What makes neoclassical neoclassical? What makes a ballet a ballet? Where do the lights go when they go out? Who knows, who cares. We just can’t answer some of these things.

Saturday night was a great evening. Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, danced well. They danced damn well. Could the performance have been more accurate in its description, yeah, but did I enjoy it? Hell yeah.

Here’s the deal. I saw three pieces of extraordinary imaginative contemporary dance. That’s contemporary, i.e. sans toe shoes, tutus and the like. And therein lies my quarrel.

By definition isn’t ballet all of the above? If a ballet company does an entire evening of modern dance, I don’t know if I can still classify it as ballet. Any misgivings with Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève end there, however. Call it ballet call, it modern dance — either way it was some of the finest movement I’ve seen this Spoleto.

The Swiss company opened with Para-Dice. Choreographer Saburo Teshigawara employed the repetitive synchronization of fluid-isolated movements for the piece. The women were sheathed in canary yellow flowing skirts and the men in mesh pants and shirts. Para-Dice was a mere 15 to 20 minutes long, give or take, but that was enough to introduce, like a refreshing aperitif, the showcase.

Selon Desir, the second movement performed to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passions, included a total of 16 dancers, each one wearing an outfit that was one-part urban street wear and one-part Braveheart. Selon Desir — described as “the notions of Heaven and Earth … exaltation and pain” — looked like a reenactment of Julius Caesar assassination on the floor of the Roman Senate. One lone dancer began the sequence tossing and writhing her body in distress. She comes to be judged by the chorus of dancers. Crucified she and another dancer are lifted to the heavens limp between the arms of two men. The imagery was genuine, but the replication of movement was at once innovative yet tiresome.

Ballet du Grand veered away from heavy commentary for a third piece, Loin, based on the company’s life on the road. Interjected into the dance were multiple pauses where the company spoke. “We were on the road,” they said in unison, “when roaches covered the stage. I did a turn with a roach on the tip of my toe shoe, voila.” The audience laughed at the funny anecdote, but seemed confused as to why the ballerina’s they paid to see where talking to them. Laughing, I too was confused.

Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève is an incredible company. The diversity, be it ethnicity, body type or choreographic selection, is unmatched in dance I’ve seen of this seasons Spoleto line up, but less people would have walked out after the second intermission (as they did) had they been called the Contemporary Dance du Théâtre de Genève.

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