State of Affairs in Munich and News from Berlin

Bavarian State Ballet / State Ballet Berlin
Munich / Berlin, Germany
September 12, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Zelensky © W.HöslAt the end of last season, the first under director Igor Zelensky, a second wave of dancers left the Bavarian State Ballet. Exact numbers and names weren’t announced by the press office, but according to information from within the company 22 out of a total of 69 dancers packed their bags. My report prompted an email by the press office that corrected the number to 21 and denied that the principals Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklyarov would quit the company. What did finally come of it?

First, over the summer break the number of those leaving increased to 23, because demi-soloist Wentao Li had meanwhile returned to China, his home country, for family reasons and guest ballerina Svetlana Zakharova had withdrawn her commitment. Yet in the course of the last season Zakharova had performed only once in Munich. Secondly, Shirinkina and Shklyarov indeed did bid farewell to the core company and returned to the Maryinsky Ballet. They will appear in Munich as guest dancers.

So the gaps were considerable. How did Igor Zelensky fill them?
The company starts the new season with 66 dancers, four of them guest dancers (Shirinkina & Shklyarov and again, as last year, Natalia Osipova & Sergei Polunin). Five dancers of English National Ballet have joined: Laurretta Summerscales (principal), Yonah Acosta (principal), Emilio Pavan (soloist → now demi-soloist), Jinhao Zhang (first artist → now demi-soloist) and Jeanette Kakareka (corps de ballet). Summerscales will stay in Munich only for a one-year sabbatical and will return to English National Ballet afterwards. Arianna Maldini, who formerly danced with the Royal Ballet London, became demi-soloist in Munich. Thirteen new dancers have reinforced the corps de ballet, seven of them female, six male. That makes nineteen new names in total.
2. Ionic Hall, National Theater Munich © W.HöslPromotions at the start of the season include Erik Murzagaliyev (demi-soloist → soloist), Alexander Omalchenko (demi-soloist → soloist), and Dmitrii Vyskubenko (corps de ballet → demi-soloist).

Another departure went almost unnoticed. Bettina Wagner-Bergelt, deputy director under Ivan Liška’s tenure and relegated to the head of dramaturgy, productions and of the Campus-Education Program under Zelensky, left the Bavarian State Ballet after twenty-seven years at her own request. Wagner-Bergelt joined the company in 1989 when Konstanze Vernon became its director. Since then she had been responsible for establishing an international modern repertoire and fostering contemporary choreographers. Wolfgang Oberender, the other deputy director of Liška, took charge of the classical repertoire. The excellent program policy of the triumvirate Liška – Wagner-Bergelt – Oberender had pointed the way ahead. Oberender had already retired in 2016 shortly before Liška’s directorship ended. Now the last of the old guard has gone. Manuel Brug sums up in Die Welt: “The precious repertoire gets lost and dramaturgy won’t take place […] anymore, it isn’t desired either. […] On the long term this is a loss for the ballet in Munich […].”* Wagner-Bergelt’s position hasn’t been re-staffed yet.

3. N.Duato and ensemble © F.MarcosIn Berlin, Nacho Duato seems to have clarified who actually is master of the house. Before the State Ballet Berlin had even begun Duato’s last season, his successors Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman planned to hold a press conference to present the dancers and reveal the entire schedule for the 2018/19 season as well as their future collaborations and collaborators. The invitation email was sent on September 1st. On September 7th, one day before the conference should have taken place, it was canceled and postponed to a later date. What had happened?

The cancelation email stated that respect for the dancers and the upcoming performances reasoned the decision made by Duato, Waltz and Öhman. All the time Duato had been staying mainly in the background during the quarrels surrounding the two deputy directors. Now his name led the press statement. Was he so displeased about the blatant rushing ahead by his successors that he finally put his foot down?

Waltz and Öhman again proved their insensitivity in a press newsletter spread the following day. The news was that Daniil Simkin, Principal of American Ballet Theater, will join the State Ballet Berlin in the 2018/19 season, which is indeed very pleasant news. But boasting that he is “one of the top 5 male classical dancers worldwide” seemed a clumsy attempt to produce a success in an otherwise bleak takeover process. Dance Magazine also created a misleading impression, posting their otherwise fine report on Simkin’s decision on Facebook with the line, “Daniil Simkin is bringing classical ballet back to Berlin.” What do they consider that the State Ballet Berlin is doing? Gymnastics?

* Translation from the German by the author.
4. Deutsche Oper Berlin © L.Seidel

Links: Website of the Bavarian State Ballet
Website of the State Ballet Berlin
Photos:  1. Igor Zelensky © Wilfried Hösl
 2. Ionic Hall, National Theater Munich © Wilfried Hösl
 3. Nacho Duato and ensemble © Fernando Marcos
 4. Deutsche Oper Berlin © Leo Seidel
Editing: Laurence Smelser
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