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Galloping Fate

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. As in the original telling, Bubeníček replaced the opera’s antagonist Micaëla with Mérimée (Damiano Mongelli), a novelist who observes alongside us and writes what he sees in a novella. Unlike Petit and Alonso, Bubeníček included many details; one might argue that there are too many. Regardless, even if you miss a detail or two, you never lose the thread. Bubeníček was assisted this time by a long-term friend, Arsen Mehrabyan, who is a principal dancer of the Royal Swedish Ballet and a choreographer himself.

2. Ensemble, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama Most of the music is Bizet’s, complemented by compositions from Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, and others. The score was played by the orchestra of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma under the baton of Louis Lohraseb. His program notes highlight how important the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma was to Bizet’s career. Prologue and epilogue are played by an onstage accordionist (Angelo Miele), who infuses the famous tunes with a pensive hesitance. At a party, a guitarist (Arturo Tallini) plays flamenco for the dancing guests. He is later joined by a flutist (Raffaele Bifulco) for a melancholy duet that accompanies the ongoing conflicts raging both among the smugglers and between the smugglers and the soldiers.

3. A.Ramasar, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama Gianni Carluccio’s set transforms effortlessly into a number of locations. It’s a rectangular, slightly-decayed space with eight side-exits whose walls are covered with blue-patterned tiles up to the ceiling. Two metallic ladders at the back wall lead to an elevated, multi-functional promenade, on which the cigar factory’s female workforce struts lasciviously and Carmen (Susanna Salvi) robs wealthy passersby. Rows of work benches and a large photo of an old stone building mark the interior of the cigar factory; two chandeliers, a red lounge, and two golden, high-hanging corner elements depict the home of the English general (Guiseppe Depalo) with whom Carmen has an affair. Sevilla’s streets and various forests and mountains are shown with photos and video projection; old church paintings represent the basilica where Don José (Amar Ramasar) begs Carmen to abandon her past and start anew with him. Every time a metallic fence is lowered onto the tilted walls, we see Don José in prison.

4. Ensemble, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama The lighting, also by Carluccio, evokes the black silhouette of a bull’s head in a bull-fighting arena. The partygoers dance under a deep red sky; is it a red sunset or does it anticipate the blood to be spilled? Later, Carmen and Don José flee on horseback under a star-strewn sky.
The costumes by Anna Biagiotti are modeled after Andalusian wear of the period.

Bubeníček unravels the story from its end, beginning with a conversation between Mérimée and the imprisoned Don José, a former soldier who has been sentenced to hang. In the next scene, Mérimée meets Carmen and right away we learn how fundamentally different the two lovers – Carmen and Don José – are: Don José asks Mérimée to send along a necklace to a relative, whereas Carmen steals the writer’s golden watch as she flirts with him.

From then on, the events unfold swiftly. In the cigar factory the female workers loll languidly after a busy, hot workday, fanning themselves with the hems of their skirts. The heat intensifies when Carmen picks a fierce quarrel with one woman, chasing her over the worktables and slapping her. Don José, ordered to arrest Carmen, gets wrapped around her little finger 5. A.Ramasar and S.Salvi, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama and, letting her go, ends up in prison himself. As he continues to fall for her, she can’t keep the hands off other men. There’s a lieutenant (Loïc Pireaux), whom Don José chokes out of jealousy; the English general, who gets shot by the smugglers during a fowling with Carmen and his pristine-whitely dressed entourage (a bird was shot too); and a bullfighter named Lucas (Alessio Rezza). Lucas is so conceited and camp that it’s mystery why Carmen nearly licks his bolero jacket and gives him a blow-job in the middle of the arena. Lucas dies without any interference from Don José; he is stomped to death by a horse. Don José, however, stabs Carmen’s husband Garcia (Gaetan Vermeulen) in revenge after Garcia executes the injured Remendado (Simone Agrò), another smuggler. The death toll rises: soldiers, smugglers, Carmen (stabbed by Don José as a poor solution to a hopeless situation), and Don José himself (who is hung in a strikingly simple and effective scene) are all dead by the end of the piece.

Bubeníček gives each protagonist and each group not only a distinctive dance vocabulary, but also gives plenty to dance. We watch sultry flamenco, perilous stick-fighting, and a virility-impregnated cape dance by the toreadors. Scenes buzzing with activity alternate with deeply passionate pas de deux. The first dance with Carmen and the soldiers reminded me of the pas de trois of Manon-Lescaut-Monsieur GM in “Manon”. In the second act, one or two group dances seemed repetitive, but apart from that, the variety of choreographic ideas was impressive and clichéd movement was avoided.

6. A.Rezza and ensemble, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama Susanna Salvi’s Carmen was proud and indomitable, playing with the men like a cat with mice. Chin up, chest out, and glancing about provocatively, they lay at her feet. Every time a relationship became serious, she ran away. The two-faced game that she played with the English general and Don José was disgusting. While Carmen coquettishly waved to the former, the latter hid just behind her. Carmen laughed at the men and humiliated Don José on multiple occasions. Her utter refusal to be chastened by him was poignant to witness. I wondered about her ethics, but despite everything I couldn’t condemn her as a thoroughly bad soul.

Amar Ramasar, a former principal dancer of New York City Ballet and, according to the New York Times, “one of [the company’s] brightest stars” and “leading lights”, has guested with the Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma for the entire run of the production and has danced in all performances except for two matinees. His Don José was a strong man when Carmen was gracious with him and their romance was going smoothly. His sensuality was the manliest part of his character. Don José was impulsive and could be incalculably aggressive, but even then his main fury kept stuck in his chest like a lump. Often, his look revealed a great deal of vulnerability, grief and forlornness.

Both Salvi and Ramasar danced excellently, imbuing every moment with meaning and intensity, as did the rest of the cast. The secret hero of the show was, however, the dapper gray horse, which was so realistic standing in the misty background that I initially thought it was alive!Even its ears moved! This faithful horse mirrored every shift of the atmosphere. Its hooves trembled, it bolted, and once a stone in the hoof made it limp. It tried to comfort the distraught Don José, trampled Lucas to death, and carried Carmen and Don José at a gallop on their flight. Bravo to the workshop and to the two men who made this horse move! I couldn’t find their names on the cast list, but they did brilliantly.
7. S.Salvi, A.Rezza and ensemble, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama

Links: Website of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Interview with Jiří Bubeníček (video)
report on “Carmen” (video)
Photos: 1. Susanna Salvi (Carmen) and Amar Ramasar (Don José), “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
2. Ensemble, “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
3. Amar Ramasar (Don José), “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
4. Ensemble, “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
5. Amar Ramasar (Don José) and Susanna Salvi (Carmen), “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
6. Alssio Rezza (Lucas) and ensemble, “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
7. Susanna Salvi (Carmen), Alssio Rezza (Lucas) and ensemble, “Carmen” by Jiří Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma 2019
all photos © Yasuko Kageyama
Editing: Jake Stepansky

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…)


“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…)


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

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…)