While he announced in 2016 that he was leaving the stage and the world of dance, the Swedish choreographer Mats Ek returned in 2019 to the Opéra national de Paris for the entry into the repertoire of Carmen and the creation of two pieces: Another Place and Bolero. With a choreographic poetry drawn from tales, everyday objects, and always inspired by the richness of music, Mats Ek invites us back to the Palais Garnier in May. A look back at his career.
It was when Giselle entered the repertoire that Mats Ek first forged links with the Paris Opera Ballet, going on to create his ballet in ten sequences Appartement in 2000. Over the years since Giselle, the Ballet repertoire has been enriched by his works, namely Une Sorte de... and La Moison de Bernarda. The Swedish Royal Ballet also came here to perform Romeo and Juliet in 2013. Now Mats Ek returns once more to the Paris Opera with his Carmen, never before performed here, and two new works.
A form of dance situated between music and literature
Mats Ek has always expressed a taste for raw materials, whether text or music. A rereading of fairy tales or inspiration drawn from music by composers as diverse as they are varied are the matrices of his choreographic universe, a world in which one no longer knows whether he is transposing dance to theatre, or text to dance, but in which he always tells a story.
A return to music
For major ballets as for smaller poetic pieces, Mats Ek juggles with the classics of the musical repertoire to let the dance emerge from them. His Rite of Spring (1984) is set in the ritualised society of the Samurai, “because I found in the music a mixture of precision and eruption, of control and savagery”, he explains.Mats Ek rewrites and renews his scores according to the story he wants to tell: “It seems to me that, very often, the music for classical ballets have a richer, more complex potential than is exploited by their choreographies”. For Juliet and Romeo, he reworked Tchaikovsky and not Prokofiev which he judged to be too close to a linear narrative; where he could have chosen Berlioz, who had already selected passages from Shakespeare’s drama in his “Dramatic Symphony” of 1839, he preferred to open Tchaikovsky’s 1872 score which revolves around motifs of love and passion, and to incorporate other works (Concerto for piano no. 1, Symphony no. 5, extracts from Manfred and The Tempest...), thus satisfying a “need for a symphonic quality” necessary to the narrative intensity of the piece.
A return to the text
Mats Ek choreographs and exacerbates the narrative thread to give it depth. In his interpretion of Lorca’s play, La Maison de Bernarda (1978), we are confronted by a denuded stage, a man in the role of the mother watching implacably over her five daughters. The characters live only through their dance, a veritable metaphor for the madness and tensions present in Lorca. It is through this vitally necessary return to raw materials that the poetry of Mats Ek’s dance bursts forth.
A Choreographic Poetry
Emblematic pas de deux
is through the pas de deux that the
delicateness of his universe is delineated. His “Solo for two” series, intimate
reflections on how couples function, from Smoke
(1995) until Place (2007) and
soon Another Place are often
dedicated to his fetish dancers: Niklas Ek, his brother, and Ana Laguna, his
wife and collaborator, whom he met in 1975 at the Cullberg Ballet.
Objects and the banality of life
Mats Ek is particularly talented at developing the theme of banal existence and giving it lyricism. Objects, from an axe to a bidet, contribute to the drama without ever being provocative. In the choreography, gestures that seem trivial take on new meaning: “It is necessary to be concrete, and from that situation extract something with vaster resonance”1.
Tables, so often present in Mats Ek’s work, and which feature again in Another Place, have become one of the motifs of these stories of daily life, in the same way as doors. For the premier of Appartement in 2000 at the Paris Opera, multiple objects present on stage were, like the dancers, propulsed by the choreography into a world in which grace operates. A movement from the prosaic to the ideal, the dance of Mats Ek shifts the stuff of daily life on the stage with elegance.
1. Citation from a broadcast on France Culture: 7th January 2016 “From back to Blue: Mats Ek takes a final bow”