Ballet National de Marseille / La Horde’s Roommates is fresh & cutting edge

Words by Inês Carvalho.

The Queen Elizabeth Hall auditorium feels particularly packed for the opening night of Roommates, a mixed bill by Ballet National de Marseille, directed by the French collective (LA)HORDE since 2019. The programme notes say that the six selected pieces, from minimalist to hyper-realist, celebrate the influences of the company and its co-directed artistic vision. The list of works look promising, unveiling a range of repertoire from a Company that moved away from their classical roots into contemporary dance a long time ago.

Four dancers take over the stage, in silence, to open the evening. There is an immediate sense of boldness. A trio of male dancers in electrifying blue, red and black & white costumes test their balance on pointe shoes. Grime Ballet – Dance Because You Can’t Talk to Animals by Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud uses elements of ballet with glimpses of urban dance to capture the intensity of the electronic music genre of grime. The attention was inevitably drifted away towards the lack of pointe shoe technique of the male dancers. Although perhaps this is not the best opening piece, Grime Ballet seems to introduce a statement: this mixed bill is all about risk-taking. 

Weather is Sweet created by (LA)HORDE presents a glimpse of the cutting-edge, electric movement proposals born from the collaborative spirit of the French collective. Frenetic looping hips lead the action, unfolding from a sexy duet to an ensemble exploring each other’s bodies through touch, lifts, cambrés and jumps. There is an imagery that sticks in this movement exchange: a basketball drill where hands direct, and arching torsos respond. Indeed, isn’t this a game between self-love, relationships, consent, seeing and being seen?

Traces of those flaming bodies quickly vanish as a massive cloud of smoke covers the stage and the front seats of the auditorium. Silhouettes of audience members stare, suspended, and for a while it’s impossible to guess what happens next. And suddenly, a duet emerges from the smoke, a woman surrendering herself to infinite turns, lifted and controlled by her male partner. It’s good to see a work by Peeping Tom on a London stage again, after their visit to the Barbican last year with Triptych. Oiwa is inspired by the Japanese legend telling the story of the vengeful spirit of a young woman betrayed by her husband. Power dynamics lead the duet of this passive female body, rotating endlessly, who is then replaced by a new female figure who climbs, rolls and drags herself across the floor, her long black hair covering her face. They are constantly swapping, crushing against each other, and a new duet emerges from the smoke with a new male dancer smoothly stepping into the scene. Peeping Tom transports dancers to another world – and takes the audience with them. 

The second half opens with Concerto by Lucinda Childs. The stage remains absent of a set design, and all eyes are on the group wearing all-black costumes. Minimalist movement is paired with the harmonic, rhythmical simplicity of Henryk Górecki’s music. A canon of arms in first-position, turns, and suspensions succeeds in this chess-game alike, where the pieces constantly move, reorganise, regroup in a tactical piece that showcases their collective musicality. 

Claude Brumachon and Benjamin Lamarche’s Les Indomptés, created in 1992, has been performed hundreds of times across the globe, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s tender, soft yet strong, and visually captivating: two male bodies flow and return to their skins. There is a mutual understanding of this encounter between two bodies. It is a touching work, again simplistic on its set and costumes (bare torsos, wearing jeans only), but captivating in their movement dialogue.

Roommates close with a 15-minute excerpt from Room With a View by (LA)HORDE. Created in 2021, this is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary work between Ballet National de Marseille and French music producer RONE. This piece explores forms of protest and rebellion through dance, fuelled by the anger of today’s generations, a youth that together reacts to the messy world we are living in. Room With a View is invigorating: I couldn’t stop moving my feet in my seat, while stare hypnotically at the dance on stage. Their facial expressions, invigorating jumps, lifts and arms highlight the power of this collective, and the identity of (LA)HORDE. The troupe clap on their chests, this sound succeeding RONE’s music, and they move across the stage as one. 

I wish the evening would last longer, particularly Room With a View. Roommates bring a sense of freshness, cutting-edge experiments that we are sometimes missing in British stages. I can’t wait for their next visit.

Header image by Pete Woodhead.