Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet is dominated by the figures of its founder, Birgit Cullberg, and her son Mats Ek. Cullberg’s newest director is Johan Inger, a Swede who cut his choreographic teeth during his years with Netherlands Dance Theatre. His works shown at the Brighton festival bear the marks – but not quite the conviction – of both the gestural NDT modern ballet style and the more oddball, unpredictable theatrics of Ek.
They're fretful, unsettled, and they seem, like the choreography itself, to be constantly reaching for a purpose yet too distracted to find one.
Out of Breath is by turns intriguing and frustrating. Striking images and shards of action enliven its relentlessly busy style and its almost wilfully obscure narrative premise. The stage is dominated by a curved rampart – an obstacle, frontier or hideout for the dancers who run against, cling to or vault over not only the rampart but also each other. They’re fretful, unsettled, and they seem, like the choreography itself, to be constantly reaching for a purpose yet too distracted to find one.
Within Now is clearer on the surface but even more baffling underneath. The first half centres on a cartoonish couple in chequered coats, the woman intermittently breaking off to primly reapply her lipstick. They’re surrounded by six figures in orange, who at first seem to be peripheral ghosts or guardian angels, but in the second half take centre stage as they flock and sweep across the floor. The piece rides on the haunting hoots and grinds of Steve Reich’s Different Trains, and echoes the music’s theme of crossed paths and missed connections.
Walking Mad is also in two contrasting and apparently disconnected halves, the first goofily comic, the second dourly intense. Here, as throughout, Inger is good with disjointed male-female duets, using mismatched tilts and leans so that the partners seem almost to be on differently angled floors. But by this time some of his stylistic devices have worn thin – shadowy figures fringing the stage, circling runs, hats and coats, men in skirts. A programme of mixed choreographers would have provided a better showcase not only for the company, but also for Inger.