a lifetime and feeling close to the end of a chapter of their lives.
‘It really is a celebration of their beautiful careers,’ says Lima. ‘It was an overwhelming experience where I created the steps and movements specially and specifically for each one of the dancers respecting their bodies and physicality accompanied by Max Richter’s stunning music.’