A name like Ballet du Grand Theatre de Genève immediately brings certain images to mind. For example, ballerinas in pointe shoes being hoisted into the air with tiaras glittering in the light to the chimes of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
However, if you have tickets to see the company during their premiere visit to Israel this week, you may want to throw that vignette out the window.
Ballet Genève, for short, does not fit easily into the mold of classical dance companies.
As part of the Israel Festival, the troupe will perform a two-piece program at the Jerusalem Theater.
The evening offers a great taste of the type of work brought into the mix by artistic director Philippe Cohen. Both pieces are new, as are all works commissioned by Ballet Genève, created specifically for the company by contemporary choreographers Andonis Foniadakis and Didy Veldman.
Foniadakis’s Glory is set to music by Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. The piece highlights the flawless technique of Ballet Genève’s dancers in solos, duets and group sections.
Veldman created Les Noces for Ballet Genève earlier this year . Originally from The Netherlands, Veldman is one of the most sought-after choreographers in the contemporary dance community around the world.
She has contributed to the repertoires of companies around Europe, in the US and Canada.
Les Noces , which means “the wedding,” was composed by Igor Stravinsky for Les Ballets Russes. The premiere took place in Paris in 1923. Since then, many choreographers have reinterpreted Les Noces . Veldman’s take on the piece is unexpected, juxtaposing deconstructed movement with the operatic soundtrack.
Ballet Genève was founded in 1962 as part of the reopening of the Grand Theatre. The goal of the troupe was to provide a vehicle for the diversity possible in dance. The company has commissioned works by choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Ohad Naharin, Lucinda Childs and William Forsythe. Since taking over the reins more than 10 years ago, Cohen has sought out new, exciting voices in the dance world.
“I started my dance career quite late, when I was 17. In the beginning, I found opera and theatrical works more appealing to my taste,” Cohen tells The Jerusalem Post . “In 1968, when I was 15, I saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet choreographed by Maurice Béjart. All of a sudden, the performance gave me a vision of a dance dimension greater than the theatrical and musical aspect and, most importantly, that the body could express emotion and virtuosity without words.”
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cohen maintains that it is possible to sustain an audience’s attention without incorporating ballet’s recognized opuses into the company’s repertoire. The key, in Cohen’s eyes, lies in the 22 international dancers of the company.
“The best thing for me is to be in direct contact with dancers who are exigent and open, which in turn gives me the energy to continue towards the future. I always like to say that they are more than just dancers but human beings that dance,” he says.
Having left the great ballets of Balanchine, who was artistic advisor for the company for most of the 1970s, and the twirling tutus to other companies, Cohen presents an up-to- date image of what dance is today.
“As it is the first time that the company is appearing in Israel, I am not sure what the reaction of the public will be, but I hope that they will be touched and warmed by my proposition and share my passion,” says Cohen.
Ballet Genève will perform at the Jerusalem Theater on June 7 at 2 p.m. and on June 8 at 9:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.israel- festival.org.il