For two nights at the Théâtre de Verdure, Ballet Nice Méditerranée offered an exceptional triple bill: the opening performances of Dwight Rhoden’s new ballet Verse us, Nacho Duato’s Por vos muero (1996) and Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature (1975).

Rhoden has said that he takes inspiration from the dancers before him, and Verse us fitted the company like a glove. Their speed, accuracy and attack brilliantly matched Rhoden’s sharp but fluid, edgy yet elegant, choreography, both shaping and shaped by Nils Frahm’s musical score and sound track. Rhoden made these exquisite dancers look wonderful, using their strong classical technique (the women on pointe) to create a fast-moving modern work for seven couples in which the women, to my pleasure, were not treated as objects, but danced as equals with the men. Christine Darch’s choice of an orange/yellow colour palette for the costumes stood out well against the dark background, lit by Michael Korsch, as dancers stepped on stage from behind screens at the rear of the stage, rather than from wings at the side. The episodic format, each section with a distinctive soundtrack, kept the audience alert and interested, but I found it hard on a single viewing to perceive an overall structure and direction, despite the use of some movement motifs, such as the arabesque leg carried forward to second without rotation, that formed part of recognisable choreographic patterns. Indeed, the audience seemed to feel that the piece had reached its end more than once, and then happily settled down for more. When the end did come, the applause was rapturous, and rightly so for a newly created work performed by the local ballet company in its home city.

Watching Nacho Duato’s Por vos muero was an altogether different and highly emotional experience. Danced to the words of Garcilaso de la Vega and Spanish music of the XV and XVI centuries, it was unnecessary to understand the poetry or even the title to catch the essence of this deeply moving work. I was captivated from the opening moments, when dancers in costumes that made them appear almost naked laboriously moved upstage in deep lunging steps, seeming to climb along the floor, as if in a memento mori that we are all only dust. This framed the scenes of love and courtship, joy and despair, which the dancers played out with tenderness and charm, with flowing and rhythmic movement and steps that subtly echoed the court dances of the Renaissance.

The evening ended with Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature. The audience loved it, but I felt it was the weakest point of the evening. The 1970s take on a 1930s look seemed dated, and although the company appeared to enjoy dancing it, I didn’t think it suited their style, and there were some ragged moments. But it was fun, and afterwards, when I walked out onto the Promenade des Anglais and saw the fairy lights in the palm trees, its glitziness seemed in keeping with the spirit of the moment.

Maggie Watson, assisted by Miranda Frudd

7 July 2014