Happy Birthday State Ballet School Berlin

State Ballet School Berlin
Schiller Theater
Berlin, Germany
December 03, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

Birthdays are best celebrated with friends. To make its 65th jubilee a real big party, the State Ballet School Berlin invited national and international guests to share the stage in a birthday gala. Those were: Stuttgart’s John Cranko School, the School of the Hamburg Ballet, the Ballet Academy of the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich; and from abroad the Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Danish Ballet School, St. Petersburg’s Vaganova Ballet Academy and, what I was most pleased with, the Cuban National Ballet School, hardly ever seen on these shores. Contacts with Havana are about to be intensified, Marek Rózycki, acting artistic director of the State Ballet School Berlin later told me in a telephone call. He also revealed that the guest list was intended to be even longer. The Schools from ABT, the Bolshoi, Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet London and the Dance Academy Mannheim would have loved to participate but were wrapped up in their own performances. Trouble with visas had been an issue as well.
Given the effort made to make this gala special, it is beyond my comprehension why the administrative staff didn’t provide any photos. It’s a shame!

If all had taken part, celebrations presumably would have continued for several days, but, as it was, the final gala, lasting for two and half hours, offered an entertaining, varied and moreover high-level program. Each school had been given free choice of what pieces they wanted to contribute.

The John Cranko School opted for five solos, three from classics by Petipa, plus two contemporary pieces. All of them did Tadeusz Matacz, the school’s director, proud. A talented jumper, Motomi Kiyota brought stunning ease and bravura to his variation of “Talisman”; Madeline Woo, also a good jumper, danced a flawless solo of “La Bayadère”. Long-limbed Gabriel Figueredo, about to grow into an elegant dancer, presented a solo of “Raymonda”. Alice Pernão had already impressed me at the last gala in Stuttgart. Again, she danced “Miriade”, contemporary choreography by Catarina Moreira. Pernão has a stupendous ability to play with the tempo. Watching her I thought of a ball of energy, self-contained and complete, unfolding its inborn expressiveness. The fifth solo was Navrin Turnbull’s. He fluctuated seamlessly between very short poetic moments and an overall jerky tension in an excerpt of “A Spell on You”, one of Marco Goecke’s characteristic choreographies, tailor-made for the John Cranko School in 2016. Turnbull looked serious at his curtain call though, maybe because with “All Long Dem Day”, created for the Berlin students in 2015 and also by Goecke, the surprise effect of Goecke’s unique style had been exhausted shortly before. “All Long Dem Day” indeed made me hold my breath. The students gave it their all, performed at full throttle and reached a perfection, which makes this production worth transporting to other stages straightaway. Bravo!

Hamburg Ballet contributed one pas de deux and two pas de trois of “Yondering”, folksy choreography by John Neumeier. It depicts an idealized innocence the youth maybe enjoyed in some good old times. Hamburg’s students have adopted Neumeier’s movement language well. This year, two decades after its origination, “Yondering” was performed often, at the galas in Hamburg and Stuttgart amongst others. Regardless of the piece’s jubilee and regardless of the fact, that in terms of preparing pieces for galas, ballet schools have to be economical with time and effort, it is vital for Hamburg Ballet’s students to demonstrate that they are also brilliant in other dance styles than their school director’s.

The pas de deux given to the dancers of the Ballet Academy Munich, Emma Antrobus and Stanislaw Wegrzyn, wasn’t the ideal choice either. In “At a loss for words”, choreographer David N.Russo made them both first lie around on the floor, and then, having struggled to their feet after what felt like an eternity, they explored all kinds of acrobatics involving lifting, carrying and swirling around one another. “At a loss for words” is no choreographic masterstroke and at the final curtain call neither Antrobus nor Wegrzyn looked comfortable with having had to perform it.

A pleasure, by contrast, were the three character dances interspersed in the program: a lovely Hungarian Dance by the students from Vienna (Isabella Severi-Hager, Chiara Uderzo, Federico Berardi and Lorenzo Salvi, all visibly enjoying their roles), and even two character dances by their Copenhagen comrades. Lynne Charles, former prima ballerina of John Neumeier, Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart, had been in charge with rehearsals in Copenhagen. She prepared the Russian Dance of Petipa’s “Swan Lake” and her own piece, the Spanish folk dance “Le Cid”, with five young women (Ditte Stoltenborg, Isabella Bach-Mortensen, Helga Palsgaard-Jensen, Emilie Willert and Victoria Bell). In the Russian Dance they had to handle white handkerchiefs, in the Spanish Dance fans. Oscillating between dignity and light pizazz, the young women made look easy what is in fact quite challenging.
I remember Tadeusz Matacz raving about character dance in an interview this summer. There are so many beautiful things to teach, he mentioned. Though what the students danced at this gala maybe didn’t exactly match his criteria of “true, original” character dance, their samples were much appreciated.

Originally the Vaganova Academy planned to send two students with a pas de deux to the gala but due to one student’s injury Ksenia Andreenko set off to Berlin alone. She danced her variation as Gulnare from Petipa’s “Le Corsaire” self-assuredly displaying sound technique. Awaited with anticipation but the second to last on the program, the guests from Havana, Fabiana Pérez Méndez and Aleyandro Olivera Cepeda, kept one in suspense. Their calling card – how could it be different – was the Grand Pas de Deux from Petipa’s “Don Quixote”. A bit nervous at first, both grew more and more confident, adding flirtatious zest to their overall daring show. For both dancing seems a matter of the heart.

In addition to the Goecke piece the Berlin hosts danced two other works. The Grand Pas de Deux of “The Flames of Paris”, presumably Alexei Ratmansky’s reconstruction of the original choreography by Vasily Vainonen, had kicked off the gala. It was superbly danced by Elena Iseki and Haruto Goto who set the bar high for the subsequent dancers.

The Berlin students also closed the program with choreography by their artistic director Gregor Seyffert. Hearing the first tunes of Ravel’s “Bolero” I anticipated “Die Zukunft beginnt jetzt” (“Future begins now”) would mean ten minutes filled with tedious repetitions, but no, quite the opposite. Seyffert’s piece imaginatively outlines the training of ballet students from the first to the ninth class, thus bringing together students of all age on stage. Eleven-year-old Zion Park from Korea had been the first in the spotlight, doing basic exercises on the floor. The little girl also stood center stage in the first line of the crowd of students at the final tones of “Bolero”. Given her shiny eyes and inborn demeanor, stage unmistakably was her place to be. Witnessing her naturalness and poise one felt confident about the future generations of dancers.

Links: Website of the State Ballet School Berlin
Editing:  Agnes Farkas