What makes the Royal Ballet of Flanders different from small, provincial dance companies everywhere is the strength of its men. Especially in turns. They established an impetus that saw corps members and soloists alike through reels, in ballet after ballet, for the Belgian troupe's Saturday night stand at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The men also executed vigorous leaps, beats and lifts in a manner open and honest but not highly polished. The women, as a group, were hard, stringy and lacked fine line. Several looked old enough to be the men's mothers, but did know how to project unmatronly allure.
Flanders' repertory suffered from the global drought in new classical ballets. "Chabriana," by resident choreographer Andre Leclair, is a disgraceful stockpiling of bombastic display steps and stereotypes to witty and gracious music by Emmanuel Chabrier. "Grand Hotel," by company director Jeanne Brabants, is a polite comedy to Charlie Chaplin film scores that would have profited from his sense of timing.
The stronger works were fusions of modern dance and ballet by guest choreographers. For the story of King Saul and the witch of "Ein Dor," Israel's Moshe Efrati began with gusto as arm thrusts and contracting torsos topped classical footwork in scenes of Saul cavorting with his four macho reflections. This grew repetitious and the appearance of the witch as a nymph was a new idea, ultimately poor. The king finally died of an overdose of Martha Graham stage-prop symbolism.
Jiri Kylian, an expatriate Czech, has been forging an athletic, expressive way of moving based on some of the most difficult maneuvers of dance and defense techniques. His "The Cathedral Submerged," scored for two couples to a wise wedding of Debussy piano and sea sounds, is a subtly thrilling study in dualism. It was the jewel in the Royal Flanders' crown.