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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.

2. M.Makhateli and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanRatmansky credits Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorski as the piece’s main choreographers while restricting his own contribution to additional choreography and production. Petipa’s choreography set to music by Ludwig Minkus dates from 1869. In 1900 Gorski modified Petipa’s scenario, trimmed Minkus’s score and supplemented it with music by Anton Simon. Allegedly, Petipa was indignant that his ballet had been touched. Additional music was added in subsequent years.
Since then, Petipa’s original has served as the foundation for many adaptions and each is slightly different. What is characteristic of Ratmansky’s?
It is: clear, conclusive storytelling; authentic and credible characters; a substantial amount of Spanish folk dance including castanets; the inclusion of children; plus a splendid set and tasteful costumes by Jérȏme Kaplan.

3. V.Mazzeo and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftira4. V.Mazzeo and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.KaftiraLet’s begin with Kaplan. The study he designed for Don Quixote is spacious and – except for the book-laden work desk – tidy. The book shelves are movable and at one point slide through the room as if by magic. Kitri and Basilio flirt on a broad square in Barcelona with a grandiose view over the old town. The sky is as cloudless blue as the atmosphere is cheerful. The two lovers will later marry on the same square under a golden yellow sunset. The tavern, where Kitri and Basilio stop by while on the run from Kitri’s father Lorenzo and Gamache, Lorenzo’s desired son-in-law, is narrow and has steep stone stairs on either side. Through its Moorish archway one discerns the Spanish scenery behind.
6. V.Mazzeo, F.Eimers and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftira5. F.Eimers, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.KaftiraAccording to the synopsis, Don Quixote’s fight with the windmills takes place on a plateau in the mountains, but it could also be a spot on a rocky coast, because the group of traveling artists, who were camping there, gathered round a ramshackle stage that resembled a stranded sailing boat. At this camp, Don Quixote will run up against the imagined windmills – five in total and all projected on the backdrop’s 7. V.Mazzeo, F.Eimers and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftirahill scenery. And from here, having collapsed to the ground, the Don’s dreams will wander to the realm of the dryads – a glade made of myriads of green-golden cords hanging down from above. Flower buds and long, narrow leaves intertwined with the cords and flat, mossy stones on the ground served as seats for some dryads.

Kaplan used colors effectively. The base color of the town’s folks garb was brown. Most of the women wore overskirts in different shades of turquoise; a few had yellow and red ones. When standing in a broad semi-circle on the square, the array of colors pleased the eye. Don Quixote’s droppy-eared horse Rocinante and Sancho Panza’s stubborn, restive donkey (and how both riders dealt with them) were ingenious.

8. A.Babenko and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.KaftiraKaplan’s realistic set adds to the comprehensibility of the story. But what else is clearer in Ratmansky’s storytelling compared to that of his colleagues?
Ratmansky shows the connections linking one action logically with the next. In Act II, for example, after Kitri has been discovered in the tavern by her father and taken home to finally marry Gamache, two small scenes give insight into her and Basilio’s desperate mood and show Basilio hitting upon the idea of feigning a suicide. Besides, as both scenes are played at the forestage in front of the closed curtain, a smooth set change was possible in the background.

9. E.Wijnen and E.Horwood, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftira10. N.Rapaic and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.KaftiraHow often did one wonder whether Don Quixote’s encounter with the dryads is real or a dream? Ratmansky clarifies matters. His chevalier not only has windmill hallucinations, but sees the face of his beloved Dulcinea in the moon. First smiling, her face soon expresses sorrow and when dark clouds cover her, the chevalier loses consciousness. His squire runs for help. While he is away, Don Quixote’s dreams wander. But before they enter the soothing realm of the 11. N.Rapaic and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftiradryads, he is threatened by spiky cacti and bird-like monsters. The dream ends when Sancho Panza returns to revive his master with a slug from his hip flask. Don Quixote’s housekeeper and servant, usually only part of the prologue, reappear on the scene and escort their goodman back home.

Ratmansky places Basilio’s mock suicide – the climax of the story – on the square in front of Lorenzo’s inn, where it happens at the very last minute before his Kitri was to marry Gamache. Having snatched Lorenzo’s blessings to wed the ostensibly dead Basilio, the real wedding feast begins immediately afterwards. Other versions place the feigned self-stabbing in the tavern and change the set to the square for the wedding. That breaks the arc of suspense and reduces the final divertissements to an appendix.

12. S.Mukhamedov and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanWhy are Ratmansky’s protagonists more credible than others?
He avoids over-exaggerated theatricality for the benefit of more natural acting. Of course, the figures have their oddities. Don Quixote has to be awkward and quixotic; Sancho Panza must have a continuously growling stomach, and Gamache can only be an effeminate fop. Yes, one chuckles about them, but with sympathy and warmth.
Moreover, the romance of Kitri and Basilio is stripped off of any artificial lets-act-like-teasing-lovers behavior one often finds in other productions. When Kitri flirts with Don Quixote and Basilio counters by making overtures to another pretty girl, the annoyed glances both Kitri and Basilio dart at each other arise from real jealousy. They are not kidding.

14. S.Mukhamedov and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.Haegeman13. M.Makhateli and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanOn opening night, some of the dancers gave strong performances, a few were exceptional. They propelled up the energy which occasionally sagged.
Maia Makhateli’s Kitri was desperately in love with Daniel Camargo’s Basilio. Reserved at first, she gained confidence the moment Basilio appeared. One felt how proud the town folk were about her castanet solo, about having such a talented beauty in their midst. Makhateli is an assured dancer; her acting is credible and engaging. She seemed uneasy when appearing among the dryads in the dream scene, but switched expertly from serene, long-held balances to a quicksilver manège of piqué turns.
15. M.Makhateli, S.Mukhamedov and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanCamargo was the trump card of the performance. He is a superb dancer – reliable as partner and daredevil in solos. His presence filled the stage. For the last leap of a series of soaring jumps he often went one better. If the fire onstage had become a glow, Camargo rekindled it.

Nicolas Rapaic, a former dancer of Dutch National Ballet, played the titular character, an idealistic dreamer in stiff armor, who knew when to intervene firmly. Only because of Don Quixote’s resolute grip Lorenzo was to see reason at the eleventh hour and bless the marriage of his daughter and Basilio. And given how gallantly the Don lay the laurel wreath at the feet of Dulcinea, which the Queen of the Dryads (Sasha Mukhamedov) had bestowed on him, and how he later 17. A.Okumura and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftira16. A.Okumura, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftiradanced a pithy solo for Kitri at the wedding feast, his heart could be seen overflowing with romantic love.

The short Frans Schraven portrayed Sancho Panza. Schraven, born in 1959, is a multi-talent. He acts, dances, choreographs and sings. For “Don Quixote” he tapped into his acting and dancing skills and came up with a brilliant performance. I’ve never seen a more likeable, inventive, and animated squire. A good-hearted stalwart of his master, Sancho Panza quickly 18. F.Schraven, N.Rapaic and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.Haegemanintervened if his Don was about to get in trouble. Both supported each other and – although Sancho Panza was prone to forays – kept each other on the path of chivalric virtue.

Wearing a sumptuous bright pink outfit, Anatole Babenko’s Gamache looked as if he had fallen out of a chocolate box. One admired his pragmatism, as he suggested Kitri marry him, thinking her Basilio was unlikely to rise from the dead. Embarrassingly, poor Gamache tumbled out of his palanquin just when arriving at Lorenzo’s inn to fix the wedding deal. As Lorenzo (Sébastien Galtier) pulled out at all stops to make the profitable marriage happen, his 20. M.Makhateli and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.Haegeman19. J.Xuan, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © A.Kaftirasudden shift of opinion at the end do make one wonder. All the time he had flatly rejected Basilio, but after having been fooled by the feigned suicide, he warmly pressed him to his breast.

Vito Mazzeo danced the toreador Espada; Floor Eimers was his Mercedes. Both struggled to make their performance snappy and passionate. The same applied to the group of matadors. Although they swirled their yellow-pink capes eagerly, no bull would have been impressed by them. The corps had more punch performing the sequidilla and 21. M.Makhateli and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.Haegeman22. D.Camargo, M.Makhateli and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.Haegemanplaying castanets. Juanita (Jessica Xuan) and Piccilia (Yuanyuan Zhang) danced nicely, but their personalities were colorless.
As the Queen of the Dryads, Mukhamedov was the inapproachable epitome of female composure. Petite Aya Okumura’s blonde-curled Cupid scurried amidst the dryads on fleet feet. Eight children kept the little teaser’s arrows on hand.
In the roles of the traveling actors were Wolfgang Tietze (King), Wendeline Wijkstra (Queen), Erica Horwood (Princess), Edo Wijnen (Harlequin), and Roman Artyushkin (Devil).

Marzio Conti, music director of Spain’s Oviedo Philharmonic, elicited a spirited performance of Het Balletorkest. He kept the music perfectly in harmony with the dance.
23. M.Makhateli, D.Camargo and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.Haegeman

Links: Website of Dutch National Ballet 
Trailer “Don Quixote” (rehearsal)
Photos:  1. Maia Makhateli (Kitri), Daniel Camargo (Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
 2. Maia Makhateli (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
 3. Vito Mazzeo (Espada) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
 4. Vito Mazzeo (Espada) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
 5. Floor Eimers (Mercedes), “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
 6. Vito Mazzeo (Espada), Floor Eimers (Mercedes) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
 7. Vito Mazzeo (Espada), Floor Eimers (Mercedes) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
 8. Anatole Babenko (Gamache) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
 9. Edo Wijnen (Harlequin) and Erica Horwood (Princess), “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
10. Nicolas Rapaic (Don Quixote) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
11. Nicolas Rapaic (Don Quixote) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
12. Sasha Mukhamedov (Queen of the Dryads) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
13. Maia Makhateli (Dulcinea) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
14. Sasha Mukhamedov (Queen of the Dryads) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
15. Maia Makhateli (Dulcinea), Sasha Mukhamedov (Queen of the Dryads) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
16. Aya Okumura (Cupid), “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
17. Aya Okumura (Cupid) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
18. Frans Schraven (Sancho Panza), Nicolas Rapaic (Don Quixote) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
19. Jessica Xuan (Juanita), “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Altin Kaftira
20. Maia Makhateli (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
21. Maia Makhateli (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
22. Daniel Camargo (Basilio), Maia Makhateli (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
23. Maia Makhateli (Kitri), Daniel Camargo (Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Marius Petipa, Alexander Gorski and Alexei Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © Marc Haegeman
Editing: Laurence Smelser

 

 

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”
DEKKADANCERS
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…)

Progress

“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…)

Dance and Music

“b.33” (“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” / “Roses of Shadow” / “Polish Pieces”)
Ballett am Rhein
Opera House Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, Germany
January 07, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Liashenko and E.White, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Ballett am Rhein 2018 © G.WeigeltJust a few days ago, Ballett am Rhein announced that the contract of its artistic director, Martin Schläpfer, has been extended until the fall of 2024. Schläpfer has helmed the company and its associated ballet school since 2009, but in 2016 handed over his administrative responsibilities to Remus Şucheană so that he might regain some freedom to pursue his artistic work. Şucheană’s contract was similarly extended.

Schläpfer names his ballet programs numerically – and with his latest, which premiered in mid-December, he reached “b.33”. It was a triple bill – a recurring and well-established format in Düsseldorf – with a tried and tested combination of choreographers: Balanchine, Schläpfer, and Hans van Manen. Specifically, Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” and van Manen’s “Polish Pieces” were added to the already considerable repertoire the company dances from both choreographers. The middle piece, “Roses of Shadow”, was a new creation by Schläpfer. (more…)

The Post-Diaghilev Generation

Michael Meylac:
“Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes – Stories from a Silver Age”
288 pages, 78 b/w photos
I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd., October 2017
ISBN: 9781780768595
January 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes” by M.Meylac, book cover © I.B.Tauris & CoLast year in early spring I met Michael Meylac at a performance of Cranko’s “Onegin” at the Bolshoi Theatre. Passionate about dance, Meylac quizzed me about the German companies and told me about the book on the Ballets Russes he was about to finish. He pondered which title to choose. We had no opportunity to continue our conversation, so I didn’t get to know more about the project.

Meanwhile, the book has been published.
Actually, I had expected a monograph on the Ballets Russes similar to Sjeng Scheijen’s biography of Diaghilev. I was wrong. “Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes” is a collection of interviews – thirty-two in total conducted between 1989 and 2007. Only one interviewee was not a dancer, the secretary of the Marquis de Cuevas; all others performed with the Ballet Russes companies.
Meylac, born in Leningrad, today’s St. Petersburg, is a distinguished Russian literature professor and philologist. Yet, the Soviet authorities disapproved of his work on foreign-published dissident writers and sentenced him to seven years imprisonment and five years in exile. In 1987, after four years in the Gulag, he was released and later settled in France. There he worked as a Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Strasbourg, sharing time between Europe and Russia. (more…)

A Disappointing “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
December 25, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain and F.Vogel, “Swan Lake” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletAfter a five-year absence from the stage Stuttgart Ballet revived John Cranko’s “Swan Lake” this December. It premiered in Stuttgart in 1963 as Cranko’s second evening-length piece after “Romeo and Juliet” in 1962. Cranko generally followed Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s traditional version, but shifted the focus towards the prince. While the third act’s festivities celebrating the prince’s coming of age (the introduction of the potential brides, the national dances, the Black Swan Pas de Deux and Rothbart’s deceptive maneuver) remained largely untouched, Cranko replaced the waltz and the Pas de Trois at Siegfried’s pre-birthday party in Act I with a Pas de Six. Of the various endings, Cranko chose to the one in which Siegfried drowns when the sea bursts its banks during a heavy thunderstorm, whereas Odette stays under Rothbart’s curse. (more…)

The Prince Awakens His Beauty

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 17, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Makhateli and D.Camargo, “The Sleeping Beauty” by P.Wright after M.Petipa, Dutch National Ballet 2017 © A.KaftiraThis Christmas Season Dutch National Ballet revived Peter Wright’s version of Marius Petipa’s “The Sleeping Beauty”, presenting no less than seven different leading couples in seventeen performances. Actually, one should see each cast. Alas – I could only travel once to Amsterdam and saw the matinée on December 17th led by Maia Makhateli as Princess Aurora alongside Daniel Camargo’s Prince Florimund.

Many young children attended the performance, all of them in festive clothing, and it was a pleasure to watch them hop around and imitate the dance steps during the breaks. One little girl in a golden skirt even turned cartwheels in the foyer. (more…)

It’s Done

“Nureyev”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
December 09, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Lantratov, “Nureyev”, chor.: Y.Possokhov, dir.: K.Serebrennikov, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Ballet / M.LogvinovAfter the Bolshoi Ballet’s July premiere of “Nureyev” was canceled at the last minute, officials doubled down on security efforts for the rescheduled performance on December 9th. Although guards lined the theater’s entrances and the curtain rose behind schedule, the performance was a smooth ride from start to finish.
And yet only those who attended the dress rehearsal this summer can truly asses whether or not the initial version was tweaked to comply with requests from the authorities. One might have noticed, for instance, that Richard Avedon’s photo of the naked Nureyev was not used as a backdrop, but rather was only projected on a screen for a quick second. But given the fact that the work was finally seen by the public – do these minor changes matter?

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov, stage director and set designer Kirill Serebrennikov, and composer Ilya Demutsky are the artistic core team behind “Nureyev”. Interviews with the trio, who had previously collaborated on the Bolshoi’s ballet “A Hero of Our Time”, were printed in the program booklet, which also contains Serebrennikov’s libretto.

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Weird Matters

“Woke up Blind”, “The Statement”, “The missing door”, “Safe as Houses”
Nederlands Dans Theater / NDT 1
Haus der Berliner Festspiele
Berlin, Germany
December 01, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Woke up Blind” by M.Goecke, Nederlands Dans Theater 2017 © R.RezvaniThe last programs I saw of Nederlands Dans Theater’s main company (NDT I) were rather drab. However, the program they presented during their guest appearance in Berlin turned out to be varied and meaty. Its four pieces were by the Argentinian choreographer Gabriela Carrizo, the company’s associate choreographers, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke (each of them contributing one piece), and by the inseparable team of Sol León and artistic director Paul Lightfoot.

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Universal Love

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
November 25, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Lopatin and A.Stashkevich, "Romeo and Juliet" by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.Fetisova Last week the Bolshoi Ballet added a second version of “Romeo and Juliet” to its repertoire. By Alexei Ratmansky, it premiered at the National Ballet of Canada in 2011 and is being performed on the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. As during recent years, Yuri Grigorovich’s adaption will be shown on the Bolshoi’s Historic Stage.
Ratmansky cast three leading couples: Ekaterina Krysanova & Vladislav Lantratov; Anastasia Stashkevich & Vyacheslav Lopatin; and Evgenia Obraztsova & Artemy Belyakov; however the pairings switched in the course of the first run. I saw the fourth performance after the premiere; Stashkevich was Juliet alongside Lopatin’s Romeo. (more…)