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Happy Birthday State Ballet School Berlin

“Jubilee-Gala”
State Ballet School Berlin
Schiller Theater
Berlin, Germany
December 03, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

Birthdays are best celebrated with friends. To make its 65th jubilee a real big party, the State Ballet School Berlin invited national and international guests to share the stage in a birthday gala. Those were: Stuttgart’s John Cranko School, the School of the Hamburg Ballet, the Ballet Academy of the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich; and from abroad the Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Danish Ballet School, St. Petersburg’s Vaganova Ballet Academy and, what I was most pleased with, the Cuban National Ballet School, hardly ever seen on these shores. Contacts with Havana are about to be intensified, Marek Rózycki, acting artistic director of the State Ballet School Berlin later told me in a telephone call. He also revealed that the guest list was intended to be even longer. The Schools from ABT, the Bolshoi, Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet London and the Dance Academy Mannheim would have loved to participate but were wrapped up in their own performances. Trouble with visas had been an issue as well.
Given the effort made to make this gala special, it is beyond my comprehension why the administrative staff didn’t provide any photos. It’s a shame!

If all had taken part, celebrations presumably would have continued for several days, but, as it was, the final gala, lasting for two and half hours, offered an entertaining, varied and moreover high-level program. Each school had been given free choice of what pieces they wanted to contribute.

The John Cranko School opted for five solos, three from classics by Petipa, plus two contemporary pieces. All of them did Tadeusz Matacz, the school’s director, proud. A talented jumper, Motomi Kiyota brought stunning ease and bravura to his variation of “Talisman”; Madeline Woo, also a good jumper, danced a flawless solo of “La Bayadère”. Long-limbed Gabriel Figueredo, about to grow into an elegant dancer, presented a solo of “Raymonda”. Alice Pernão had already impressed me at the last gala in Stuttgart. Again, she danced “Miriade”, contemporary choreography by Catarina Moreira. Pernão has a stupendous ability to play with the tempo. Watching her I thought of a ball of energy, self-contained and complete, unfolding its inborn expressiveness. The fifth solo was Navrin Turnbull’s. He fluctuated seamlessly between very short poetic moments and an overall jerky tension in an excerpt of “A Spell on You”, one of Marco Goecke’s characteristic choreographies, tailor-made for the John Cranko School in 2016. Turnbull looked serious at his curtain call though, maybe because with “All Long Dem Day”, created for the Berlin students in 2015 and also by Goecke, the surprise effect of Goecke’s unique style had been exhausted shortly before. “All Long Dem Day” indeed made me hold my breath. The students gave it their all, performed at full throttle and reached a perfection, which makes this production worth transporting to other stages straightaway. Bravo!

Hamburg Ballet contributed one pas de deux and two pas de trois of “Yondering”, folksy choreography by John Neumeier. It depicts an idealized innocence the youth maybe enjoyed in some good old times. Hamburg’s students have adopted Neumeier’s movement language well. This year, two decades after its origination, “Yondering” was performed often, at the galas in Hamburg and Stuttgart amongst others. Regardless of the piece’s jubilee and regardless of the fact, that in terms of preparing pieces for galas, ballet schools have to be economical with time and effort, it is vital for Hamburg Ballet’s students to demonstrate that they are also brilliant in other dance styles than their school director’s.

The pas de deux given to the dancers of the Ballet Academy Munich, Emma Antrobus and Stanislaw Wegrzyn, wasn’t the ideal choice either. In “At a loss for words”, choreographer David N.Russo made them both first lie around on the floor, and then, having struggled to their feet after what felt like an eternity, they explored all kinds of acrobatics involving lifting, carrying and swirling around one another. “At a loss for words” is no choreographic masterstroke and at the final curtain call neither Antrobus nor Wegrzyn looked comfortable with having had to perform it.

A pleasure, by contrast, were the three character dances interspersed in the program: a lovely Hungarian Dance by the students from Vienna (Isabella Severi-Hager, Chiara Uderzo, Federico Berardi and Lorenzo Salvi, all visibly enjoying their roles), and even two character dances by their Copenhagen comrades. Lynne Charles, former prima ballerina of John Neumeier, Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart, had been in charge with rehearsals in Copenhagen. She prepared the Russian Dance of Petipa’s “Swan Lake” and her own piece, the Spanish folk dance “Le Cid”, with five young women (Ditte Stoltenborg, Isabella Bach-Mortensen, Helga Palsgaard-Jensen, Emilie Willert and Victoria Bell). In the Russian Dance they had to handle white handkerchiefs, in the Spanish Dance fans. Oscillating between dignity and light pizazz, the young women made look easy what is in fact quite challenging.
I remember Tadeusz Matacz raving about character dance in an interview this summer. There are so many beautiful things to teach, he mentioned. Though what the students danced at this gala maybe didn’t exactly match his criteria of “true, original” character dance, their samples were much appreciated.

Originally the Vaganova Academy planned to send two students with a pas de deux to the gala but due to one student’s injury Ksenia Andreenko set off to Berlin alone. She danced her variation as Gulnare from Petipa’s “Le Corsaire” self-assuredly displaying sound technique. Awaited with anticipation but the second to last on the program, the guests from Havana, Fabiana Pérez Méndez and Aleyandro Olivera Cepeda, kept one in suspense. Their calling card – how could it be different – was the Grand Pas de Deux from Petipa’s “Don Quixote”. A bit nervous at first, both grew more and more confident, adding flirtatious zest to their overall daring show. For both dancing seems a matter of the heart.

In addition to the Goecke piece the Berlin hosts danced two other works. The Grand Pas de Deux of “The Flames of Paris”, presumably Alexei Ratmansky’s reconstruction of the original choreography by Vasily Vainonen, had kicked off the gala. It was superbly danced by Elena Iseki and Haruto Goto who set the bar high for the subsequent dancers.

The Berlin students also closed the program with choreography by their artistic director Gregor Seyffert. Hearing the first tunes of Ravel’s “Bolero” I anticipated “Die Zukunft beginnt jetzt” (“Future begins now”) would mean ten minutes filled with tedious repetitions, but no, quite the opposite. Seyffert’s piece imaginatively outlines the training of ballet students from the first to the ninth class, thus bringing together students of all age on stage. Eleven-year-old Zion Park from Korea had been the first in the spotlight, doing basic exercises on the floor. The little girl also stood center stage in the first line of the crowd of students at the final tones of “Bolero”. Given her shiny eyes and inborn demeanor, stage unmistakably was her place to be. Witnessing her naturalness and poise one felt confident about the future generations of dancers.

Links: Website of the State Ballet School Berlin
Editing:  Agnes Farkas

Welcome Innovations

“Oracle”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 25, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Gibson, “Oracle” by J.Hernandez, Semperoper Ballet © I.Whalen 2016With the new year quickly approaching, the art of prophecy is in great demand in Dresden. One clairvoyant resides in a cozy, tiny hut on a beautiful, rustic Christmas market in the old stable yard next to the Dresden Castle. An expert in palm reading, cartomancy and runes magic, the white-haired lady offers glances into what next year will bring.

Not far from her stall, in the former opera restaurant just recently altered into the studio stage “Semper Two,” another soothsayer, a quite prominent lady, is at work. Or, to be precise, is fed up with work. Alas, there is currently no chance to receive advice from her. Joseph Hernandez, coryphée of Semperoper Ballet and a fledgling choreographer, attended to the matter in the dance theater “Oracle”, his first piece for Semperoper Ballet. Accompanied by a musical mix consisting of vintage jazz as well as cello and violin sounds of various atmospheres, it unveils the Oracle of Delphi’s problem. Exhausted from putting herself into a trance to answer the never-ending questions, the woman priest, simply called Oracle (Aidan Gibson) by Hernandez, wants to get off the hot seat. But how? (more…)

Tracing the History of the Bolshoi

Simon Morrison:
“Bolshoi Confidential”
512 pages, b/w illustrations
W.W. Norton & Company, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-87140-296-7
November 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Bolshoi Confidential”, book cover © W.W. Norton & Company 2016Prompted by the abominable acid attack on Sergei Filin in early 2013, Nick Read and Mark Franchetti put the spotlight on what was going on behind the scenes of the Bolshoi Ballet. Their film “Bolshoi Babylon” was followed by a substantial book this October: “Bolshoi Confidential”, penned by Simon Morrison, professor of music at Princeton University focusing mainly on Russian and Soviet music. Morrison is an assiduous writer and the author of a number of books, two of them about Sergey Prokofiev. As it was for Read and Franchetti, the assault on Filin is also Morrison’s springboard. Yet he considerably widens the perspective on his subject.

The history of the Bolshoi, initially called Petrovsky Theatre, began in 1776, when Catherine the Great granted the Russian Prince Urusov exclusive rights for theatrical presentations. Urusov teamed up with the Englishman Michael Maddox, “either a mathematician or tightrope walker during his youth”, but financial straits forced him to surrender the reins to Maddox. Morrison takes us from there through almost 250 years of meandering, tumultuous evolution.

A stupendous amount of details and anecdotes illustrates how the Bolshoi overcame Napoleon’s invasion, then artistically prospered under imperial reign before being massively restricted in its artistic vitality by the Russian Bolsheviks. Three times destroyed by fire, the theater building has always been reconstructed on nearly the same place. It became bigger, more imposing and, though slowly, was equipped with the technical innovations of the time. Since 1825 it was commonly called the Bolshoi – meaning “Grand” – Theatre. (more…)

Straightforward Towards Mediocrity

“Don Quixote”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 13, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Gileva, I.Simon and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by A.S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet © S.Ballone 2016One wishes for better program coordination given the fact that three German companies, Stuttgart Ballet, the Aalto Ballet Essen and Semperoper Ballet are offering “Don Quixote” almost at the same time. Premieres in Essen and Dresden were even scheduled for the same day, November 5th. The versions in Stuttgart and Essen are traditional adaptions; in Dresden, artistic director Aaron S.Watkin came up with his own creation. The idea sprang from set and costume designer Patrick Kinmonth to strip the adventurous story of Alonso Quixano alias Don Quixote down to a mere framework on which a new, “more real and convincing story” was hung. (more…)

Séverine Ferrolier – Queen of the Night, Ballerina and Osteopath-to-be

Bavarian State Ballet
Munich, Germany
October, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Ferrolier rehearsing “Giselle”, chor.: P.Wright after M.Petipa, J.Coralli and J.Perrot, Bavarian State Ballet 2016 © S.Ballone“I was a little catastrophe”, said Séverine Ferrolier, soloist of the Bavarian State Ballet. “I had so much energy as a child, I was always joking, horsing around and teasing my older brother. Like a little actress. I wasn’t shy.” Her self-description surprised me. The women, I was sitting opposite to in the rehearsal premises of the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, was mindfully serene, warm-hearted and centered in herself. We met in mid-October to talk about her career and her plans for the future. (more…)

Premiering Next to a Genius

“Balanchine / Liang / Proietto”
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
November 01, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Konovalova, V.Shishov and ensemble, “Symphony in C” by G.Balanchine © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor 2016Vienna State Ballet’s new mixed bill traces an arc from a piece capturing Balanchine’s pure classicism to a new, multi-art form work honoring the tradition of romantic ballets. The fascination of flying and the idea of weightlessness unites the three pieces. Edwaard Liang’s “Murmuration”, 2013 choreography for Houston Ballet, deals with the flight formation of flocks of birds. For “Blanc”, the evening’s world premiere, Argentinian choreographer Daniel Proietto took inspiration from Michael Fokine’s flying sylphs. The opener, George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C”, doesn’t involve aviation but leaves one in the most elevated of moods when it is danced well. And so it was. The company was in sunniest form on opening night.

Natascha Mair and Jakob Feyferlik led the first movement of “Symphony in C.” Both were precise, swift and conveyed an infectious good mood. Í liked Liudmila Konovalova and Vladimir Shishov, the second movement’s main couple. Konovalova, blessed with a refined technique, subtly nuanced between composed grief and almost playful cheerfulness. Her tender fragility was met by Shishov’s caring look and fine partnering. (more…)

A Conversation with Hans van Manen

Horst Koegler in Conversation with Hans van Manen in 1982
Altes Kammertheater
Stuttgart, Germany
October 31, 2016

transcribed and translated by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Hans van Manen, ca. 1980 © Gert WeigeltHorst Koegler (1927-2012) spoke with Hans van Manen in 1982 at the Altes Kammertheater in Stutt­gart during an evening of the Noverre Society, which at the time was directed by Fritz Höver. This article was edited from an audiotape that was transcribed and translated into English by Ilona Landgraf.
Photos courtesy of Dutch National Ballet, Ballett am Rhein, State Ballet Berlin, Stuttgart Ballet, Maryinsky Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet.The portraits of Hans van Manen and Horst Koegler are by Gert Weigelt. Please click to enlarge.

2. Horst Koegler, ca. 1980 © Gert WeigeltHans van Manen: You ask how I came to speak my German. I think that’s an inborn skill. My mother was German, but we never spoke much German at home. Yet it must be innate because I can speak a quite good German without knowing that many words. What I heard from my mother were mostly nonsense tongue twisters like “Ein Student in Stulpenstiefeln stand auf einem spitzen Stein. Starrte stundenlang auf die still stehenden Sterne.” I think that was the way I learned German. (more…)

State Ballet Berlin – Do Incorrect Procedures Mar Waltz and Öhman’s Appointment?

State Ballet Berlin
Berlin, Germany
October 28, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Waltz and J.Öhman © Landesarchiv Berlin 2016Reportedly, Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman’s contracts as future artistic directors of the State Ballet Berlin were ratified a few days ago. The procedure as taken by Berlin’s Senate Chancellery for Cultural Affairs puzzles one though. Personal decisions of this caliber require the approval of the Stiftungsrat of the Opera. The Stiftungsrat is the board of the Berlin Opera Foundation, a corporate body under public law, integrating Berlin’s three opera houses, the ballet company and the Stage Services Company as individual organizations under one roof. Seven members constitute this board, among them Micheal Müller, the cultural senator and governing mayor of Berlin. The Stiftungsrat requires a quorum of at least half of all the members. (more…)

Creating an Image

Ballet Companies in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland
Semperoper Ballet, Bavarian State Ballet, State Ballet Berlin, Stuttgart Ballet, Ballett am Rhein,
Dutch National Ballet, Zurich Ballet
October 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

What kind of image distinguishes Stuttgart Ballet from Dutch National Ballet? Or the Bavarian State Ballet from the State Ballet Berlin? What is it the dancers – and their audience – identify with as their company? How do companies present themselves to the public? Such were my thoughts when seeing the Semperoper Ballet’s new image campaign, #WHYWEDANCE. I asked several major companies to send me images of their choice representing their respective company’s image.

1. R.Martínez, #WHYWEDANCE, Semperoper Ballet © I.Whalen 20162. J.Gray, #WHYWEDANCE, Semperoper Ballet © I.Whalen 2016Semperoper Ballet chose four of the sixty-one dancer portraits of #WHYWEDANCE. The new ensemble brochure presents each in full-page size. In addition they are spread via social media and on billboards and advertising pillars in Dresden. Aaron S.Watkin, in his eleventh year as artistic director, put the spotlight on his company this season whose face has changed since his beginning in 2006. Next to the dancers, Ian Whalen, the troupe’s photographer and multimedia expert, also shot Watkin and staff members. Names, places of birth, ranks within the company and the year when joining the ensemble come along with each portrait. In addition, every dancer sums up their motivation for the profession, the why and wherefore of choosing a career with dance in a single word. (more…)

Pirate’s Luck

“Le Corsaire”
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
October 14, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Manolova and R.Szabó, “Le Corsaire” by M.Legris after M.Petipa et al. © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor 2016Spared for a very long time, Vienna’s State Opera was finally conquered by pirates earlier this year. Solely Manuel Legris, artistic director of the ballet company, is to be held to account for this invasion. Yet I assume he bears responsibility with pleasure as his “Corsaire” is well received.

According to the program book, around 70% of the choreography is Legris’s, the rest is based on Marius Petipa’s tradition. I missed the “Corsaire”, which Doug Fullington reconstructed from the Stepanov-notation of Petipa’s 1899 version for the Bavarian State Ballet in 2007, so I cannot compare the Viennese choreography with what is thought to come closest to the original. Lord Byron’s 1814 poem “The Corsair” is the initial source of inspiration for opera and ballet adaptions alike. But already in the first “Corsaire” ballet, Joseph Mazilier’s 1856 version for the Paris Opera Ballet, little of the original was left. Subsequent choreographies weren’t more faithful to the text source either. Apart from a few changes in the libretto Legris’s three-act piece has the ingredients familiar from other versions: a great portion of classical variations, character dance, heroism, romance and a hefty dose of kitsch. (more…)

Almost Holy

“The World of John Neumeier”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 08, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Riggins and ensemble, “Bernstein Dances” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © K.West 2016Calling two big stages home is a luxury few can call their own. Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier enjoyed it for the seventieth time this autumn when touring the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden for one week. Usually they bring along two pieces and one workshop moderated by Neumeier himself. This year the two ballets were “Romeo and Juliet”, scheduled three times with different leading couples, and “The World of John Neumeier”, a collection of excerpts from autobiographically significant pieces. It premiered in Tokyo earlier this year and was shown on two consecutive evenings in Baden-Baden. I saw the first performance. (more…)

State Ballet Berlin : An Update

State Ballet Berlin
Berlin, Germany
October 07, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Duato, D.Vieira and K.Ovsyanick, rehearsal of N.Duato's “Nutcracker”, State Ballet Berlin © Y.Revazov 2016 While the State Ballet Berlin is about to kick off its “Nutcracker” season with the newly acquired version by artistic director Nacho Duato, a suspicious silence has spread over the controversial issue of Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman’s assignment as Duato’s successors in 2019.

Getting background information about the candidate search process for the director’s post was laborious, as the Senate Chancellery’s spokesman for cultural affairs, Lars Bahners, was ungenerous in providing substantial information. Hollow words are his metier. (more…)

The First Run of “Giselle” in Munich

“Giselle”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
October 02, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Giselle” by P.Wright after M.Petipa, J.Coralli and J.Perrot, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2016The Bavarian State Ballet opened its first season under Igor Zelensky with the revival of Peter Wright’s “Giselle”. Each of the six performances was led by a different couple. Of the guest dancers Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin created major excitement on opening night. Further guests included the Bolshoi’s Svetlana Zakharova and Vadim Muntagirov from the Royal Ballet London. Both were paired with Munich principals. Of the four ballerinas cast as Giselle, Osipova and Maria Shirinkina danced twice, Zakharova and Ksenia Ryzkhova once. Albrechts coming from within the ranks of the Bavarian State Ballet were Osiel Gouneo and Vladimir Shklyarov. (more…)

Closing a Chapter

“Tribute to Otto and Jiří Bubeníček”
53. International Television Festival Golden Prague
Prague, Czech Republic
September 29, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O. and J.Bubeníček, “Tribute to Otto and Jiří Bubeníček”, International Television Festival Golden Prague © Czech Television 2016September 28th marked the opening of the annual International Television Festival Golden Prague. The city truly lived up to the festival’s title. Warm autumn sun bathed the beautiful historic facades in golden light, inviting the crowds of tourists to stroll in T-shirts and summer dresses. The five-day television festival took place on the New Stage of the National Theatre, located just behind the old theater house.

Loved by their countrymen, Otto and Jiří Bubeníček have regularly appeared on Czech TV. A new, one-hour documentary, produced by Jaroslav Bouček and directed by Martin Kubala, provides insight into the twins’ artistic and private lives during the last two and a half years. (more…)

Van Dantzig, Van Schayk, Van Manen

“Dutch Masters”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, Netherlands
September 25, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Y.Gyo Choi and Q.Liu, “Episodes van Fragmenten” by T.van Schayk, Dutch National Ballet © H.Gerritsen 2016Dutch National Ballet’s latest mixed bill was all-Dutch. It assembled four pieces by three pivotal choreographers of the Netherlands: “Vier letzte Lieder” (“Four Last Songs”) by Rudi van Dantzig (1933 – 2012), the company’s artistic director for twenty years; “Adagio Hammerklavier” by Hans van Manen (born: 1932) ; plus “Episodes van Fragmenten” and “Requiem”, both by Toer van Schayk (born: 1936). This wasn’t lightweight entertainment but a program upon which to ponder. I attended the last performance, the Sunday, September 25th matinée. (more…)