FLASH #17 – 2023/2024: A WONDERFUL YEAR!

JBA’s jubilee year finished on a high, or should one say like the pop and fizz of celebratory champagne. Each season the company goes from strength to strength – of course with each success comes a question: Can we do better? And yes, they can and yes, they did!

The three public performances in hetpaleis on 7,8,9 June were a marathon for all concerned, none more so than for the 13 dancers. But these young professionals rose to the occasion and merited the tumultuous applause which greeted them at the end.
JBA artistic leaders Alain Honorez and Altea Nuñez have overwhelmingly proved that the art of  ballet, done by highly-trained dancers (however young) performing artistic, original and tasteful choreographic works is not something to be relegated to a museum. It is as relevant and important today as ever before and here in Antwerp in 2024, packed houses, nightly standing ovations and the seal of 4-5 stars from critics amounted to a rapturous stamp of approval. A special mention goes out to Inge Heylen who together with Irma Swijnen, made sure 5! would be an event to remember! 

5! opened with ÉTUDES, a neatly-performed exhibition of ballet technique from the entire Royal Ballet School Antwerp which as Honorez rightly described in his welcome speech, was the basic training at the heart of everything on the program.

JBA was first to be seen in THE WIND’S GIFT, from the hand of Le Wang, a rising young Chinese talent. 
The ballet begins in silence: from out of the upstage darkness, a line of prone-lying figures are shifted forward, pushed along by the gliding steps of a compatriot until all fall floor-wards and the grounded dance continues: in the stillness only the out-breath of the leader, or a slapping sound on body or stage connects them as they thrust, twist and roll in complete unison. The starkness of this winter scene seems to melt with the sound of a gentle haunting melody: a single dancer, like a soft wind glides through the group, clad as they all are in translucent tops and pants. Formations build and disperse before pizzicato strings invoke the arrival of spring and then to summer until finally in a poetic duet, the soloist passes her gift on to another dancer – the changing of the seasons, indeed the circle of life itself, continues. This seamless blend of classical and contemporary: East and West: real and yet abstract in both music and movement made it a timeless ballet to savor.

After the intermission, in the ensuing, beautifully arranged whirlwind of 11 extracts out of the JBA repertoire; METAMORPHOSIS (D. Dawson), CINDERELLAABSOLUTIOYU, to name but a few – it was in this entire program that Altea Nuñez demonstrated her astonishing worth, both as choreographer and as ballet mistress. The dancers’ precision, musicality and artistry are due in great deal to her and her tireless work in the studio. The fact that she has been asked to set her ballet CLAROSCURO for the newly-formed Paris Opera Junior Ballet Company during the upcoming 24/25 season speaks volumes about her talent.

It’s been an astoundingly successful season; the first performance beyond home borders in Geneva, the excellent reception of the Ensor work JAMES (soon to be seen throughout Belgium during the Fall) and it all ended on a high … 5!
Junior Ballet Antwerp can be congratulated on all the choices they make; the leadership of the group, at times through very bumpy terrain, has proved beyond doubt that the young company is in very sound hands.

The JBA future – and of ballet itself – looks not just rosy but glowing in technicolor!

© Nicha Rodboon, Filip Van Roe