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“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?

2. C.Jung, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestGiven the technical level the dancers reached, Legris must have worked intensely with them. Alexandr Trusch as Basilio delivered clean jumps and tour en l’airs with precise landings and plucky manèges. He seemed full of confidence. Madoka Sugai’s Kitri darted with high leaps across the stage, balanced assuredly, and played teasingly with her fan as with the pace. Both were a well matched couple. Sugai also portrayed Dulcinea, the heroine of the chivalric novels that grizzled, old-fashioned Don Quixote (Carsten Jung) dreamed of. She was beautiful and composed, but – as dreams tend to be – an unapproachable ideal. Driven by chivalric illusions he decamped from his cozy home onto a grand knight’s journey with the chubby, bawdy and gluttonous monk, Sancho Panza (Nicolas Gläsmann), in tow. When popping up in Barcelona right in front of the inn owned by Lorenzo (Dario Franconi), Kitri’s 3. N.Gläsmann, C.Jung and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westhardheaded father, they get entangled in the father and daughter’s quarrel about who is to become her groom. Kitri desires the penniless Basilio, whereas her father wants to marry her off to Gamache, an effeminate and ludicrous fop, but noble and wealthy. Konstantin Tselikov, a fine actor, was hilarious in this role.

Kitri and Basilio eventually managed to slip away and find shelter at a gypsy camp, from which they escaped Lorenzo’s grasp again due to Don Quixote’s chivalric – albeit self-defeating – feat. The colossal enemy he believed to attack was in fact a windmill, in whose sails he got caught. Using a bold fraud the young couple obtained Lorenzo’s blessings at the end and love, peace and harmony were restored. Even Gamache, who had been vigorously rejected by Kitri and relentlessly tricked by Barcelona’s 5. A.Trusch, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West4. M.Sugai, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westyouth, found satisfaction. Disguised as a woman, he flirted with Don Quixote until suddenly pulling the veil off his bald head and scoffingly poking his tongue out at the self-styled knight. Revenge was sweet.

Yet for different reasons the performance was uneven. The acting by the maidservants and Don Quixote’s custodians in the prologue was hammy. In Act I hustle and bustle should reign at the square in front of Lorenzo’s inn. But despite dedicated acting and keen dancing by fishermen, matadors, and Barcelona’s ladies, the overall scene didn’t merge into a unity fired by an overarching cohesive 6. A.Trusch and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West7. M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westenergy. The happy feasting and the wedding in Act III were, by comparison, more convincing.

David Rodriguez was a snappy leader of the gypsies. His troop swirled their skirts and shawls and stomped their feet on the ground with panache. The dryads in the wood, that Don Quixote dreamed of, danced duly at first, but became more and more light and graceful. Yun-Su Park as their queen melded regal poise with tender femininity. Mayo Arii’s solo as Cupid was crisp and colorful. If “The Sleeping Beauty” were in Hamburg Ballet’s repertoire it would be interesting to see her as one of the fairies.

8. A.Trusch, M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestLudwig Minkus’s music for “Don Quixote” was adapted by John Lanchbery for Nureyev’s version. The Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg played it under the baton of Garrett Keast. But either Keast had sometimes switched off his antenna as to stage action or a few dancers were not listening to the tempo of the music, because a few times solos ended prematurely to the music, marring the bravura in the last movement.

The main reason, however, why this “Don Quixote” didn’t emit sparks, was its lack of passion. And what is a “Don Quixote” 9. M.Sugai, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West10. M.Arii, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westwithout passion? Without a bubbly, exuberant, and heated-up atmosphere? Without unabashed bragging and saucy flirting? Yes, what the dancers achieved with Legris is impressive. But on top of this they now need to work up the passion from within themselves to set the stage ablaze. There was only one who radiated such fire – the tall Argentinian Matias Oberlin as the bullfighter Espada. Lucia Rios was Espada’s sultry love interest Mercedes.

Set and costumes were by Nicholas Georgiadis and just gorgeous.

11. K.Tselikov and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West

Links: Website of Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Trailer “Don Quixote” (partly different cast)
Photos:  1. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio), Madoka Sugai (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 2. Carsten Jung (Don Quixote), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 3. Nicolas Gläsmann (Sancho Panza), Carsten Jung (Don Quixote) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 4. Madoka Sugai (Kitri), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 5. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 6. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 7. Madoka Sugai (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 8. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio), Madoka Sugai (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 9. Madoka Sugai (Dulcinea), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
10. Mayo Arii (Cupid), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
11. Konstantin Tselikov (Gamache) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
all photos © Kiran West
 Editing: Laurence Smelser

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, 150 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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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…)

Opinions Divide

The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
November 19, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

Reading the recent reviews on the Royal Ballet’s triple bill of works by Twyla Tharp, Arthur Pita and Hofesh Shechter makes one smile and wonder at the same time. Smile, because of the totally different opinions of the writers. While Graham Watts, for example, judged Shechter’s “Untouchable” positively on backtrack.com and Mark Monahan declared it the program’s “undisputable highlight” in The Telegraph, Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times, found it “the most preposterously dance-thin ballet I have ever seen.” Jann Parry deemed it a “dated commission that never merited its place in the repertoire” on DanceTabs.

(more…)

On the Plight of Art and Artists in Russia

Focus on: Kirill Serebrennikov – A Panel Discussion
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 22, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.Serebrennikov, Stuttgart State Opera 2017 © A.T. SchaeferThis October, the Stuttgart Opera House premiered an unfinished work: “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck. Initially, the opera house chose to have Kirill Serebrennikov stage the piece. However, Serebrennikov was detained on August 22nd, and has remained under house arrest in Moscow since then. Many have speculated that the accusations brought against the artist might be pure invention.

Since early October the Stuttgart State Opera has been running a retrospective on Serebrennikov that encompasses his works for opera, theater, ballet and cinema, presented in an exhibition, a series of lectures, and two rounds of talks. (more…)

Looking Back

“Ballet Talk” (with Jürgen Rose, Marcia Haydée and Reid Anderson)
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Rose, Stuttgart Ballet © R.NovitzkyThe jubilees pile up for Stuttgart Ballet this season. John Cranko, the company’s founder, would have been ninety years this August. His “Onegin” – its second, revised version to be precise – received its first performance half a century ago on October 27, 1967. Its stage and set designer – the internationally renowned and much admired Jürgen Rose – just celebrated his 80th birthday this August. His career is closely connected with Cranko and Stuttgart Ballet. Moreover, this season is artistic director Reid Anderson’s twenty-second and last one. In short, one special events follows the other. (more…)

A Conversation with Krzysztof Pastor

Polish National Ballet / Ballet Company of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa
Warsaw, Poland
October 07, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.Pastor, Polish National Ballet © E.KrasuckaKrzysztof Pastor attended the International Ballet Conference in Amsterdam in February. Back then he was still a resident choreographer of Dutch National Ballet, while simultaneously directing the biggest ballet companies in Poland and Lithuania. We hadn’t talked during the conference but on our way home we exchanged a few words at Schiphol Airport. Time was short though, so I decided to ask him for an interview at a later date. It finally happened this October. Pastor mainly talked about his company in Warsaw and the cultural scene of Poland.
His answers are in italics. (more…)

Something New?

“Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (“Nutcracker and Mouse King”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
October 20, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Knight and Y.Han, “Nutcracker and Mouse King” by C.Spuck, Ballet Zurich 2017 © G.BatardonThis season the Opera House Zurich launched a new website, new large black and white portraits of dancers of the company decorate the opera’s corridors and side rooms and it also has a new “Nutcracker”. More precisely, its “Nutcracker and Mouse King”, as choreographer and artistic director Christian Spuck based the story on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original fairy tale of the same title rather than on the sweetened and simplified adaption of Hoffmann’s text Alexandre Dumas père wrote in 1844. The latter served as a libretto for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s famous ballet to music by Tchaikovsky. Having already created ballets on “The Sandman” and “Mademoiselle de Scuderi”, “Nutcracker and Mouse King” is Spuck’s third ballet on a text by E.T.A. Hoffmann. (more…)

Fighting Back

“Darkness”
Polish National Ballet
Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa
Warsaw, Poland
October 07, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Nowak, M.Esposito, G.Melfi, L.Alberti, D.Ozeri and V.Kezik, “Darkness” by I.Weiss, Polish National Ballet 2017 © Polish National Ballet / E.KrasuckaDance critic Graham Watts called Izadora Weiss “a tempest on the Baltic shore.” Weiss has been creating a stir in the Polish dance scene from her home base of Gdansk ever since Jiří Kylián spotted her choreographic talent in 1989 during his tenure as artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater. She became his protégé, and would later use Kylián’s company as a model on which to base the Baltic Dance Theatr (BDT), a troupe she founded in 2010 in Gdansk that she continues to direct today. Formerly affiliated with the Baltic Opera, the BDT became an independent company in 2006 and was renamed Biały Teatr Tańca (White Dance Theatr) – BTT for short. Weiss still leads the company, serving as its main choreographer. Pieces by Kylián complement BTT’s repertoire. (more…)

Timeless

“Pure Cranko” (“L’Estro Armonico” / “Brouillards” / “Jeu de Cartes”)
Stuttgart Ballet

Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 03, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Moore, M.F.Paixà and ensemble, “L'Estro Armonico” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletThis season is an especially special one for Stuttgart Ballet. John Cranko, who took over the ballet company of the Wuerttemberg State Theater in 1961 and turned it into the “Stuttgart Ballet Miracle”, would have celebrated his 90th birthday this August. In October, the premiere of his “Onegin” will have its 50th anniversary. Moreover, it’s Reid Anderson’s twenty-second – and last – season as artistic director. He’ll pass the torch to Tamas Detrich next summer.

As a result, there are quite a number of events slated for the season – but, with everything being interconnected in Stuttgart, the first program already brought the company full circle. (more…)