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“Requiem” (“Citizen Nowhere” / “Requiem”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 16, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.GerritsenDavid Dawson’s “Requiem” premiered in early February as the second half of an all-Dawson bill from the Dutch National Ballet. The first half was “Citizen Nowhere”, a twenty-or-so minute solo, also created for the Dutch company and first performed in the “Made in Amsterdam 2”-program in 2017.

That “Citizen Nowhere” was inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella “The Little Prince” only becomes clear when a selection of signaling words and quotations are projected onto the gray backdrop: “Fox: anything essential is invisible to the eyes; one can only see clearly with the heart”; and “SNAKE: The Tears” (Tears is subsequently replaced with EYE and HEART). Instead, Dawson’s reading of the novella is a political one that tackles nationalism, displacement, and – highly topical – the building of walls.
2. E.Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.GerritsenI wasn’t impressed by “Citizen Nowhere” at its premiere – and it did not fare better in my mind with repeated viewing. Szymon Brzóska’s composition attempts to evoke higher spiritual realms, but the yearningly elongated violin melodies, the meditative thrumming of the piano, the spherical and soaring soundscapes, and the sudden booms! are arranged and exaggerated too intentionally to carry any spiritual weight.

Dawson generally collaborates with the same artistic team and his stage worlds are typically gray with incidental splashes of color. For this piece, set and video designer Eno Henze chose red. The gray backdrop could be an oversized partition screen of a fair stand, but more likely it is meant to resemble an opened book. Projections appear on the screen: the numbers 1 – 7 (the Planet Earth is the seventh planet visited by the little prince); a universe of white dots and tiny letters that swirls and flickers with overwhelming force; a red line that trickles down like a trail of blood; or a horizontal white line. At certain moments, Sasha Mukhamedov, filmed with a red filter, dances in a video like the unattainable object of desire for Edo Wijnen, who – as in 2017 – performs the solo. Wearing only flesh-colored shorts designed by Yumiko Takeshima,
Wijnen might be playing the prince or a homeless fellow. He crisscrosses the stage in a state of perpetual over-exaltation. As his chest arches 3. E.Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsenupwards and his arms spread like wings, he whizzes about in circles, glancing towards horizon like Saint Sebastian running to be hit by the arrow. In the end, Wijnen runs offstage. It’s dark. After a short silence, we see him dancing in a slick, featureless black-and-white video clip.

Dawson’s movement vocabulary has characteristics that are easily recognizable: movement-sequences with an unbroken flow that end in poses, arms either stretched sideways in a 45°-angle or stirring through the air; hands kinked down, and chests arched up. His style is distinguished by its incessant expressiveness – but this expressiveness seems to stem from habit rather than from genuine emotion.

4. F.Eimers and D.Elia, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.GerritsenThe composition for “Requiem” was commissioned from the Englishman Gavin Bryars, who has contributed scores for dance pieces by Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe among others. The hour of music is somber and includes several movements featuring the Dutch National Opera’s choir. Again, the décor is by Henze and is gray. It wasn’t until after I read an interview with Dawson that I learned that the backdrop was made of panels of burnt wood interspersed with vertical stripes of light. At first, the left side of the wall shines – and over the course of the piece the light slowly wanders towards the right. Large mirrors close off the stage on either side, except at one exit in each back corner.
5. F.Eimers, D.Elia, N.Brhane and R.Sakamoto, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsen6. C.Allen, J.Wright, S.Sjouke and D.Montero Real, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019The costumes – again by Takeshima – are skin-tight, full-body latex leotards in black, dark brown, olive, and silver-gray. According to the interview, the dancers represent a nation of angels.

Each movement is opened by a different group that is subsequently joined by others. Solos, pas de deux and pas de trois are woven into these group dances. Patterns vary constantly: repetitions of movements follow one another like an assembly of toppled dominoes; two groups move separately alongside one central couple; dancers mirror one another. Later, the dancers 7. J.Mao and M.ten Kortenaar, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsenline up diagonally, run in a circle, or sit on the ground in a line. At one point they stare towards the audience and retreat, as if experiencing an epiphany. In the last scene they stand evenly distributed, looking towards the front left corner while pointing their right arms towards horizon. It’s almost like the opening scene of Balanchine’s “Serenade”. Another grouping of the women reminded me of a scene from Dawson’s “Swan Lake”. Elsewhere, influences of Forsythe’s style show through.

The choreography of “Requiem” rests on the same foundation as that of the previous piece, but features more space-8. J.Massarelli, S.Mukhamedov and J.Stout, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsen9. J.Mao, M.ten Kortenaar and ensemble, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsenconsuming lifts and jumps. At one point, the women sit on the shoulders of the men like mermaids, stretching one leg backwards and holding their arms to the side. Moments later, a woman is carried out like a diva. Her casually hanging down hand gives her an arrogant air. Mukhamedov contributes a strong solo and later, partnered by James Stout and Joseph Massarelli, poses like an Egyptian sphinx.

11. N.Burer, S.Sjouke and J.Mao, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsen10. J.Stout, D.Elia, M.ten Kortenaar, J.Wright and C.Allen, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.GerritsenDawson also said in the interview that “this Requiem is a prayer” whose “energy is sent out into the world” every time it is performed. There is only one problem: there is no energy. That’s not the fault of the dancers, who perform with utter dedication. The Dutch company has proven on multiple occasions that it can make a ballet’s energy strongly felt – just think of Toer van Schayk’s “Requiem”, for example. But Dawson’s choreography might not have what it takes to generate similar strength.

Brzóska’s and Bryars’s scores were given a fine rendition by Het Balletorkest playing under the baton of Matthew Rowe.
12. Ensemble, “Requiem” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.Gerritsen

Links: Website of Dutch National Ballet
Trailer “Requiem”
Photos: 1. Edo Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
2. Edo Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
3. Edo Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
4. Floor Eimers and Dario Elia, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
5. Floor Eimers, Dario Elia, Nathan Brhane and Riho Sakamoto, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
6. Constantine Allen, Jared Wright, Sem Sjouke and Daniel Montero Real, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
7. Jingjing Mao and Martin ten Kortenaar, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
8. Joseph Massarelli, Sasha Mukhamedov and James Stout, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
9. Jingjing Mao, Martin ten Kortenaar and ensemble, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
10. James Stout, Dario Elia, Martin ten Kortenaar, Jared Wright and Constantine Allen, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
11. Nancy Burer, Sem Sjouke and Jingjing Mao, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
12. Ensemble, “Requiem” by David Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019
all photos © Hans Gerritsen
Editing: Jake Stepansky

Galloping Fate

“Carmen”
Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

Rome, Italy
February 09, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Salvi and A.Ramasar, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama It is said that Czechs are good storytellers. Such generalizations are prone to rebuttal but that’s not the case for Jiří Bubeníček. He has delivered an array of fine pieces over the last years: “Faun”, “The Piano”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night” – to name just a few. His new narrative ballet, “Carmen”, which premiered at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in early February, is convincing too. It’s intense, coherent, and fresh.

When we talk about “Carmen”, it’s easy to think immediately of Bizet’s opera, which failed at its premiere in 1875 and still won international acclaim after the composer’s premature death. Dance aficionados might also know Roland Petit’s 1949 ”Carmen”-ballet and Alberto Alonos’s 1967 “Carmen- Suite”, which both condense the source plot to around forty minutes. The pieces’ literature source – a novella penned in 1847 by Prosper Mérimée (1803 – 1870) is less popular. This is where Bubeníček dug deep. (more…)

Scratch the Varnish

“Bella Figura” (“Bella Figura” / “Stepping Stones” / “Sweet Dreams” / “Sechs Tänze”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
February 02, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Y.Han and K.Wünsche, “Bella Figura” by J.Kylán, Ballet Zurich 2019 © G.BartadonIn September 2017, the Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián was awarded the “Positano Premia La Danza Léonide Massine” for life achievement. Last year, The Hague (his chosen home) celebrated his seventieth birthday by bestowing him with honorary citizenship at a festival in his honor. This March, Kylían will become a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts and will preside over the newly established choreography section of the Académie Française.
In mid-January, a Kylán-homage premiered at Ballet Zurich, created from four pieces that had been developed between 1986-1995. In an interview in the program booklet, Kylían described the pieces as having very different choreographic handwriting and therefore as unrelated. (more…)

Simply Wonderful

Wonderful Circus”
Laterna magika

The New Stage
Prague, Czech Republic
January 26, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. P.Knolle and A.Volný, “Wonderful Circus” by K.Vrtiška, J.Hrabal, V.Jílek, J.Koníček and F.Pokorný, Laterna magika 2019 © P.NašicThirty-six years after its construction, Prague’s New Stage is no longer a spring chicken. Many of the auditorium’s dark-green leather seats are patched up, and the seating in the foyer is dated. But maybe that’s precisely the reason this theater is so cozy and welcoming. It’s the home stage of Laterna magika, the cross-genre theater founded in 1958 to represent Czechoslovakia at the Brussels EXPO. “Wonderful Circus”, the troupe’s signature piece, has been around for over forty years too. Its old-school theater magic might not appeal to today’s young audiences, but I found it simply wonderful. It’s creators, an all-Czech artistic team, worked from their fabulous instincts to captivate and entertain the audience. What’s more: they built the piece with love.

The circus-theme is by film director Evald Schorm. He directed the piece together with Jiří Srnec and Jan Švankmajer; the sets are by Josef Svoboda and Zdenek Seydl designed the costumes. Emil Sirotek, a cameraman, filmed the videos; script, choreography and music were generated by a team of five. (more…)

Regional

“The Little Mermaid”
Czech National Ballet
The Estates Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
January 26, 2019 (2:00 pm)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Podařilová and M.Matějková, “The Little Mermaid” by J.Kodet, Czech National Ballet 2019 © M.Divíšek This week’s Economist features the title “Slowbalisation” – an invented term combining the notion that globalization is slowing down with the idea that regional relations are becoming weightier than ever. Prague’s Czech National Ballet is a prime example of how slowbalisation can be seen in the dance sector as well. The artistic team behind its “Little Mermaid”, a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, is almost entirely Czech, complemented only by two Slovakians and one German. (more…)

Heritage-Trashing

“Manon”
English National Ballet
London Coliseum
London, Great Britain
January 19, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Caley and A.Cojocaru, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, English National Ballet 2019 © ENB / L.LiotardoThe English National Ballet (ENB) is a touring company – and that means that its productions have to be fit for traveling. In preparing for the tour, the décor of Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” had to be boiled down to basics – and either the company borrows an existing set or spends a large sum on commissioning a new one.

The ENB opted for borrowing Mia Stensgaard’s set and costumes from the Royal Danish Ballet – and this was ultimately a decision that harmed the piece. Manon and De Grieux’s apartment and the jail guard’s bureau in Act III are fine; it’s hard to go wrong with a four-poster bed and functional desks. (more…)

The Past and the Present

Asphodel Meadows” / “The Two Pigeons”
The Royal Ballet

Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
January 19, 2019 (12:00 am)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Magri and T.Dyer, “Asphodel Meadows” by L.Scarlett, The Royal Ballet 2019 © ROH / B.CooperKnowing that the Brexit mess might soon become a restrictive reality, I grabbed at the chance to fly to London for some ballet. The Royal Ballet lured me in with a double bill that can’t be seen in continental Europe: “Asphodel Meadows” by Liam Scarlett (the company’s artist-in-residence since 2012) and Frederick Ashton’s “The Two Pigeons”.

I am unfamiliar with Scarlett’s work, and “Asphodel Meadows” seemed an apt introduction. The piece was not only Scarlett’s debut choreography with the main company in 2010, but also his international breakthrough as a choreographer. The meadows named in the title are those of the ancient Greek underworld, covered in white asphodel (an herb). Ordinary souls dwell there in the afterlife – and although they’re not the luxurious Elysian Fields, they are described by the poets as a fertile and flowery paradise of sorts. (more…)

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. (more…)

Sweet Hope

“Cinderella”
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…)