Australian Dance Reviews

Ballett Zürich’s ‘Messa da Requiem’ at Adelaide Festival: A sensory experience

Messa da Requiem by Ballett Zurich. Photo by Andrew Beveridge.
Messa da Requiem by Ballett Zurich. Photo by Andrew Beveridge.

Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide.
8 March 2023.

This Adelaide Festival, audiences were indulged with a world-class experience in Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, directed and choreographed by Christian Spuck of Germany. The sculptural and transportive work was brought to life through a collaboration with 36 exquisite dancers of Ballett Zürich, 81 vocalists forming the Adelaide Festival Chorus and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

A large, dark, empty stage was covered in ash, with large concrete-like walls closing in the space and setting a sombre tone. The raw, black ash on the floor gave an earthiness and grittiness in juxtaposition to the clean, precise movement of the Ballett Zürich dancers.

Almost immediately, we were drawn in by the seamless merging of dance and song. It felt as though the chorus inspired the dancers, and the dancers inspired the chorus. We were witness to a beautiful exchange. The dancers moved by the powerful force of voice, the chorus moved by the stunning shapes created by the dancers, all taken on a journey by the emotive music of Verdi expertly performed by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Messa da Requiem at Adelaide Festival. Photo by Andrew Beveridge.

The chorus began as an anonymous mass of vocalists, but as the work progressed, we began to see the unique and diverse individuals who had come together to bring the piece to life. At a poignant moment, the chorus madly scribbled words and messages on the walls, giving us a glimpse into their minds and hearts, before smudging them, leaving us wanting to know more. This brought an intimacy and authenticity to the work in contrast to the grandeur and sheer scale of the project.

The choreography tasked to the Ballett Zürich artists was sculptural and euphoric. Male dancers were showcased with prowess, with quick, powerful movement and flawless partnering. The female dancers gave us ethereal movement, full of light and breath. We enjoyed exquisite and unique lifts that at times seemed to defy gravity, and creative and playful use of partnering as the work focused on a mix of pas de deux and pas de trois. A memorable and mesmerising pas de deux played with the creation of circular shapes of the arms as the dancers framed each other and made intertwined patterns. A pas de trois featuring a table that involved pulling the table and sliding the dancers across the floor, was bold and engaging.

The dancers of Ballett Zürich were flawless and captivating. Their use of the metatarsals when landing from jumps or lifts was exceptional. The dancers, who had exquisite feet, would work through every part of the foot with each landing and extension to appear as light as air. They showed impeccable technique and charming stage presence. They were neat, precise and thoughtful, but still daring.

Messa da Requiem at Adelaide Festival. Photo by Andrew Beveridge.

The choreography wasn’t only left to the dancers, with the chorus embracing raw and passionate movement married with the dancers to create at times contrast, and at other times reflect or add to the movement quality and shapes created by the ballet. The mass of vocalists at times was used to hide the Ballett’s dancers in a mealy of moving of bodies, before they would then emerge powerfully and energetically in unison, lifting the energy in the theatre. The chorus would punch the air, passionately reach, struggle or join with the dancers to create waves of movement across the stage. The chorus gave us both tender, vulnerable moments as well as expansive and powerful explosions of movement.

Mezzo Soprano Caitlin Hulcup was the stand-out vocalist of the night, amongst a talented cast of commanding vocalists. The transportive music and operatic performance were so exceptional that they could have stood on their own, yet paired with ballet, created a remarkable sensory experience I will never forget.

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

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