Opera Ballet Vlaanderen: Palmos review – hypnotic instants of connection | Dance


Palmos is a ballet that comes drenched in its music– songs taken from albums by the American artist Active Child (Patrick Grossi), who has also written two new tracks for the show. It’s a soundwash of electronic shimmer, ultra-minimal R&B beats and Grossi’s ethereal falsetto vocals (he has a background as a choir boy). But it also comes with a dark chill, like a cold shiver sent across the stage.

Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis chose to collaborate with Grossi on this new work Palmos – meaning “pulse” – created for Antwerp’s Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (there’s also additional music by Julien Tarride). The theme is connection, or our memories of connection, what we’re missing in this year of separation. Though in Palmos the dancers are all over each other for the most part, so it’s more like a fantasy of connection: accelerated, hungry and chimerical, fed by months of starvation.

Foniadakis’s figures are never still, the music, lights and dance all flickering. There are ripples and spirals through the bodies, limbs like tendrils, torsos artfully squirming as if they were trying to touch every bit of air around them with each rib. Bourrées en pointe are a recurring motif; tiny repeated steps on the spot (or thereabouts), they give the feeling of action and nervous anticipation all in one. There’s a hard edge in some of the choreography for the women that’s common in contemporary ballet. It’s a knowing display: hips jut, chests forward, chin up, stylish angles and a lot of high kicks, almost weaponised. You could imagine Beyoncé doing it, long hair flicking, pointe shoes like the highest of heels. It’s all very alluring, and it fits with the avant-pop soundtrack, the black stage lit with single red or white fluorescent strips, and the high-cut, nude-backed leotards.

Opera Ballet Vlaanderen’s Palmos.
Limbs like tendrils … Opera Ballet Vlaanderen’s Palmos

The partnering shows intense connection in the sense that the dancers are seamlessly in tune with each other technically, very impressive in these convoluted sequences of lifts, holds and acrobatic gymnastics. But they are not exactly stories of human hearts meeting. There is a dramaturge credited in the show, but let’s say their influence feels minimal. Having said that, the constant motion works as a foil for the few times that Foniadakis does slow the pace. And it’s the men who get the most tender duets, the time to sense each other, to explore intensity and ambiguity. There’s a particularly arresting pas de deux from Morgan Lugo and Daniel Domenech, the latter in pointe shoes, and unusually for a male pas de deux, dancing some characteristically “feminine” moves: a dramatic curlicue of a backbend, an arabesque pointed to the ceiling. Unlike the comical pointe-shoe roles men occasionally dance, it is completely convincing and authentic to the moment.

Aaron Shaw and Claudia Gil Cabus’s final pas de deux is a more animal, instinctive meeting. They’re both in nude bodysuits, Gil Cabus in bare feet, stripped of artifice. They become two parts of the same organism, continuously morphing in shape, though for a few seconds they just circle one another, holding hands, and finally seem like two people, actually connecting.

Some people will find Foniadakis’s ballet hot and hypnotic, some will find it hollow, but it really meets its music, with an atmosphere in turns epic, lonely, lush and aching, enjoying moments of sonic lustre, while living in the darker corners of the night.

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