Yearly Archive: 2019

Weighty

“The Winter’s Tale”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
April 06, 2019 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Svolkin, L. Timoshenko, O. Smirnova, and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovThe Bolshoi Ballet recently added Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Winter’s Tale” to their repertoire – and what a fortunate choice that was! It is a co-production of the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, and premiered in London in 2014. It’s strange that such a strong piece of work is only now being performed by a third company.

The ballet is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name – one of his intricately-plotted later works, which is classified as a comedy despite its intense psychological drama. The tale centers around two kings – Leontes of Sicily and Polixenes of 2. E. Svolkin, D. Savin, and O. Smirnova, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovBohemia – who have been close friends since childhood. Their friendship begins to erode when Polixenes makes a lengthy visit to Sicily, which causes Leontes to suddenly doubt his wife Hermione’s faithfulness. Believing Polixenes to be the father of Hermione’s second child, Leontes is eaten up by biting jealousy that quickly turns to out-of-control aggression. He nearly stabs Polixenes and publicly accuses his wife of adultery. His wrath is so furious that Leontes’s eldest son son, Mamillius, gets seriously ill from helplessly witnessing the violent attacks on his mother. Hermione, heavily pregnant, is placed under arrest, and she gives birth to a girl, Perdita, while in custody. Leontes’s heart hardens even more at the sight of the baby, and he orders Antigonus, the head of his household, to abandon the child on a desolate shore – later revealed to be that of Bohemia.
3. E. Svolkin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovHermione is summoned to appear in court, but Leontes, unbelieving and practically mad, assaults her once again – and Mamillius, overwhelmed by the sight, dies on the spot. Hermione faints after seeing her son’s lifeless body and appears to be dead, finally bringing Leontes to his senses. For years he atones for the loss of his children and wife, emotionally petrified.
Time passes. Perdita, saved and raised by Bohemian shepherds, is now sixteen years old, and has fallen in love with Prince Florizel, who has fled his father Polixenes’s court to stay with the shepherds. When Polixenes tracks down his son, Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicily to escape Polixenes’s disapproval of their relationship. Eventually, all the protagonists meet at Leontes’s court, where everything sorts itself out: the kings reconcile; Perdita is recognized as Leontes’s daughter and is happily married to Florizel; joy and warmth return to the royal home. On top of this, Hermione is revealed to be still alive and reunites with her husband.

4. O. Smirnova and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovWheeldon pruned this complex tale into a meaty three-acter-plus-prologue, balancing the poignant drama of Sicily’s court in Acts I and III with the carefree shepherds’ life in the idyllic Bohemian countryside of Act II. Only a few minutes into the prologue, you know that Wheeldon is a talented storyteller. Just as he does in his ballet “Cinderella”, Wheeldon presents the defining moments from the childhoods of the main characters in a remarkably short amount of time. He emphasizes in a program booklet interview that the credit lies not only with him, but with his artistic team as well. Those who are familiar with Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” will recognize the musical handwriting of British composer and regular Wheeldon collaborator Joby Talbot, who often infuses his music with subtle and unfamiliar undercurrents that stoke anticipation. In this production, he places a five-person orchestra onstage to play folk music for the shepherds and royal tunes at the court. This is the first time Talbot has composed for an Indian bamboo cross flute (played by Natalia Bereslavtseva), a bandoneon (Artyom Kriklivy), a dulcimer (Alexander Koshevoy), and two percussion instruments (Andrey Gabelkov and Oleg Vorobiev). These fabulous musicians are complemented by the vibrant Bolshoi Orchestra, conducted by Anton Grishanin.

5. I. Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova 6. I. Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova The set and costumes are by Bob Crowley, who designed Wheeldon’s “Alice” and “An American in Paris”. Though Crowley wasn’t involved in Wheeldon’s “Cinderella”, he used a core set element of “Cinderella” in his design for this work: a huge tree. It’s broader than it is tall, and with its moss-grown stilt roots resembles a mangrove tree. Its branches are heavily decorated with talismans that are similar to the amulet placed in Perdita’s basket when she was abandoned and which is later used to identify her as Leontes’s daughter. “I saw my dad in that tree,” Wheeldon revealed in an interview, “and when the curtain goes up on this scene, the audience applauds because it’s a very beautiful image. Like if my dad is giving me applause.” Wheeldon dedicated “The Winter’s Tale” to his father, Peter, who passed away two weeks before the London premiere and never saw the piece.

7. A. Vlashinets, Y. Ostrovsky, and I. Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova“The Winter’s Tale” plays in two contrasting worlds: Leontes’s austere palace and the buoyant Bohemian countryside. For the latter, Crowley designed colorful, richly-patterned fabrics; for the former, he used white movable stairways and high archways with narrow passages that shift to form a hall, Hermione’s private room, and the courtroom. An armchair, Mamillius’s rocking horse, and a carpet provide some coziness. Several marble statues represent the ideals of the sophisticated wealth, but as the domestic violence rages hotter, they rather made me think of stagnation. Only at the final wedding feast was the central painting – a gray and gloomy winter scene – replaced by a Caspar David Friedrich-esque “Chalk Cliffs on Rügen” that revealed a hidden Hermione pretending to be part of a statue.

8. O. Smirnova and ensemble, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovBasil Twist, a sought-after American puppeteer, had already collaborated with Wheeldon on “Cinderella”. For this production, he was responsible for several sweeping visual effects that employ silk fabrics: memorably, creating a gigantic bear that ate poor Antigonus after he abandoned little Perdita. One of Daniel Brodie’s video designs, a sailing ship from the period, glided on Twist’s rippling sea of silk.
Natasha Katz’s lighting guided the attention cleverly while unmistakably distinguishing between Leontes’s idée fixe and reality.

For the rehearsals, six ballet masters came to Moscow, including Zenaida Yanowsky (the London premiere’s Paulina, i.e. the head of Hermione’s household), Jonathan Howells (a former Antigonus) from the Royal Ballet, and Piozr Stanczyk who performed the role of Leontes with the National Ballet of Canada.

10. K. Kretova and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. Yusupov9. A. Vlashinets, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. VoronovaWheeldon’s dance vocabulary is fresh, resourceful, and seems to be directly of the moment. He doesn’t use well-trodden movement vignettes, but instead makes us watch with keen eyes. I remember his statement on the challenge of expressing a flash of jealousy through movement. Wheeldon has Leontes begin with the hand: in the instant that he feels the baby kicking in his wife’s belly, Leontes’s hand suddenly writhes, spider-like, then crawls across his body to his spine. It seems then to inject a tormenting poison into his back, and in no time this poison taints his entire and innermost being. Denis Savin, the evening’s Leontes, played this change of personality with an eeriness that makes sense given his knack knack for strange characters, his strong physical stage presence, and his uncanny expressiveness. Savin’s entire performance brimmed with intensity and left no emotional depth unplumbed. I was glad to have a chance to see him perform.
11. Ensemble, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovOf Igor Tsvirko’s interpretation of Leontes at the matinee I especially remember the hot, seething fury with which he flew at Polixenes (Anton Savichev). His thorough disturbance after the deaths of Mamillius and Hermione really got to me. It was clear that he had reached the lowest point of his life.

Olga Smirnova danced Hermione alongside Savin, perfectly melding genuine warmth with aristocratic grace. The immediacy and directness of her movement made her performance hauntingly real. How many messages did Smirnova’s Hermione convey at court with merely a single look! And how aloof was she at first when reuniting with Leontes – like a statue that had to re-petrify.
13. A. Trikoz and D. Motta Soares, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova12. D. Motta Soares and A. Trikoz, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. VoronovaA bouquet to Kristina Kretova, who shouldered the two leading roles of Hermione and Paulina that day. At the matinee, her Hermione gave me goosebumps when she saw her daughter Perdita (Alexandra Trikoz) for the first time in sixteen years. Wheeldon’s Paulina is a more vital character than Shakespeare’s – in fact, she’s the ballet’s pivotal female role. She takes care of the mourning Leontes, directing his soul through its darkness, while stoically keeping the secret that Hermione is in fact alive. Fate was merciful with Leontes to give him such an emphatic, humble guide! After all, Paulina has been widowed because of him: it was Leontes who sent her husband, Antigonus (Yuri Ostrovsky), off with the baby and into the clutches of the bear.
14. D. Motta Soares, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovThe matinee’s Paulina was Angelina Vlashinets; Ostrovsky again played Antigonus. I liked how both ballerinas playing Paulina nearly hit out at Leontes when he attacked Hermione, but pulled themselves together at the last second and curtsied. However, upon seeing the queen and Mamillius dead, both Paulinas trashed their Leontes uncontrollably in fits of helpless desperation and rage.

In the evening, Erik Svolkin’s Polixenes was more flirtatious than Savichev’s at the matinee, but even if both Polixenes felt like third wheels the more Hermione’s pregnancy advanced and the more her and Leontes’s intimate togetherness deepened, one couldn’t imagine either Polixenes to cross the border of decency.
Mamillius (Kirill Travin / Lev Timoshenko) is a tough role. The boy has to witness blunt aggression without any means of escape (neither a teddy nor an armchair hideaway could protect him). My respect to both Travin and Timoshenko for their brave performances.

16. K. Kretova and I.Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova15. O. Smirnova and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovAt the matinee, Florizel (David Motta Soares) danced alongside Alexandra Trikoz’s Perdita. The blossoming of their tender, innocent romance warmed my heart. The same applies to the evening’s young lovers (Vyacheslav Lopatin & Dariya Khokhlova), a sunny couple that lived their love more openly.

17. V. Lantratov, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. VoronovaIn the supporting roles: Karim Abdullin and Egor Khromushin portrayed Father Shepherd; Igor Pugachyov and Alexey Putintsev danced his son, called Brother Clown; Maria Mishina and Bruna Catanhede Gaglianone performed the young shepherdess who loved him. In addition to the role of Mamillius, three other parts were played by children (Danila Klimenko, Viktor Uskov, and Sergey Shcherbina, with some of them doubling roles): the young Leontes, the young Polixenes, and the young Brother Clown. The corps exercised grave restraint at court and gave the shepherds’ zest for life vibrant colors. The rustic feast by the tree might have been a bigger party if attended by a few more revelers; the Bolshoi’s historic stage is vast, after all.

The only bitterness in this production emerged around the role of Florizel. Vladislav Lantratov was cast as the premiere’s Florizel, but injured himself shortly after the beginning of Act II. Motta Soares replaced him after a fifteen-minute break. I wish Lantratov a speedy recovery, but above all I wish him the patience necessary for a full recovery. He’s an outstanding artist and the Bolshoi needs him back in perfect health.

Links: Website of the Bolshoi Theatre
rehearsal  of “The Winter’s Tale” (video)
Photos: 1. Erik Svolkin (Polixenes), Lev Timoshenko (Mamillius), Olga Smirnova (Hermione), and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
2. Erik Svolkin (Polixenes), Denis Savin (Leontes), and Olga Smirnova (Hermione), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
3. Erik Svolkin (Polixenes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
4. Olga Smirnova (Hermione) and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
5. Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
6. Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
7. Angelina Vlashinets (Paulina), Yuri Ostrovsky (Antigonus), and Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
8. Olga Smirnova (Hermione) and ensemble, “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
9. Angelina Vlashinets (Paulina), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
10. Kristina Kretova (Paulina) and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
11. Ensemble, “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
12. David Motta Soares (Florizel) and Alexandra Trikoz (Perdita), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
13. Alexandra Trikoz (Perdita) and David Motta Soares (Florizel), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
14. David Motta Soares (Florizel), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
15. Olga Smirnova (Hermione) and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
16. Kristina Kretova (Hermione) and Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
17. Vladislav Lantratov (Florizel), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
Editing: Jake Stepansky

In the Running

“Ekman / Goecke / Naharin”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 23, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Mikirticheva and ensemble, “Tyll” by A. Ekman, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2019 © S. Avvakum No fewer than three pieces of the Stanislavsky Ballet’s repertoire were nominated for this year’s Golden Mask award: “Tyll” by Alexander Ekman, “Lonesome George” by Marco Goecke, and “Minus 16” by Ohad Naharin. On top of that, the company’s senior principal, Oksana Kardash, is nominated twice for her performances in “Tyll” and “Lonesome George”.
The Golden Mask Festival is in full swing in Moscow, presenting the most significant productions of all genres of theater from all over Russia. The winners will be announced on April 16 at an awards ceremony in the Bolshoi Theatre. (more…)

Growing With the Legacy

Coppélia”
Bolshoi Ballet

Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 23, 2019 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A. Loparevich, “Coppélia” by M. Petipa and E. Cecchetti, revival and new choreographic version by S. Vikharev, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / E. FetisovaWhat would Sergei Vikharev have thought of his “Coppélia” if he had watched the matinee on March 23? For one thing, he wouldn’t appreciate my calling the work “his”, as it is Petipa’s and his assistant Cecchetti’s 1884 choreography that Vikharev, together with ballet scholar Pavel Gershenzon, meticulously revived from Nicholas Sergeiev’s notation. Vikharev’s reconstruction premiered in 2009 with the Bolshoi Ballet with an updated revival planned for 2018/19. However, fate struck in the summer of 2017 when Vikharev, only fifty-five years old, died from an adverse reaction to anesthetic during a dental treatment. As a result, the company re-staged the 2009 version. (more…)

Pipe Dreams

“La Fille du Pharaon”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 08, 2019 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Obraztsova, “La Fille du Pharaon” by P. Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. Yusupov Aspicia, the heroine in Petipa’s “La Fille du Pharaon”, was a highly coveted role among ballerinas. Carolina Rosati, an Italian ballerina whose insistence propelled the ballet to creation, danced Aspicia at the world premiere in St. Petersburg in 1862. Mathilde Kschessinska, the unofficial queen of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theatres, claimed the role as hers at the 1898 revival – meaning that it was like a revolution when the role was given to Anna Pavlova in 1906. “La Fille du Pharaon” was Petipa’s first significant choreographic success. Pierre Lacotte’s take on the ballet for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000 was a tribute to Petipa and to the famous ballerinas who had shared their knowledge about Aspicia with Lacotte: Lyubov Egorova, Mathilde Kschessinska, and Olga Spesivtseva.

The ballet’s rambling narrative is loosely based on Théophile Gautier’s 1857 novel “The Romance of a Mummy”. Fueled by opium, an English explorer imagines a slew of adventures with Aspicia, the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh. Aspicia, a mummy, resurrected from her sarcophagus, goes hunting and is saved from a lion’s wrath by the heroic Egyptian Taor (the Englishman), with whom she naturally falls in love. The duo, contending with Aspicia’s forced marriage to the King of Nubia, elopes to an idyllic fishing village. There, they are met by further hazards: suicide attempts, a detour to the underwater realm of the God of the river Nile, and more. Finally, Aspicia and Taor are reunited and happily married – until at the height of the rejoicing, the Englishman awakes from his dream. (more…)

Topical

“La Esmeralda”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 07, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O. Kardash, “La Esmeralda” by V. Burmeister, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2019 © A. Klyushkina Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” – which features Notre-Dame’s deformed bellringer Quasimodo and the compassionate, kind Esmeralda – has long been popular material for stage and film adaptions. The first ballet adaption premiered in London in 1844, with choreography by Jules Perrot and music by Cesare Pugni. In 1950, Vasiliy Tikhomirov and Vladimir Burmeister produced a new libretto for their version with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre. As in the novel, their production is set in the 15th century and has a frame narrative that explores Esmeralda’s childhood background. For this iteration of the tale, Tikhomirov and Burmeister brought back Esmeralda’s tragic death while eschewing several secondary characters. In addition, Pugni’s score was newly orchestrated and supplemented with music by Reinhold Glière and Sergei Vasilenko. The three-acter is still in the company’s repertory and – more than 500 years later it is (regrettably) still highly topical. “La Esmeralda” exposes the Catholic church’s sickening hypocrisy and rotten ethics, which have made and continue to make international headlines to this day.

At the heart of the story is Esmeralda, who was picked up and raised by the Romani after they (wrongly) deemed her mother Gudule to be dead. (more…)

Second International Ballet Conference at Dutch National Ballet

“Positioning Ballet 2019”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

February 16/17, 2019
by Ilona Landgraf

Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

This February, the Dutch National Ballet welcomed international dance professionals for a two-day working meeting at the second “Positioning Ballet” conference. In 2017, at the first iteration of the event, the key topics were heritage, diversity, and identity. The 2019 meeting dealt with the relevance of ballet in the 21st century, the work culture ballet aims to embody, and the types of leadership required from artistic directors. Unlike in 2017, this year’s conference was closed for the press on the first day. As such, I missed the two keynote speeches – one by Jennifer Homans, the author of “Apollo’s Angels”, and the other by Theresa Ruth Howard, the founder and curator of MoBBallet (Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet) – and the discussions that followed. Homans spoke about internal and external threats to the arts and ballet in particular, while Howard’s speech was titled “The Deconstruction of the Anatomy of Culture and Leadership in Ballet”. (more…)

The Doyen

“Ode to the Master” (“On the Move” / “Symphonieën Der Nederlanden” / “Sarcasmen” / “5 Tango’s”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 17, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. H.van Manen and D.Camargo, rehearsal of “5 Tango's” by H.van Manen, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © A.Kaftira“If it was up to me, all I’d be doing was cooking for friends and watching snooker on TV”

These are the words, taken from a 2018 interview, of a choreographer heralded by the Dutch National Ballet as a master. The company dedicated an ode in the form of a ballet program in September 2017, to celebrate the 85th birthday of this nonpareil: Hans van Manen.

This February, the company revived “Ode to the Master”, and it happened that a matinee performance was shown at the closing of the international “Positioning Ballet”-conference held at the Dutch National Opera (a report on the conference will follow). It was a good chance to see the all-van Manen bill again. (more…)

Superficies

“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. (more…)

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…)