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Choreographer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2024

Prix Benois de la Danse
Martin Chaix, Marco Goecke, Jo Kanamori, Yuri Possokhov, and Maxim Sevagin
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre2. Statuette of the Prix Benois de la Danse, design by Igor Ustinov © Benois Center On June 25th, the Bolshoi Theatre will host the annual Prix Benois charity gala and awards ceremony. It will be followed by a gala concert on June 26th during which laureates of previous years will perform. Prizes will be awarded to the best choreographer and the best female and male dancers. Below is an overview of the five nominated choreographers. A report on the nominated dancers will follow.

Martin Chaix, a former dancer with the Paris Opéra Ballet, the Leipzig Ballet, and Ballett am Rhein, has worked as a freelance choreographer since 2016. Giselle is his second piece for the Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin. Feminist movements (e.g., Femen, MeToo, and #TimesUp) inspired Chaix to create a modern interpretation whose characters reflect contemporary society. His Giselle meets Albrecht in a subway station somewhere in today’s Eastern Germany, but instead of dying upon discovering his infidelity, Giselle joins Myrtha’s gender-fluid street gang in an urban park. Myrtha facilitates Giselle’s self-discovery, which culminates in Giselle’s and Albrecht’s reconciliation.
Chaix has both men and women dance on pointe. The music combines parts of Adolphe Adam’s original score and Louise Farrenc’s (1804-1875) symphonies. Thomas Mika designed the sets; Catherine Voeffray was in charge of the costumes.
Marco Goecke, associate choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) and newly appointed artistic director of the Ballet at the Theater Basel, was nominated for In the Dutch Mountains, his first full-evening piece for NDT. It’s a typical “Goecke” in appearance and style—tense, odd, and enigmatic. For Goecke, “The Dutch mountains,” which do not exist in the flat country of Holland, are the stage floor, “which you always have to climb when you make a work.” Although the piece is plotless, the shoreline of a rough sea on the backdrop as well as the songs reminiscent of sea and nature by This Mortal Coil connect it to the Netherlands to which In the Dutch Mountains pays tribute. The music also includes compositions by Béla Bartók, Johannes Brahms, and the Amsterdam pop band Nits.

 

Jo Kanamori studied and danced in Europe before returning to Japan in 2002 where he took up the artistic reins at the Dance Department at Niigata City Performing Arts Center. He developed KAGUYAHIME, which he created for the Tokyo Ballet, over time. Act I premiered in November 2021 and Act II in April 2023. In 2023, Kanamori completed Act III and combined it with reworked versions of the previous acts to form the final piece. It’s accompanied by Claude Debussy’s piano compositions.
KAGUYAHIME is based on Japan’s oldest surviving literary tale, which was written in the late 9th or early 10th century. Kanamori’s adaption tells the story of the poor bamboo cutter Okina who, thanks to the help of fairies, discovers a tiny princess in a bamboo stalk. He names her Kaguyahime meaning “princess from the Moon.”

Once grown up, Kaguyahime falls in love with the orphan Douji. When Kaguyahime is brought to court, her beauty is admired by many suitors, including the emperor of Japan. Douji’s attempt to free Kaguyahime fails as does Okina’s plan to marry her away profitably. In the meantime, Kaguyahime’s former home, the bamboo grove, was destroyed due to avarice and a war between the villagers and the court chancellors breaks out. The warring parties see reason only when Kaguyahime’s soul, assisted by the fairies, ascends to her home, the moon.

Yuri Possokhov regularly choreographs for the Bolshoi Ballet. His latest work, The Queen of Spades, interprets Pushkin’s eponymous short story for the ballet stage, a genre from which it has been previously absent. The story’s anti-hero, the Imperial army officer-cum-gambler, Hermann, tries to squeeze a card player trick out of an old countess by feigning interest in her young ward, Lisa. Lisa allows Hermann into the house where he confronts the countess so harshly that the old lady dies of fright. Her ghost seems to reveal the secret card trick to Hermann but ultimately fools him. Lisa abandons Hermann in disgust upon learning his true motives. He ends up a madman in an asylum.

Valery Pecheykin, dramaturge at the Gogol Center Moscow, contributed an iridescent libretto with nuanced irony. The music of Tchaikovsky’s eponymous opera and his other compositions comprise the foundation of Yuri Krasavin’s score. Krasavin also included a countertenor who accompanies the countess’s ghost.
The main structure of Polina Bhaktina’s set is a giant cement-colored imperial hall whose crumbling stucco, arched galleries, and dim mirror on the backdrop are reminiscent of the collapse of an empire.

Maxim Sevagin, artistic director of the Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre, was nominated for Class-Concert, a one-act ballet created for his own company. It shows all the ranks of a company in a ballet class sometime between the 19th and 20th centuries. They treat hard work with a sense of professional irony that turns everyday endeavor into a fun game. Inventive group patterns, female variations, and pas de deux climax in a virtuoso pas de deux danced by bygone stars Anna Pavlova and Enrico Cecchetti. In the final, all dancers demonstrate their prowess.
Murky mirrors, elongated tutus, culottes, and vests designed by Vladimir Arefiev define the period as does the music by Daniel Auber and Jacques Offenbach.

3. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre

Links: Website of the Prix Benois de la Danse
Website of Martin Chaix
Website of the Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
Website of the Nederlands Dans Theater
Website of Jo Kanamori/Noism Company Niigata
Website of the Tokyo Ballet
Website of Yuri Possokhov
Website of the Bolshoi Theatre
Website of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Videos: “Giselle” – Teaser
“Giselle”- Excerpt Act I
  “Giselle” – Excerpt Act II
  “In the Dutch Mountains” – Trailer
  “KAGUYAHIME” – Excerpt Act I
  “KAGUYAHIME”- Trailer
  The full version of “KAGUYAHIME” can be watched on MediciTV.
  “The Queen of Spades” – Premiere
  Open Reherasal of “Class-Concert”, June 9, 2023
Photos: 1. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov
2. Statuette of the Prix Benois de la Danse, design by Igor Ustinov © Benois Center
3. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov
Editing: Kayla Kauffman

At a Gallop

“The Pygmalion Effect”
Hungarian National Ballet
Hungarian State Opera
Budapest, Hungary
June 01, 2024 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Szegő (Holmes) and ensemble, “The Pygmalion Effect” by B.Eifman, Hungarian National Ballet 2024 © V.Berecz/Hungarian State Opera Boris Eifman’s The Pygmalion Effect took my breath away. The dancers of the Hungarian National Ballet whizzed through two, at times terrifically fast, acts and then appeared at the curtain call as if they had merely finished warming up. Hats off! Budapest’s audience has loved the ballet, which was created for Eifman’s home company in St. Petersburg in 2019 and has been in the Hungarian National Ballet’s repertory since June 2023. At Saturday’s matinee, the house was packed to the roof.

Greek mythology has two Pygmalions; one was the son of King Belus of Tyros, and the other is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and was a sculptor who fell in love with his creation. This creation—a statue of a woman who was later called Galatea—subsequently came to life. Eifman took inspiration from Ovid’s Pygmalion and the so-called Pygmalion Effect, a psychological phenomenon that was observed in classrooms showing that a teacher’s anticipated judgments about students will cause them to become true. (more…)

Exemplary

“Little Corsaire”
Hungarian National Ballet Institute and Hungarian National Ballet
Eiffel Art Studios
Budapest, Hungary
May 31, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Berki, Z.E.Albert, and J.É.Pollák (Odalisques), “Little Corsaire” by O.Chernakova et al., Hungarian National Ballet Institute & Hungarian National Ballet 2024 © A.Nagy/Hungarian State Opera The best way to nurture young talent and groom a new generation of dance enthusiasts is a concern for many ballet companies. The Hungarian National Ballet and its affiliated Ballet Institute have pursued an impressive strategy to address this issue. Last weekend, they premiered the third children’s production in a row, Little Corsaire, at Eiffel Art Studios. The first series of four performances gave students of various ages ample opportunities to present their skills to the public, which at this premiere consisted of family, friends, and many young children with their parents. The scenes that I observed in the atrium during the break proved that the project has yielded the desired results. Toddlers copied dance steps, and girls—already wearing tutus upon arrival—bounced about excitedly. In a corner behind the old steam locomotive (reminiscent of the venue’s historic role as Northern Railway Maintenance and Engineering Works), the young artists posed for photos with even younger admirers. Some children’s eyes were shining, and hopefully, some of those youngsters will be drawn to the ballet barre too. (more…)

Plainly, Art

“La Strada”
Prague Chamber Ballet
Vinohrady Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
May 26, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

 1. B.Müllerová (Gelsomina), O.Neumannová and L.Muzajeva (Sisters), and M.Dorková (Mother); “La Strada” by J.Bubeníček, Prague Chamber Ballet 2024 © S.Gherciu 2. E.Zappalà (Zampano), “La Strada” by J.Bubeníček, Prague Chamber Ballet 2024 © S.GherciuIt was only a matter of time until Otto and Jiří Bubeníček were drawn back to their family legacy—the circus. Perhaps because they are identical twins, they both chose to tackle Federico Fellini’s film La Strada which, by the way, premiered seventy years ago. Yet, they didn’t work together. While Otto designed sets and costumes for Natália Horečná’s ballet La Strada (starring Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg, and Mick Zeni) at Sadler’s Wells, Jiří choreographed La Strada for the Prague Chamber Ballet. I wasn’t able to watch Horečná’s version in London (I also missed Marco Goecke’s La Strada for Munich’s Gärtnerplatz Theatre in 2018) but had the chance to see Jiří’s work in Prague. He collaborated with, among others, his wife, Nadina Cojocaru, on the libretto and dramaturgy. Cojocaru was also in charge of set and costume design. (more…)

Soul Food

“Coppélia”
Czech National Ballet
The State Opera
Prague, Czech Republic
May 26, 2024 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Svobodník (Dr. Coppélius) and ensemble, “Coppélia” by R.Hydn after A.Saint-Léon and M.Petipa, Czech National Ballet 2024 © M.Divíšek Arthur Saint-Léon’s comic ballet Coppélia premiered on May 25, 1870, at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris. Two months later, on July 19th, Napoleon III declared war on Prussia. The opening night featured a military dance portraying twelve Ottoman Janissaries fencing against twelve Austrian Hussars. It concluded with a ballerina holding an olive branch heralding peace. Times were anything but auspicious during the descent of the Second French Empire, but that wasn’t reflected in the ballet. To the contrary, Léo Delibes’s vibrant score infused the comedy with a buoyant joie de vivre. Might it be a stroke of fate that now of all times, as the political landscape darkens with mind-boggling speed and social cohesion is worn down (at least in my home country, Germany), the Czech National Ballet premiered Coppélia? The Prague audience’s warm reception proved that the ballet still conveys what people are yearning for in times of crisis: togetherness, good humor, generosity, and a romance with a happy ending. (more…)

TV Talent Scouts

“Ազգային պարեր” (National Dances), Shant TV, Armenia
“Большой Балет” (Bolshoi Ballet), Rossiya-Kultura TV, Russia
May 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Matevosyan (host), A.Haxverdyan, L.Hakobyan, M.Mkhitaryan, G.Karapetyan (jury), A.Julhakyan (jury), A.Davtyan (Shant TV), H.Ghukasyan (director and producer), S.Mikayelyan (jury), T.Mnoyan (jury), A.Khangeldyan, S.Margaryan, M.Babayan, S.Barseghyan (host); “Ազգային պարեր” (National Dances), Shant TV, Armenia © Shant TVWhile German TV programs rarely promote the art of dance, dance is part and parcel of media abroad. The sequels of two dance competitions—Ազգային պարեր (Azgayin Parer/National Dances) on Shant TV, Armenia, and Большой Балет (Bolshoi Ballet) on Rossiya-Kultura TV, Russia—were broadcast recently. Both competitions are textbook examples of how to foster talent while simultaneously nourishing and cherishing dance culture.

Folk dance is a pillar of Armenia’s culture, and the Armenian State Barekamutyun Dance Ensemble has presented it professionally since 1987. Its founder and artistic adviser, Norayr Mehrabyan, is the father of Arsen Mehrabyan, who made his career on Western ballet stages. Shant TV’s first run of a folk dance competition reinforces the status of national dance. (more…)

Fifty-Fifty

“Maillot/León & Lightfoot”
Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg
State Theater
Nuremberg, Germany
May 04, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jean-Christophe Maillot © Felix Dol Maillot 2. Sol León © Tommy Pascal 3. Paul Lightfoot © Elena Lekhova The Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg’s new double bill combines Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Les Noces (2022 version) with Stop-Motion (2014) by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. Both pieces have now entered the repertory of a German company for the first time. (more…)

Intense

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
April 04, 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Efremov (Montague's Servant), I.Alexeyev (Benvolio), M.Lobukhin (Tybalt), and ensemble; “Romeo and Juliet” by L.Lavrovsky, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.YusupovIn early April, the Bolshoi Ballet revived Leonid Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, which senior balletomanes may remember from the company’s famous tours of London and the Met in the 1950s and ‘60s. Galina Ulanova, Raisa Strutchkova, Vladimir Vasiliev, Maris Liepa, and many others wrote ballet history dancing the leading roles. I couldn’t attend the premiere in Moscow but was finally able to watch a video of the opening night. It made me wonder why the production had been dropped from the schedule. (more…)

Laureates of the XVIII Russian Open Ballet Competition Arabesque 2024

“Gala Concert”
Perm State Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre
Perm, Russia
April 27, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Awardees, Gala Concert of the Ballet Competition Arabesque 2024 © A.Chuntomov Last weekend, Perm’s ten-day Ballet Competition Arabesque closed with two gala concerts performed by laureates and diploma winners. Many were Russians, but young dancers from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Armenia, Brazil, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and Great Britain also won awards. Thanks to many live streams, dance enthusiasts could easily follow the tournament. Saturday’s gala was the last broadcast and again presented by Aleksandra Domracheva. The first half was reserved for the award ceremony; during the second half, twenty-two of the thirty-nine prize winners performed a mixed program of solos and pas de deux. Treasures from the video archive from previous laureates and a well-made backstage video filmed during this year’s contemporary performance were shown during the break. Sunday’s gala had a different program, which included further awardees. (more…)

Retrospects

“To the Point(e)” (“Within the Golden Hour”/“Autodance”/”Vers Un Pays Sage”)
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum
Monte-Carlo, Monaco
April 27, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Vers un Pays Sage” by J.-C.Maillot, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo 2024 © A.Blangero The new triple bill of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo spans thirty or so years of ballet history. Its earliest ballet—Vers Un Pays Sage (1995)—is by the company’s artistic director, Jean-Christophe Maillot. Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour premiered in 2008 at the San Francisco Ballet. The most recent piece, Sharon Eyal’s and Gai Behar’s Autodance was created for the GöteborgsOperan in 2018.

Vers Un Pays Sage (“To a Wise Country”) is a tribute to Maillot’s father, Jean, a professor of the fine arts, painter, and set and costume designer who died prematurely. Pays Sage was the title of his last exhibition. He has been described as a workaholic with an excessive zest for life, and I conclude from the ballet that he must have had an upbeat, bright nature, brimming full of spirit. Six men and six women successfully conveyed the energy of this fireball of an artist on stage, driven by the pulse of John Adam’s Fearful Symmetries. (more…)

XVIII Russian Open Ballet Competition Arabesque – 2024 named after Ekaterina Maximova

“Gala Concert”
Perm State Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre
Perm, Russia
April 17, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, Gala Concert of the Ballet Competition Arabesque 2024 © A.Chuntomov “Perm is remarkable in that it’s Ballet Lovers’ Society initiated the first Russian ballet competition,” stated Russia’s dance icon, Vladimir Vasiliev. Though it was mainly an event for young Russian dancers at its inauguration in 1988, four years later, the biannual Arabesque Competition welcomed participants from the U.S.A. and Japan. In 1996, the same Ballet Lovers’ Society coaxed Vasiliev and his wife, Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009)—Russia’s most prestigious ballet couple—to lead the jury. (Notably, Arabesque has a two-tier jury consisting of renowned dancers and ballet and theater critics.) In addition, Vasiliev became its artistic director. This year’s run is dedicated to the 85th anniversary of the birth of Maximova.

At the opening gala concert, director, Elena Zavershinskaya, recalled how Arabesque has grown: “Over the years, the spectrum of prizes increased thanks to generous donations and so did the amount of countries that participated. We used to have dancers from 8-9 countries and were quite happy with that. Seventy applicants were a big figure; eighty were many. Once we had one-hundred applicants and were so excited! Now, however, young talents from nineteen countries participate, among them dancers from twenty-three regions of Russia. This year we received a record-high of 266 applications!” (more…)

Incomprehensible

“The Lady of the Camellias”
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
March 24, 2024, (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

 1. Ensemble, “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.TaylorShouts of “Bravi!” mingled with enthusiastic applause after the curtain closed on John Neumeier’s The Lady of the Camellias last Sunday at the Vienna State Opera. I, who was following the performance on screen, was less happy. Being familiar with this piece as it was performed by other companies, I felt that this premiere left a lot to be desired.

To begin with, the choreography—almost forty-five years after its creation—suffers from the same mannerisms present in large parts of Neumeier’s oeuvre. The tools that he uses to express his protagonists’ inner life are repetitive. For example, books, confectionery, and bunches of flowers slipped from the dancers’ grip to signal astonishment or absent-mindedness. The number of people who stumbled, fell, barged into one another, and ran around precipitously was remarkable. As in other Neumeier-ballets, the buffoon (in this case, Count N., whom Géraud Wielick turned into an especially silly specimen of jealous lover) wore glasses. That Neumeier intertwined Marguerite and Armand’s fate with that of Manon Lescaut—a connection that is inherent in Alexandre Dumas’s novel—would be ingenious if the relevant scenes were less mawkish and didactic. (more…)

Half-Baked

“Faust”
Maribor Slovene National Theatre
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
March 16, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Martino (Mephisto) and D.Buffone (Faust), “Faust” by E.Clug, Maribor Slovene National Theatre 2024 © Maribor Slovene National Theatre/T.MartaGoethe’s Faust: The Tragedy’s First Part wasn’t on Edward Clug’s agenda when choreographing a new piece for the Zurich Ballet in 2018. He wanted to tackle Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, but upon finding out that Zurich’s audience wasn’t familiar with the so-called “Soviet Faust,” he turned to his German representative. After its Zurich premiere, Clug’s Faust entered the repertory of other ballet companies, among them Clug’s home company in Maribor, Slovenia. Last weekend, this company performed the piece on their tour to Ludwigsburg.

Fate decided that Clug would indeed later adapt Master and Margarita for the ballet stage, but it was the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow where it premiered in 2021. Faust is a journeyman’s piece whereas Master and Margarita by comparison counts as a masterpiece. Faust assembles plenty of dance theater with group sequences, some of which are trenchant, while others are less convincing. At times, its acrid wit is close to horror. Although the ingredients are fine overall, they didn’t merge as a whole. (more…)

In Commemoration of Ekaterina Maximova

“Fragments of One Biography”
Bolshoi Ballet and Guests
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 01, 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Fragments of One Biography” staged by V.Vasiliev, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.FetisovaOn February 1st, the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina, Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009), would have celebrated her 85th birthday. A phenomenally successful (and multi-decorated) artist, Maximova’s fame reached far beyond Russia’s borders. After retiring from the stage of the Bolshoi in 1988, she continued to dance with other Russian and international companies—and sometimes even returned home to the Bolshoi. From 1990 on, Maximova worked as a coach, teacher, and member of several arts councils and committees. Every five years, Maximova’s husband, Vladimir Vasiliev, stages a gala at the Bolshoi in honor of his late wife. I was able to watch this year’s event on video. (more…)

Love, Faith, and the Inevitability of Karma

“Land of Faith – Bargujin Tukum”
Ballet of the Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre
Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre
Ulan-Ude, Russia
February 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Ovcharov and ensemble, “Land of Faith - Bargujin Tukum” by N.Dmitrievsky, Ballet of the Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre 2023 © N.Dmitrievsky Roughly 4000 miles separate Moscow from the Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East. Two-thirds along this stretch towards the east lies Ulan-Ude, the capital city of the Republic of Buryatia. Its population amounted to 436,000 last year. Lake Baikal is about 100 miles north of Ulan-Ude; the border with Mongolia to the south is 130 miles or so away.
Last year, the Republic celebrated the centenary of the foundation of the Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic—currently known as Buryatia (which is still an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation). On this occasion, the Buryat National Ballet and Opera Theatre commissioned the Moscow-based contemporary choreographer, Nikita Dmitrievsky, to create a new ballet. His Land of Faith – Bargujin Tukum premiered last May and will return to the schedule later this year. During a tour to Moscow last December, it was shown at the Stanislavsky Theatre. I was able to watch a video of the premiere. (more…)