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The Power of Imagination?

“La Fresque”
Ballet Preljocaj
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
January 11, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “La Fresque” by A.Preljocaj, Ballet Preljocaj 2019 © J.-C.CarbonneBallet Preljocaj, Angelin Preljocaj’s Aix-en-Provence-based company, toured Germany in early January with “Le Fresque”. The piece, which features choreography by Preljocaj from 2016, depicts and interprets “The Mural”, a narrative from the collection “Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio” by Chinese author Pu Songling (1640 – 1715). Two male wayfarers, Chu and Meng, are forced by inclement weather to stop at a dilapidated temple. There, a temple fresco showing a group of young women attracts Chu’s attention. He falls in love with one of the women and, while watching her, suddenly finds himself inside the painting. The painting comes surreally to life, and a romance blossoms between Chu and the woman, climaxing in a consummation of the marriage. Shortly afterwards, a frightening man arrives, decked out in armor and searching for the mortal intruder who has entered the painting. At the moment that Chu attempts to hide himself, he is vaulted back into reality. When he looks back at the fresco, he noticed that the woman’s hairdo had changed: instead of braids, she now wears a chignon – the symbol of a married woman.

It is strange and inspiring material. Sadly, it didn’t seem to spark inspiration in Preljocaj.
Preljocaj employs a cast of ten – five women and five men – who perform multiple roles. Alongside Chu, Meng, and the young woman, the ensemble takes on a myriad of roles: three monks, who welcome the wayfarers; masked figures engaged in an apparent marriage ritual; three men in armor threatening the lovers; and four other women – who begin as part of the fresco and later ceremoniously roll the bride’s long hair into a chignon.
2. Ensemble, “La Fresque” by A.Preljocaj, Ballet Preljocaj 2019 © J.-C.CarbonneThe costumes are by the late Azzedine Alaïa, a Tunisian fashion designer who was working in Paris. He dressed Chu and Meng in checkered shirts and corduroy pants held up by suspenders. The women wore various short dresses, while the monks were decked out in black fluttering robes and the armed men were snugly wrapped into full-body camouflage leotards with accompanying military helmets.

Constance Guisset’s set design is sparse: a platform on which the women of the painting pose, and five ropes that hang down from the ceiling. The ropes are used by five male/female couples in a meditatively slow episode of half-erotic, half-acrobatic gymnastics. Guisset primarily deploys black drop curtains and video projections to evoke various environs; these include veils of haze, a shelter overgrown with greenery, and a sky strewn with stars among which white blotches pop up and fade. The result is a gloominess that stems as much from the set as it does from Éric Soyer’s lighting, which swerves between semi-darkness and eyesore brightness.

The recorded music doesn’t do much to evoke a dreamy, romantic mood either. Nicolas Godin treats us to simple repetitive rhythms, onto which he gradually layers similarly monotonous soundscapes. The final products, which are played on endless loops, are tiresomely trite: a saxophone solo, for example, is added to hodgepodge of sounds that includes a bubbling sound like that of a giant boiling cauldron. The sound of rattling is paired with panpipes and layered over a single-note warning signal that seems to herald the encounter between the wayfarers and the temple monks. Clattering Asiatic melodies are drowned out by clunky, uniform rock music, to which

the dancers stride and turn in rhythm. The unvarying sound of artificial breathing accompanies thewayfarers as they rest at the temple. Saber-rattling and dramatic fanfare herald the appearance of the armed men. Thankfully, it’s sometimes silent.

A considerable chunk of Preljocaj’s choreography is as unexpressive as it is unimaginative. There are a few impactful scenes and movements – for example, the Swan-Lake-like undulations of the women’s arms, the gladiatorial entrance of the armed men, or the crawling and rolling of the wayfarers, who wander the stage on all fours. Yet what looks limber or punchy in the piece’s video trailer does not have the same effect live. Several sequences drag on for far too long, while others seem to have been assembled from random movements with an incomprehensible message. The first romantic pas de deux between Chu and the woman lacks any genuine emotionality. Later, the dancers stand in a tight triangle and hop up and down, moving the arms either up or to the side (an unsuccessful reference to Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces”?). As the music accelerates, they hop and flutter even more – but the end result looks ridiculous rather than “off”.

3. Ensemble, “La Fresque” by A.Preljocaj, Ballet Preljocaj 2019 © J.-C.CarbonneOne final question regarding the five women representing the fresco: what kind of woman is it that – in Preljocaj’s opinion – mesmerizes a man? The women are dressed in negligees and wear their hair down, posing in stilted tableaus and occasionally writhing suggestively. We are made to think that they are weak women who are in need of a man. Moments later, as the women begin to move, they sit on the edge of their pedestal, tossing their heads back and forth so that their manes of hair fly high. They stretch one leg and then the other, fall forward onto their hands, sit back, move one place further on the pedestal, and start the routine all over again. The scene reminded me of Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16” – except that Naharin’s piece has power, while Preljocal’s does not. His choreographic material seems to have been laundered with too much fabric softener.

The program leaflet mentions a slew of substantive topics that Preljocaj aims to address in “La Fresque”: transcendence, Plato’s allegory of the cave, life and lifelessness, and the power of imagination. If transcendental experiences turn out to be that drab and boring, it might just be a failing of the imagination.
4. Ensemble, “La Fresque” by A.Preljocaj, Ballet Preljocaj 2019 © J.-C.Carbonne

Links: Website of the Forum Ludwigsburg
Website of Ballet Preljocaj
Trailer video “La Fresque”
Photos: 1.-4. Ensemble, “La Fresque” by Angelin Preljocaj, Ballet Preljocaj 2019 © Jean-Claude Carbonne
Editing: Jake Stepansky

Sweet Hope

Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 29, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Tsyganova, W.Tietze, S.Kaic, E.Merdjanova and A.Tsygankova, “Cinderella” by C.Wheeldon, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanGripping storytelling is a gift – and Christopher Wheeldon has it. His “Cinderella”, revived by the Dutch National Ballet this Christmas season, warms the heart. It’s the right ballet at the right time. As I strolled through the foyer during the breaks, I saw the enthusiastic faces of the many children who attended the matinee with their parents, including a few youngsters imitating dance steps and one girl turning cartwheels – which are not in Wheeldon’s choreography – in the entrance hall. (more…)

Some Thoughts on Ratmansky’s Reconstruction of Petipa’s “Bayadère”

La Bayadère”
State Ballet Berlin

Staatsoper unter den Linden
Berlin, Germany
December 28, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Martirosyan and corps de ballet, “La Bayadère” by M.Petipa reconstructed by A.Ratmansky, State Ballet Berlin 2018 © Y.Revazov“My Bayadère?…I can’t describe it. It’s the same, but completely different. On one hand it’s less; on the other, it has more details – but these are different details.”
That’s what Alexei Ratmansky said in an interview conducted by Margaret Willis for the January issue of Dancing Times about his recent reconstruction of Marius Petipa’s “La Bayadère” for the State Ballet Berlin. If he can’t describe it, then who?

Nevertheless, much has already been written about this “Bayadère”: Marina Harss posted an extensive review on DanceTabs and Alastair Macaulay covered the piece for the New York Times. All that I can do is add my thoughts and observations. (more…)

A Conversation With Guillaume Côté

Moscow, Russia
December 16, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Côté rehearsing “Frame by Frame” by R.Lepage and G.Côté, The National Ballet of Canada 2018 © The National Ballet of Canada / A.AntonijevicGuillaume Côté, principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada, had just made his debut as a guest dancer with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet the previous evening, dancing Romeo in Alexei Ratmansky’s version of “Romeo and Juliet” alongside Evgenia Obraztsova. The role was originally created on Côté in 2011. We met early in the morning – a couple of hours before Côté would return to Toronto – to talk about Romeo, love, his career, and Russia. The first topic we touched upon was dance critique.
Côté’s answers are in italics. (more…)

All That is Called Love

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
December 15, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova and G.Côté, “Romeo and Juliet” by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet 2018 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.FetisovaI saw the Bolshoi Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Romeo and Juliet” for the first time in November 2017, though the choreography premiered in Toronto at the National Ballet of Canada in 2011. The piece is intense, seething with emotions and laden with turmoil. If there is a moment of peace and tranquility it is swiftly swept away by the rush of events. The story feels like a river-boat ride: once you’ve boarded, there’s no stopping or changing course. Instead, the passengers quickly find themselves carried from placid waters to heavy currents and towards a torrential waterfall. (more…)

A Personal Matter

It is time for a personal matter to go public.

I’m sorry to have to say that this blog is closing.
It has become impossible for me to continue traveling to dance performances while having to work at another job to support myself.
Many thanks to the readers – your support was hugely encouraging!
The site will remain on-line for a while.

Ilona Landgraf
25 February 2018

The Art of Storytelling

“Don Quixote”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 13, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Makhateli, D.Camargo and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanLast June, after the premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy” at Dutch National Ballet, principal dancer Jozef Varga told me how much he was looking forward to the revival of Ratmansky’s “Don Quixote”. Amsterdam’s company holds six pieces by Ratmansky in its repertoire and quite likely it will soon have more. The dancers love to work with him. Ratmansky’s “Don Quixote” premiered in 2010 and now, for the third revival, he came over from New York to direct the final rehearsals. Varga wasn’t on stage on opening night, but will dance in later performances. (more…)

From “Ballet Falsity” to Long-Runner

“The Bright Stream”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 10 and 11, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Front Curtain, “The Bright Stream” by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.Yusupov“The Bright Stream” was Shostakovich’s third score for ballet. After his previous ballets, “The Golden Age” (1930) and “Bolt” (1931), were banned from the stage, Shostakovich attempted to create a new composition that would please everyone. Fyodor Lopukhov (1886 – 1973) was in charge of the choreography, the libretto was by Adrian Pyotrovsky and Lopukhov, and indeed, “The Bright Stream” was enthusiastically received at its premiere in Leningrad – today’s St. Petersburg – in 1935. (more…)

A Revealing Autobiography

Marina Grut:
“My Dancing Life: Spanish and Ballet Across Three Continents”
317 pages, colored and b/w photos
The Book Guild Publishing, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1912083541
February 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

Marina Grut – a South Africa-born dancer, dance mistress, Cover “My Dancing Life: Spanish and Ballet Across Three Continents” by M.Grut © The Book Guild Ltdand choreographer – has already written three historical books: one on the history of ballet in South Africa, one on the history of the Bolero, and a third on the history of the Royal Swedish Ballet. Her fourth book deals with another important history: her own.

Grut (née Keet) was born in 1934 and received her first ballet training in Cape Town. At the young age of sixteen, she took over a local dance studio in Stellenbosch, her family’s hometown, commuting daily to Cape Town to continue her studies at the University Ballet School under Dulcie Howes. In 1956, Grut quit ballet to instead focus on teaching Spanish dance. Three years later, she married a doctor of forestry from Denmark, traveling with him from Sweden to South Africa, Rome, Washington D.C., and London. Wherever she went, Grut indefatigably promoted Spanish dance. She taught, lectured, excavated regional dances, and organized performances. One of her main achievements was the development of the Spanish Dance Syllabus for the Spanish Dance Society in 1965. It became the standard for the training and evaluation of students of Spanish dance. (more…)

Let Heads Roll

“The Last Supper”
The New Stage
Prague, Czech Republic
January 28, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Š.Pechar, M.Deneux and M.Lanoue, “The Last Supper” by Š.Pechar, O.Vinklát and M.Svobodník, DEKKADANCERS © M.Hančovský  Two French chefs (Morgane Lanoue and Mathias Deneux) were already preparing “The Last Supper” onstage when the audience took its seats. Wearing pristine white chef’s hats and red and blue shoes respectively, they were on the hunt for a bluebottle that hummed obtrusively around the blocky table and marred the cozy bar music played by a little band in the back. But using a kitchen trowel as swatter wasn’t productive. While the guests arrived and gathered around the huge table center stage, the fly buzzed towards a safe place. The table, made of several smaller blocks, was plastered with pages of the international press, which later, when the parts were separated, revealed huge red blood stains splashed across the newspaper. This was certainly not a Christian meal… (more…)

A Fairy Tale Told Too Simply

“The Snow Queen”
Czech National Ballet
The National Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
January 27, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Nanu and ensemble, “The Snow Queen” by M.Corder, Czech National Ballet © D.WhartonWhile beautifully costumed brass and percussion bands paraded across Prague’s Charles Bridge, vociferously driving out wintertime, icy winter’s cold descended on the National Theatre’s stage as the Snow Queen tried to extend her power over innocent village youth. She fails, securing a happy ending. Over the years a number of choreographers have adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s popular story for the ballet stage. In spring 2016 the Czech National Ballet took Michael Corder’s version into their repertoire, which was created for English National Ballet in 2007. (more…)

Hot Air

“Emergence” (“Speak for Yourself” / “Emergence”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 20, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Mulligan, “Speak for Yourself” by S.León and P.Lightfoot, Ballet Zurich © G.Batardon The program booklet for “Emergence”, Ballet Zurich’s new double bill, raised high expectations. The evening’s title was taken from Crystal Pite’s piece. According to the praise lavished on her, she must be phenomenal and talented beyond belief. “Speak for Yourself”, choreography by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, was dubbed an “alchemistic experiment” in which fire, water, and dance magically merge. Getting in contact with the element water was called a decisive metaphysical moment. Some photos of “Speak for Yourself” were printed with wise sayings quoted from the “Tao Te Ching” by Laozi. Both pieces were danced to recorded music.
Did the program deliver what it promised? (more…)

An Appreciation

Frank-Manuel Peter:
“The Painter Ernst Oppler – The Berlin Secession & The Russian Ballet”
176 pages, 220 colored and 7 b/w photos
Published by Wienand, September 2017
ISBN: 978-3-86832-391-7
January 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Book cover, “The Painter Ernst Oppler – The Berlin Secession & The Russian Ballet” by F.-M.Peter, Wienand Publishing House © Wienand Pubslishing HouseThe Ballets Russes caused an earthquake upon arriving in Paris in 1909. It’s much less well known, however, that Russian dancers – primarily Anna Pavlova – created a stir in Germany (then a ballet diaspora) just days before. Although the first tour of the Imperial Russian Ballet to Berlin in 1908 had been cut short due to limited public interest, Pavlova and her colleagues were enthusiastically celebrated by critics and audience alike one year later. Tickets for their first performance at Berlin’s Royal Opera (today’s Oper unter den Linden) were reserved for those in the cultural elite: authors, critics, actors, and members of the Berlin Secession, a group of artists that opposed the academic art politics of the Wilhelmine era. For painter Ernst Oppler, the performance on May 5th, 1909 was a turning point in his career – a career that would become the focus of “The Painter Ernst Oppler – The Berlin Secession & The Russian Ballet” by Frank-Manuel Peter, head of the German Dance Archive Cologne. (more…)


“Don Quixote”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
January 13, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Trusch, M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestIn an interview in the program booklet for “Don Quixote” Neumeier said that his vision has been to broaden the horizons of his dancers and of the audience. Noble motives that over the years have left much to be desired. Two years ago, Hamburg Ballet’s season involved only one piece by another choreographer in addition to Neumeier, while last season was all his. This season’s schedule was enriched by two foreign choreographers: Rudolf Nureyev and Jerome Robbins. Already in September a double bill by Robbins (“Dances at a Gathering” and “The Concert”) was revived. In December, Nureyev’s version of “Don Quixote” premiered. Manuel Legris had come over from Vienna to lead the rehearsals. But the question is, being primarily limited to Neumeier’s style and short of input from others, how did the company respond to the challenges Nureyev’s piece presents? (more…)