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“I feel like Lensky”

Semyon Chudin, Bolshoi Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
August, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin © Bolshoi TheatreI first saw Semyon Chudin dance in Stuttgart Ballet’s end-of-the season gala this July. He had danced the Wedding Pas de Deux from “Sleeping Beauty” next to Anna Osadcenko and immediately caught my attention. Chudin has an aura, which only a great personality is able to radiate.

As it happens the Bolshoi toured London for three weeks during this summer. One and a half weeks after the Stuttgart gala I sat in the Royal Opera House, watching the company in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. The following day I met Chudin in the Opera House’s cafeteria to talk about his career and his life offstage. We spoke twice, first in the afternoon, and, after rehearsals and with translation support by Sonia Serduk, a longstanding friend of Chudin from St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre, again in the evening. Chudin’s English is good but he feels more at ease when speaking Russian. I guess our group of three attracted attention as we had much fun.

Chudin is natural, kind and easy-going. He does not make the slightest attempt to cultivate a glossy image of himself or to feign a conformist mindset. Telling people what they want to hear isn’t his. The timbre of his voice simply reveals his true opinions. Centered in himself Chudin radiates calmness but at the same time is very self-critical. After the Stuttgart gala he asked Filip Baranciwicz and Mikhail Kaniskin to give him corrections. How many principals act in the same way? “One could always improve something. When you’re satisfied with yourself you should stop,” he later stated.

2. S.Chudin © Bolshoi TheatreChudin was born in Barnaul, around 150 miles south of Novosibirsk in Russia. He would have loved to have siblings but is an only child. His mother always dreamed of becoming a ballerina but problems with her legs shattered her ambitions at an early age. “But her feet are amazing! Beautifully pointed from birth.” Chudin mentions. An active child he was sent to gymnastic classes, though he would have preferred to do more football instead. Or to try jujutsu, boxing and karate. But, being too young, only five or six years old, he quit doing gymnastics. Aged seven he started to attend regular school and had almost forgotten about gymnastics let alone ballet. “But my former gymnastic teacher met my mum and urged her to send me to a ballet school because my body would be ideal for dancing. So I applied at the Novosibirsk Choreographic College, was accepted and, aged ten, moved with my 3. A.Tikhomirova, O.Smirnova, A.Nikulina and S.Chudin, “Appolon musagète” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Bolshoi Ballet, photo by D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatreparents to Novosibirsk. Amongst others we had classical training, pas de deux-classes, character dance, pantomime and modern dance – which at that time wasn’t truly modern – plus regular school subjects.” Thinking back Chudin deems himself not an exemplary pupil, because he didn’t internalize what his teacher told him. “I listened to him but not enough. I was always among the best students in my class so I fancied myself all right.”

Eight years later and just having graduated he searched for new challenges. “Actually the atmosphere in the Novosibirsk Ballet Theatre was nice but it was time to gain experience elsewhere. Also my mother encouraged me to go abroad. By chance one of my fellow students from school was from Korea. She told me about the Universal Ballet in Seoul which at that time was led by Oleg Vinogradov, the former artistic director of the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg. Today he is artistic director emeritus. They had many good teachers from the Maryinsky Theatre and the Vaganova Academy. So I gave it a try, wrote to the general director, Julia H. Moon, was offered a contract and in 2003 joined the company as a corps dancer.” Asked why he didn’t also audition for other companies, Chudin said: “I don’t know. I could have tried at the Bolshoi or at the Maryinsky, but I didn’t even try. Today I know but back then I had no idea how to get an audition. No one at school helped us, maybe because they wanted us to stay in Novosibirsk.”

4. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “Swan Lake” by Y.Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre “Arriving at the Universal Ballet opened my eyes. I saw how the dancers worked and how clear their dancing was and thought Wow!” Maybe that is where his critical approach towards himself originated. “Evgeny Neff, a former principal of the Kirov Ballet, was my teacher. He was very strict and made me work hard. Actually we missed no chance to work. It happened that he even corrected my arm positions in his home office when the theater was closed.” Step by step Vinogradov entrusted more soloist roles on Chudin. Within the following four years he had danced all leading roles in the classical repertory, had worked with Nacho Duato and Ohad Naharin and had been promoted to soloist, later to principal.

5. S.Chudin, O.Smirnova and ensemble, “Swan Lake” by Y.Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre Why did he leave for Zurich Ballet in 2007? A choreography by Heinz Spoerli, “All Shall Be”, which he had danced in his early time in Seoul had sparked his interest for the Swiss company so much, that he wanted to work with Spoerli. Spoerli created “Peer Gynt” on Chudin. Later the production was filmed with Marijn Rademaker in the leading role.
But Zurich was only an intermediate station.

One year later Vinogradov, about to mount “Romeo and Juliet” at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, called Chudin and asked him to guest as Romeo. He already had danced Mercutio and Paris in the same production in Seoul. “Of course, I agreed. Soon later, Sergei Filin rang me, suggesting I guest with the Stanislavsky Theatre, for example in “Giselle”, and that we talk about further projects.” It seems the Russian dance scene wanted him to come back. “I remember our talk very well. I 6. N.Kaptsova and S.Chudin, “Moidodyr (Wash'em Clean)” by E.Podgayts, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatresaid: Sergei, at the moment I want to be everywhere at the same time. And Sergei answered: No, no, no! That doesn’t work. If you are everywhere, you are nowhere. You have to find your home where you can focus on your work, where you can create something interesting, something strong. Sergei knows so many things, which I wanted to learn from him. Working with him on “Giselle” was incredible. He showed me every detail and he really was interested in nurturing me.” That is why in 2008 Chudin decided to join the company of the Stanislavsky Theatre. He lists many rewarding productions he danced in, “Don “Quixote”, “Cinderella”, Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand”, Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid”, and recalls Bournonville’s “Napoli” for which a repetiteur from the Danish Ballet came over.

Nevertheless he hadn’t found his home in the Stanislavsky Theatre. “I always wanted to dance in a big company. The Maryinsky, the Bolshoi, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet or American Ballet Theater – that are the big ones. The Stanislavsky is close to the Bolshoi, only around one mile away. When passing by, I always thought, the Bolshoi is such a great company! I want to be part of it.”
In 2011 his dream became true. When Sergei Filin left the Stanislavsky Theatre to become artistic director of the Bolshoi, he took Chudin along. Since then, Chudin is a principal of the Bolshoi.

7. O.Smirnova and S.Chudin, “Jewels” (Diamonds) by G.Balanchine, © The George Balanchine Trust, Bolshoi Ballet, photo by E.Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre From Novosibirsk to Seoul, to Zurich and via St. Petersburg to Moscow – that is quite an indirect route to reach one’s destination. Chudin hasn’t planned his career. He simply trusts in being guided. “I feel very happy at the Bolshoi, free and safe. Having colleagues who ask me to dance with them is wonderful too! Usually, Olga Smirnova is my partner, but also Ekaterina Krysanova.” Most importantly, I found my teacher, Alexander Vetrov. Thank God! It is so hard to find your teacher. The chemistry between Alexander and me works perfectly! I really can talk with him about everything but we understand each other even without words. He is like a father to me, passing all his knowledge onto me.”
Vetrov, a renowned ex-soloist of the Bolshoi, lived for fifteen years in America where he worked with several companies before returning as teacher-repetiteur to the Bolshoi in 2011. He is also David Hallberg’s Bolshoi-coach. Chudin and Hallberg are friends.
Asked whether the situation changed for him after Mahkar Vaziev took over the reins of the Bolshoi, Chudin hesitates a few seconds, and, with a low, serious voice, says: “I like him as well. He is a nice person. He knows what he wants. That is good!”

8. S.Chudin and M.Alexandrova, “Dream of Dream” by J.Elo, Bolshoi Ballet © E.Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre One can hardly achieve more than being a principal of the Bolshoi. Yet, what is most likable about Chudin, is that he stayed true to himself. “It is said, that when joining the Bolshoi dancers often become a bit stuck-up”, Serduk, our translator, later told me. “But not so Semyon. He still is the same. He is exceptionally devoted to ballet.“ We agree on his being different than the others. One notices it right away the moment he enters stage. The air simply changes.

Meanwhile the curtain went up next door for the evening performance of “Shrew”. The second the first tunes of Shostakovich’s score are broadcast to the cafeteria, Chudin is electrified. Like a sensitive race horse his shoots up, turns his head towards the TV, his eyes wide open. Alas – there is no picture! A few seconds later, his having impatiently pressed the remote buttons, the evening’s Katharina and Bianca turn up on the screen. From time to time Chudin’s eyes wander there. Lucentio’s solo again glues him to the TV. Maillot created it on him.

9. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “The Taming of the Shrew” by J.-C.Maillot, Bolshoi Ballet © E.Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre “Shrew” has neoclassical language, yet the main part of Chudin’s repertory is classical. He doesn’t see himself specialized in the classical side though; modern choreographies attract him too. But the Bolshoi hasn’t that much in store. “I would love to dance more modern ballets. Some time ago Paul Lightfoot and Sol León from the Nederlands Dans Theater worked with us, which was very interesting. We also have Forsythe’s “Herman Schmerman”. But recently I guested in Stuttgart – an amazing company! And”, he continues, his his voice getting enthusiastic, “ they not only have Cranko but many pieces from Forsythe and other modern choreographers. Marco Goecke, for example, is fantastic! He really established a unique language, another world. I went to Stuttgart’s Theaterhaus to see his “Nijinsky”. So many great ideas! Itzik Galili’s piece in the [Stuttgart Ballet] gala was nice, but Douglas Lee’s was really incredible. And how Alicia [Amatriain] did it! I miss that kind of physicality so much! I already talked with Douglas about working with him. I really want to experiment with these kinds of movements as well. It will help me with the classical repertory.” He also likes dancing Balanchine’s ballets: “I hope with Makhar we get more Balanchine to dance.”

10. A.Tikhomirova, S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi TheatreChudin’s favorite role is Lensky in Cranko’s “Onegin”. Explicitly Lensky, not Onegin. “When Reid [Anderson] came to the Bolshoi in 2013 to stage “Onegin”, he chose me for both roles. But during rehearsals getting into the character of Onegin was hard. The role also has tricky lifts. Maybe I’d like to try Onegin again in some years, but for the moment I feel I’m Lensky. I want to be like him, poetic and emotional and soft.” He already has all these character traits, I think to myself. No need to strive after them. “But we have very good casts for the role of Onegin.”

11. S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi TheatreOnegin is a topic we should enlarge upon again, as our opinions about him differ. I find the way he refuses Tatiana’s love arrogant, but Chudin disagrees: “He is tired of life. And he isn’t interested in her.” The sobriety and conviction behind this statement must derive from intense reflections upon the character. “When “Onegin” is scheduled I try to reread the book and to watch one of our Russian opera productions on the internet. It shows how the characters should be, especially when sung by our old singers, [Ivan] Kozlovsky or [Sergei] Lemeshev. That helps me to get in the right mood for the ballet.”

Aged thirty-one and having plenty of years as an active dancer ahead, Chudin already has plans for the time after retiring from stage. “I went through so many different companies and got to know so many artistic directors that I feel familiar with many facets of their work.” Becoming artistic director of a company would tempt him. He feels comfortable with management aspects as well as with guiding and fostering artists.
12. S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © E.Fetisova/Bolshoi TheatreThis June he guested with Marianela Nuñez in “Don Quixote” at the Vienna State Opera. “I observed, for example, how Manuel [Legris] worked with his company. He is so close to the dancers! He helps each one to grow and one can witness the progress day by day. I would like to work with people, to help them forge ahead. Though, the few times I gave class at the Bolshoi, everyone complained and found it too hard.” He smiles, “I like French classes… But, similar to Manuel, I think it’s also important to invite guests from time to time to give the younger ones examples.”

Occasional guest appearances are a win-win-situation for the company, the guest and, last but not least, the audience. Stuttgart Ballet asked Chudin to return for Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake” and he would also love to guest with the Paris Opera Ballet.

Irrespective of his career the most important thing in his life is his two-month-old son. Chudin is married to Alevtina Rudina, a fellow dancer at the Bolshoi. Describing himself as a family person, having a second child is quite likely. Asked what he deems important to teach his son in life, Chudin pauses for some seconds and then cheerfully declares: “I’m so lucky to have my wife. She will teach him everything!” He adds more seriously: “We are always discussing and she will say to me: Please behave well, because you’ll be your son’s 13. S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatrerole model.” He pauses, “We keep an eye on his physical abilities, his feet, his flexibility, but won’t push him to become a dancer. I suppose unlike me he’ll be clever and I want him to choose a profession he’ll be happy with. Because I didn’t choose my profession. My mum chose for me. But she was right, one-hundred percent! I’m happy in my job. But I’m not a fanatic about ballet. Now I want to spend more time with my family. I won’t cut down the time spent in the studio though. Because if one loses quality, it’ll be seen on stage. One needs to train in a savvy way. Too many hours in the studio lead to nothing except exhaustion. But meanwhile I’ve reached a state that I can allow myself to miss a rehearsal and instead think about the role, go to the opera, read a book, watch a film or go for a stroll. I need to fill my mind with the right things to have something to give to the audience. But when you’re exhausted you have nothing to give. That’s why at the Bolshoi we’ve no rehearsal on the day of the performance. We have almost one day free. So one wants to go on stage.”

14. S.Chudin, “The Sleeping Beauty” by Y.Grigorovich after M.Petipa, Bolshoi Ballet © E.Fetisova/Bolshoi TheatreChudin had mentioned cleverness as a desirable virtue. Does he miss something from his own education? “I wish I had read more. And seen more paintings. I reread Pushkin, “Ruslan and Ludmila”, “The Prisoner of the Caucasus” and “The Fountain of Bakhchisaray”, but I don’t have much time for reading. During our last London tour three years ago I went to the National Gallery after my last show. I borrowed an audio guide, wandered through the exhibition and just enjoyed it. I’ll never forget that! But during this tour I don’t have time.”

At home he is likewise busy, “but usually, when in Moscow, I go to Sanduny every Monday. That’s a steam bath house (according to the internet the oldest public bath house in Russia) similar to the one you have in Germany in Baden-Baden.” One word leads to the other. Baden-Baden interests Chudin, not only because of its thermal bath. Many Russians live there; moreover the Maryinsky tours the Festspielhaus every Christmas season. “We should go there as well. I’ll have to talk with Makhar. I’ll tell him the dancers need to go to the spa.”

(The interview has been edited for clarity.)
15. E.Obraztsova and S.Chudin, “Marco Spada” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre

 Links:  Homepage of the Bolshoi Theatre
 Photos:  1.  Semyon Chudin © Bolshoi Theatre
 2.  Semyon Chudin (Apollo) © Bolshoi Theatre
 3. Anna Tikhomirova (Calliope), Olga Smirnova (Terpsichore), Anna Nikulina (Polyhymnia) and Semyon Chudin (Apollo), “Appolon musagète” by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Bolshoi Ballet, photo by Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
 4. Semyon Chudin (Prince Siegfried) and Olga Smirnova (Odette), “Swan Lake” by Yuri Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
 5. Semyon Chudin (Prince Siegfried), Olga Smirnova (Odile) and ensemble, “Swan Lake” by Yuri Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
 6. Nina Kaptsova (Fresh as a Daisy) and Semyon Chudin (Piggy-wiggy), “Moidodyr (Wash’em Clean)” by Efrem Podgayts, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
 7. Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin, “Jewels” (Diamonds) by George Balanchine, © The George Balanchine Trust, Bolshoi Ballet, photo by Elena Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre
 8. Semyon Chudin and Maria Alexandrova, “Dream of Dream” by Jorma Elo, Bolshoi Ballet © Elena Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre
 9. Semyon Chudin (Lucentio) and Olga Smirnova (Bianca), “The Taming of the Shrew” by Jean-Christophe Maillot, Bolshoi Ballet © Elena Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre
10. Anna Tikhomirova (Olga), Semyon Chudin (Lensky) and ensemble, “Onegin” by John Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
11. Semyon Chudin (Lensky) and ensemble, “Onegin” by John Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
12. Semyon Chudin (Lensky) and ensemble, “Onegin” by John Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Elena Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre
13. Semyon Chudin (Lensky) and ensemble, “Onegin” by John Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
14. Semyon Chudin (Prince Désiré), “The Sleeping Beauty” by Yuri Grigorovich after Marius Petipa, Bolshoi Ballet © Elena Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre
15. Evgenia Obraztsova (Angela) and Semyon Chudin (Prince Frederici), “Marco Spada” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
Editing: Agnes Farkas


Grand Glamor

“Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo”
Theaterhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
August 09, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Swan Lake” after L.Ivanov, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo © S.VaughanFor almost a week the venerable “Trocks” have been doing themselves the honor of guesting at Stuttgart’s Theaterhaus as part of an extended tour through Germany. A packed house duly welcomed them and was generously rewarded with a mixed bill of iconic classics. I saw the program on opening night which, “in accordance with the greatest tradition of Russian Ballet”, slightly differed from what had been announced in advance. Instead of the “Pas de deux Mystérieux” we were presented with the threesome of the “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux”, “Go for Barocco” and the “Dying Swan” which were framed by Act II of “Swan Lake” and the Grand Pas Classique of “Paquita”. (more…)

Maillot’s Idea of How to Tame

Taming of the Shrew”
Bolshoi Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
August 03, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Krysanova and V.Lantratov, “The Taming of the Shrew” by J.-C.Maillot, Bolshoi Ballet © M.Logvinov/Bolshoi TheatreThe Bolshoi Ballet’s three-week tour to London draws crowds of ballet aficionados to the Royal Opera House. Every evening each of the five productions is sold out. Those include the much-loved classics, “Swan Lake”, “Don Quixote” and “Le Corsaire”, as well as “The Flames of Paris” by Alexei Ratmansky and Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “The Taming of the Shrew” which premiered two years ago at the Bolshoi. “Shrew” was scheduled only twice. I saw the first performance.

Similar to Kurt-Heinz Stolze’s Scarlatti-pastiche for John Cranko’s “Shrew”, Maillot also cobbled together the score. He assembled less well known film music and excerpts of symphonies by Dmitri Shostakovich which go along with the events on stage like lubricating oil. Whether swooshing or romantic, the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre under Igor Dronov’s baton played with verve.

The story sets off at the estate of Baptista, a wealthy lord in Padua. But the two broad, curved outdoor stairs arching over the house’s entrance, designed by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, don’t relate to any specific town. Baptista is beset with two daughters, the prickly Katharina and her younger sister, the much-adored Bianca. But the latter will not be allowed to marry until Katharina first wears her wedding ring. (more…)

Done For Reid

Stuttgart Ballet’s Festival Weeks: “Gala”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
July 24, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. R.Anderson, guests and ensemble,”Stuttgart Ballet Gala” © Stuttgart Ballet 2016Not even a quarter of the way into Reid Anderson’s twentieth jubilee gala, this leader of the Stuttgart Ballet confided to the audience that “We’re both done for and, by the way, I’m a bit gaga.” By “we” he meant himself and Tamas Detrich, his Associate Artistic Director. Detrich, though, will take charge after the 2017/18 season. What was going on ? (more…)

A Little Summit

Stuttgart Ballet’s Festival Weeks: “John Cranko School Gala”
John Cranko School
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
July 23, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Students of the John Cranko School, “The Four Seasons”: “Spring” by K.Kozielska © Stuttgart Ballet 2016Last Saturday’s gala of the John Cranko School was only expected to be the overture for the company’s big final gala on the following day. Yet it proved to be a treat in itself.
How often is new choreography made on students? On the occasion of the Ballet Festival Weeks celebrating Reid Anderson’s twentieth jubilee as artistic director of Stuttgart Ballet, four former graduates choreographed to the music of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”, each one responsible for one season. Marco Goecke’s “A Spell on You”, also created for the Cranko School and premiered earlier this year, was shown again. Guest students from schools in Paris, London, Toronto and Hamburg allowed one to compare training, but first and foremost the event highlighted a feeling of togetherness. The gala was streamed live to the outdoor audience of “Ballet in the Park” in front of the opera house. (more…)

The Talent Scout

Stuttgart Ballet’s Festival Weeks: “Sketches”
Stuttgart Ballet
Kammertheater Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
July 17, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Osadcenko and J.Reilly, “Delta Inserts” by K.O'Day, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 20162. A.Osadcenko and J.Reilly, “Delta Inserts” by K.O'Day, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 2016In Stuttgart the ballet season reached its climax this July. Reid Anderson’s twentieth jubilee as artistic director is being celebrated with a vast program of extras for three weeks. On July 3rd he had allowed insight into his life and career in the talk “Everything you Always wanted to Know…”. The film documentation “Miracles and Superheroes – 55 Years Stuttgart Ballet” received its cinema premiere on July 15th. It was broadcast on television on July 20th. (more…)

There is Nothing Like Being Naughty

“b.28” (“Esplanade”, “Tenebre”, “Different Dialogues”)
Ballett am Rhein
Opera House Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, Germany
July 10, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. W.S.Chan, A.Simões, D.Becker, V.Hoffman, C.Andriot and B.Narnhammer, “Esplanade” by P.Taylor, Ballett am Rhein © G.Weigelt 2016Last Sunday the Ballett am Rhein began summer break after a final performance of “b.28”. This time the triple bill lacks choreography by the company’s artistic director Martin Schläpfer. Instead it combines three ensemble pieces by others: Paul Taylor”s “Esplanade”, Hubert Essakow’s “Tenebre”, and “Different Dialogues” by Nils Christe.

Works by Paul Taylor are very rare on German dance stages. It was a welcome chance to see a key work of the “naughty boy of Modern Dance”, as Taylor jokingly called himself in a 2013 video. “It was not acceptable what I was doing…” recalls Taylor about his beginning in the mid 1950s in New York. (more…)

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 05, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Evans, “Turangalȋla” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © K.West 2016Traditionally Hamburg Ballet opens its annual Ballet Days with the season’s second premiere. This July John Neumeier’s “Turangalȋla” saw the light of day. It is set to Olivier Messiaen’s symphony of the same title, composed in 1948. “Turangalȋla” is derived from the Sanskrit words “turanga” and “lila” roughly meaning a “love song and hymn of joy, rhythm, life and death”. I saw the second performance after the premiere. Unfortunately, one found little to delight in.

Choreographing to Messiaen’s symphony has been on Neumeier’s wish list since the 1960s. But Messiaen persistently refused to give his approval. He deemed the composition a sacral work not meant to be danced to. (more…)

For the last Time

“Für die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
June 29, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Sukhorukova, N.Losada, Z.Zahradniková, J.Cook, Andrade, L.Engel, N.Strada, G.Romano, S.Ferrolier, M.Dilaghi, A.Tuzil, R.Strona, S.Throop, M.Navarrete Villalba and M.Urban, “Für die Kinder...” by P.Bausch, Bavarian State Ballet © Bavarian State Ballet 2016Last Wednesday Ivan Liška’s era at the helm of the Bavarian State Ballet ended after a final performance of Pina Bausch’s “Für die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen” (“For the Children of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”). Together with him a large part of the company is leaving. There could have been no better piece than Bausch’s for this event. “For the Children…” tells of what makes life alive: being foolish, crazy, full of joy, desperate, sad and over the top, showing off, trying togetherness, falling in love, quarreling and playing mean games. Many situations are absurd, all are touching. Love is a core topic, emotions in general are. (more…)


Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, Netherlands
June 25, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Year of the Rabbit” by J.Peck, Dutch National Ballet © H.Gerritsen 2016The program of “Transatlantic”, recently premiered by Dutch National Ballet, is a teaser. The mixed bill has four pieces: two world premieres by George Williamson and Ernst Meisner, a Dutch premiere by Justin Peck and “Overture”, choreography by David Dawson from 2013. A kaleidoscope of up-to-date ballet! Strangely, large parts of the auditorium were empty at, the sixth and second to last performance on Saturday, June 25th. Maybe the round of 16 matches of the European Football Championship kept many glued to the TV screens. They missed a lot. (more…)


Gauthier Dance
Theaterhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
June 22, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. R.Guerra and L.Prunty, “Nijinski” by M.Goecke, Gauthier Dance © R.Brocke 2016Stuttgart’s Gauthier Dance is known for entertaining programs. Commissioning Marco Goecke, Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer, with a ballet about Vaslav Nijinsky heralds a change of course towards the serious.
Nijinsky is a legend. He was the star dancer of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1909 – 1921) and as a choreographer ahead of his time. But tragically mental illness struck him in the middle of his life. How did Goecke approach him?

One thing was clear from the beginning. Goecke and Nijinsky have things in common. Nijinsky’s choreographies, especially “L’Après-midi d’un faune” (1912) and “Le Sacre du printemps” (1913), sent shock waves through the cultural world. (more…)


“Illusions – like Swan Lake
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
June 19, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Urban, “Illusions – like Swan Lake” by J.Neumeier, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich © W.Hösl 2016Melancholy pervaded Munich’s National Theater on Sunday. For the last time the company performed John Neumeier’s “Illusions – like Swan Lake”. With Igor Zelensky taking over as the company’s director, this production will be stored in mothballs for the time being. Also, twelve dancers had their last evening on stage. Twenty-nine members — around forty percent of the ensemble – are leaving. Being part of the audience made me sigh deeply, as did looking at the front curtain’s golden embroidery on a blue-white ground decorated with swans and lilies. Then there were Jürgen Rose’s superb decors and marvelous costumes. What a pity that so much of this will disappear from view.

“Illusions – like Swan Lake” is a 1976 collaboration of choreographer Neumeier and designer Rose. Although steeped in Bavarian history, this version of “Swan Lake” premiered in Munich only in 2011. Neumeier linked the swan story and the fate of Bavaria’s King Ludwig II (1845 – 1886), who had become known as the Fairy Tale Monarch or Swan King.

Parallels between Ludwig II and the ballet’s Prince Siegfried and also with composer Tchaikovsky are striking. Ludwig II struggled with being homosexual, as did Tchaikovsky. (more…)

Riding the Wild Surf

“Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night”
Ballet of the Theater and Philharmonic Orchestra Thuringia
Theater Gera
Gera, Germany
May 26, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Kuzina and P.Jovicic, “Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night” by J.Bubeníček, Theater and Philharmonic Orchestra Thuringia © S.Ballone 2016Two months ago Jiří and Otto Bubeníček mounted the ballet “Doctor Zhivago” in Ljubljana. Last week the Czech Republic, their home country, honored them with the Gratias Agit for promoting the nation’s reputation abroad. Just this Friday the brothers gave their country a further reason for being proud of them: the premiere of “Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night” in Gera, Thuringia. This ballet traces the life and character of the scandalous German dancer, actress and self-promoter, a phenomenon of the “golden 1920s”. Choreography for the production is Jiří’s. Otto designed the set and costumes. Both brothers are responsible for the staging. This one acter, “Anita Berber”, again showed the Bubeniceks’ gift for storytelling. (more…)

Dull Orgy

Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
June 10, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain, “Salome” by D.Volpi, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 2016“Salome” is the second program-filling piece that Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer Demis Volpi has made for the company. “Krabat”, also multi-act, in 2013 was his auspicious first attempt. Last year’s “L’Histoire du Soldat”, part of a triple bill dedicated to Stravinsky, was weak.
For “Salome”, Volpi again gathered the “Krabat” team. Vivian Arnold, Stuttgart’s director of the press, communications and dramaturgy, was in charge of the libretto and the dramatic direction. Set and costume designs are by Katharina Schlipf. Lighting is Bonnie Beecher’s. This time, though, the quartet’s work fell short. (more…)

Giving Perspectives

Tigran Mikayelyan and “Forceful Feelings”
Munich, Germany
June, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Mikayelyan, Bavarian State Ballet © S,KletzschI doubt whether Armenia was on the international ballet map twenty years ago. That this has changed is due to Tigran Mikayelyan. He was the first to leave his home country in 1997 for the sake of dance. Others followed. In 2006 he founded the ballet troupe “Forceful Feelings” with his best friend, Arsen Mehrabyan. They were joined by three fellow Armenians, Arman Grigoryan, now soloist of the State Ballet Berlin, Vahe Martirosyan, first soloist of the Royal Swedish Ballet and Artur Babajanyan, who dances with the Joffrey Ballet. Mikayelyan is principal of the Bavarian State Ballet; Mehrabyan, also principal, dances with the Royal Swedish Ballet.

For a number of years the five have been building bridges for their art between their home country and the west. All were born in Yerevan, trained in the Armenian National Ballet School, and left their country to pursue their careers abroad. They are as close as brothers, not related by blood, but kindred spirits. Also their families are closely connected. Now geographically separated, their paths came together again in Zurich where they danced with Zurich Ballet under Heinz Spoerli’s tenure. The next performances of “Forceful Feelings” at the end of June will bring them back to Switzerland’s global city. (more…)