Yearly Archive: 2021

Comparisons

“Tänze Bilder Sinfonien” (“Symphony in Three Movements” / “Pictures at an Exhibition” / “Sinfonie Nr. 15”)
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
September 21, 2021 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.Hashimoto, D.Dato, A.Firenze, and D.Tariello, “Symphony in Three Movements” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.TaylorThe Vienna State Ballet opened their season with a revival of “Tänze Bilder Sinfonien”, a triple bill that premiered in June. It is comprised of two ballets originally created for the New York City Ballet: Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements” from 1972 and Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” from 2014. The third choreography – “Sinfonie Nr. 15” – was a new piece by Martin Schläpfer (formerly the artistic director and choreographer of the Ballet am Rhein; currently in the same positions at the State Ballet Vienna). I viewed the live-stream of the performance on September 21, 2021.

“Symphony in Three Movements”, set to Stravinsky’s eponymous composition, is Balanchine’s tribute to the composer following the latter’s death in 1971. It looks like 2. L.Konovalova and M.Kimoto, “Symphony in Three Movements” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylora typical Balanchine: a large female corps of sixteen pony-tailed women (all wearing white tricots and white tights) frames five couples (the women wearing black tricots) performing in front of a bright blue backdrop. Three pairs of principals build the core – the ballerinas sporting tricots in different shades of pink, the men uniformly clad in black pants and white shirts.
The athletic and spirited choreography includes plenty of dressage-horse-like trotting, brisk walking, jaunty jumping, and chorus-line stepping in place. Vigorous arm movements, often done in sync, create an impression of hyped-up breeziness. In the second movement’s pas de deux, Liudmila Konovalova and Masayu Kimoto contrast velvety floating arms with angular elbows and hinge-like wrist flips. It was fascinating to see how elegantly they intertwined their arms with breaststroke-like movements without getting in each other’s way.
Although Stravinsky’s music (which was assembled from material initially written for aborted film projects) is said to be a direct response to WWII, there are no obvious references to the war in Balanchine’s choreography except for the final tableau. Balanchine lines up the men at the front stage, where they lunge deeply as if preparing to run. Meanwhile, the women stand or kneel behind them, their arms stretched upwards or sideways like frozen semaphores.
3. Ensemble, “Symphony in Three Movements” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.TaylorThe website of New York City Ballet describes “Symphony in Three Movements” as majestic. That might refer to the distinct symmetry of some of the corps’ arrangements, but it certainly doesn’t apply to the entire ballet. Unlike other Balanchine works, this one looked and felt outdated.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” takes its title from the accompanying music, a suite of ten pieces connected by varied promenades composed by Modest Mussorgsky for solo piano in 1874. He took his inspiration from visiting a memorial exhibition of work by his friend Viktor Hartmann, the Russian artist, architect, and designer.
4. Ensemble, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by A.Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.TaylorRatmansky chose not to include artworks by Hartman in the ballet, but instead selected a color study by Vassily Kandinsky (squares with concentric circles from 1913) to serve as the backdrop for the five male/female couples. For their costumes – short dresses, pants, and shirts – Adeline André drew from Kandinsky’s colors and geometric patterns. A top layer of transparent cloth subtly blurs the silhouettes.
Projection designer Wendall K. Harrington re-arranges and re-sizes the painting’s squares and circles in response to the character of each musical piece. He 5. K.Papava, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by A.Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor6. I.Avraam, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by A.Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylorsupplements the painting with white chalk lines and alters its ground color from green to red and blue. During the promenade that precedes Ionna Avraam’s jauntily teasing solo, for example, the circles faintly resemble the silhouette of a pig’s head; in the last piece (called “The Bogatyr Gates” – referring to Hartmann’s design for the city gates at Kiev), single squares and circles fly over cupola-shaped roofs before morphing into star-like dots on a dark blue sky.
In “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs”, Francesco Costa fiercely flails about, a male Baba Yaga shaking his furious fists before taking one of three woman (Ketevan Papava) as his captive. Papava also danced the part of “Gnome”, bending her long legs crookedly and scurrying about – her 7. F.Costa, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by A.Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylorbody driven by a mix of strain, nagging ire, and will to fight. In “The Old Castle”, the former grandeur of aristocracy seems to have faded as Claudine Schoch and Marcos Menha ooze through the melancholy of bygone times – despite their pas de deux’s soaring lifts. The joyful “Market” pas de deux (danced by Ionna Avraam and Arne Vandervelde) was followed by the icy atmosphere of “Catacombs”, in which loss and grief were met with consolation – though one man was coldly excluded from the group for no obvious reason.
“Samuel” Goldenberg and “Schmuÿle” (the title refers to two separate pictures by Hartmann of male Polish Jews – one rich, one poor) was danced by Aleksandra Liashenko and Roman Lazik. The pair scans the floor with anxiously fluttering hands, moving cautiously, starting from sleep again and again. Liashenko cuts the air with her razor-sharp splits, saving herself in the end with a plucky jump onto Lazik’s back.
Let’s not speculate about the roles of the four women in “Cattle”, who mistrustfully peek out from beneath their port de bras, ducking their heads and trudging offstage hand in hand, their torsos bent wearily down.
In the final scene, Kandinsky’s painting is restored, having been freed from a grayish layer of dirt and able now to shine in vibrant colors. All five couples return and, as the women are lifted, stretching their arms upwards, they seem finally and fully clear-eyed.

8. F.McGee and C.Failla, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by M.Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor9. F.McGee and C.Failla, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by M.Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor“Sinfonie Nr. 15” is Schläpfer’s second ballet to Shostakovich’s music, using the composer’s final work – the fifty-minute Symphony No. 15, which was penned in 1971 while the composer received medical treatment. Vasily Petrenko described it in BBC Music Magazine as a macabre toy shop dreamed up in hospital. The music is known for its quotation of works by Rossini, Wagner, Glinka – and Shostakovich himself.
For his interpretation Schläpfer employed fifty-three dancers – the men bare-chested and wearing shiny black pants; the women in pointe-shoes and decked out in similarly shiny black tops and silvery-gray skirts that looked to be made from plastic rags. The backdrop resembled a magnified camouflage pattern, with thin white horizontal lines segmenting the floor like a tartan track (set and costumes by Thomas Ziegler).
10. R.Lazik and K.Papava, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by M.Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.TaylorSchläpfer opens the piece with a male duet, and proceeds to assemble solos, pas de deux, and group sequences of various sizes. Groups of dancers shuffle across the stage with mincing steps. Women hang limply in their partners’ arms, strut like stiff wooden dolls, swagger like masculine athletes, and freeze like beetles in states of shock, knees bent. They vacillate erratically between being aggressive vamps and weak creatures in need of protection. Occasionally, Schläpfer borrowed: the prancing steps, V-shaped arms, and hands held on thighs are Hans van Manen’s signature, but unlike Van Manen’s, Schläpfer’s men often seem impotent and subordinate. Women grope and drag them by their nipples, pull them up by their hair, and thrust their pointe shoes right into their faces. One ballerina stands on pointe on a man’s chest as he lays out flat, another one crouches on a man’s belly after spreading his legs. I wondered: how might the male audience be appreciating this?
Schläpfer abandoned elegance and strayed away from moments of beauty. He repeatedly broke the flow of the dance and ended with a patchwork of haphazard snippets that felt lengthy to watch. It may not have been Schläpfer’s best idea to show his work alongside that of an artist of the caliber of Ratmansky, who taps deeper and richer resources.

The orchestra of the Vienna State Opera was conducted by Robert Reimer. Alina Bercu accompanied “Pictures at an Exhibition”.
11. Ensemble, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by M.Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021 © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor

Links: Website of the Vienna State Ballet
Trailer “Tänze Bilder Sinfonien”
Alexei Ratmansky on “Pictures at an Exhibition” (video)
Photos: 1. Kiyoka Hashimoto, Davide Dato, Alice Firenze, and Duccio Tariello, “Symphony in Three Movements” by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Vienna State Ballet 2021
2. Liudmila Konovalova and Masayu Kimoto, “Symphony in Three Movements” by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Vienna State Ballet 2021
3. Ensemble, “Symphony in Three Movements” by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Vienna State Ballet 2021
4. Ensemble, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Alexei Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021
5. Ketevan Papava, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Alexei Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021
6. Ioanna Avraam, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Alexei Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021
7. Francesco Costa, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Alexei Ratmansky, Vienna State Ballet 2021
8. Fiona McGee and Calogero Failla, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by Martin Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021
9. Fiona McGee and Calogero Failla, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by Martin Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021
10. Roman Lazik and Ketevan Papava, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by Martin Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021
11. Ensemble, “Sinfonie Nr. 15” by Martin Schläpfer, Vienna State Ballet 2021
all photos © Vienna State Ballet / Ashley Taylor
Editing: Jake Stepansky

Blabla Or Food For Thought?

“Blitirí”
Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg
State Theater
Nuremberg, Germany
July 25, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Nunes, O.Alonso, S.Vervaecke, C.Blanco, V.Ketelslegers, A.Fernández, A.Tavares, J.Toscano, and S.Tozzi, “Blitirí” by G.Montero, Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg 2021 © J.VallinasBlitirí is a term used in medieval time for something that has no meaning,” explains Goyo Montero, choreographer and artistic director of the State Theater Nuremberg’s ballet ensemble. He compares the word to jovial “blabla”. Indeed, his new choreography for “Blitirí” revolves around joy – at least, almost entirely.
Though originally planned as a solely digital project, the 25-minute piece premiered on July 10th to a live audience at Nuremberg’s State Theater as part of the triple bill “Goecke / Godani / Montero”. A few weeks later, Stefan Kleeberger and Montero realized the initial plan by releasing a filmed version that is available on the company’s YouTube channel. (more…)

Amsterdam’s Dance Students

“Dancers of Tomorrow”
Dutch National Ballet Academy
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
July 10/11, 2021 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Students of the Dutch National Ballet Academy, “10 Years Tailor-Made” by I.Lešić, Dutch National Ballet Academy 2021 © S.Derine End-of-year performances are a highlight for the students of any ballet school. Last weekend, the Dutch National Ballet Academy performed “Dancers of Tomorrow” on the main stage of the Dutch National Opera & Ballet for an empty auditorium due, sadly, to ongoing COVID-19-restrictions. The silver lining: a video of the performance, augmented by footage from backstage, was streamed online for two days, allowing a much larger audience to see the work. I wonder: could we include online streams and video broadcasts as a standard addendum to live performances in the future?

“Dancers of Tomorrow” was assembled from ten pieces geared to the students’ age groups and adapted or created especially for the occasion. All students participated. (more…)

A Journey Through Time

“Beauty Mixed Programme”
The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
July 09, 2021 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. F.Hayward and C.Coralles, “Morgen” by W.McGregor, The Royal Ballet 2021 © A.Uspenski Ninety years ago, Ninette de Valois founded the Vic-Wells Ballet, which would later birth today’s Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Royal Ballet celebrated the anniversary with a mixed bill that linked the past and the present, showcasing works by two pillars of the repertory – the late Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan – and works by resident choreographer Wayne McGregor, artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon, principal dancer-cum-choreographer Valentino Zucchetti, and Arthur Pita. The crown jewel of the program (more…)

“And I Have So Much to Say, But…”

“Sleeping Woman”
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Opera House
Wuppertal, Germany
July 02, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.-C.Yu and ensemble, “Sleeping Woman” by R.Behr, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch 2021 © E.RodoulisPina Bausch was the heart of Tanztheater Wuppertal – and since her premature death in 2009, the company has struggled to find new leadership to shape its artistic future. The termination of Adolphe Binder’s contract as intendant and artistic director in 2018 – after only one year in office – was followed by a two-year lawsuit between her and the theater. Although Binder won the suit (and the matter was settled out of court), Binder waived her claim to the post, making way for Bettina Wagner-Bergelt. (more…)

Exploring a Romantic Dream

“Les Sylphides” (“Chopiniana”)
São Paulo Dance Company
Teatro Sérgio Cardoso
São Paulo, Brazil
June 25, 2021 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Prata, V.Vieira, and L.Yuk, “Les Sylphides” by A.Botafogo after M.Fokin, São Paulo Dance Company 2021 © F.KirmayrThe COVID-19 pandemic compelled the São Paulo Dance Company to postpone this June’s run of “Giselle” to September. In its place, the company has offered another gem from the romantic repertory: Mikhail Fokin’s “Les Sylphides”, newly revised by Ana Botafogo, a Brazilian actress and former principal of the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro. The performance on June 18th – attended by a live audience and broadcast online on June 25th – was presented as part of the company’s educational program and followed by a 30-minute lecture about the piece and its production. (more…)

Two Dutch Premieres

“Four Seasons” (“The Two Of Us” / “The Four Seasons”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
June 15, 2021 (live broadcast)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Tsygankova and C.Allen, “The Two Of Us” by C.Wheeldon, Dutch National Ballet 2021 © H.GerritsenJust one week after the premiere of “Prometheus”, the Dutch National Ballet premiered a second program as part of the annual Holland Festival: “Four Seasons” – a double bill comprised of Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Two Of Us” and David Dawson’s “The Four Seasons”. Two dance films created by members of the company during last year’s lockdown – “Oblivion” and “The Garden” – were shown during the break. The performance was attended by a live audience and, in addition, broadcast online.

“The Two Of Us” premiered at New York City Center’s 2020 Fall for Dance festival and paired New York City Ballet’s principal Sara Means and David Hallberg, close friends who’d never before had the chance to dance together. In Amsterdam, the duet was performed by Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen, depicting two tender souls unsure whether to stay together or to part.

As the curtain opens, Tsygankova is seated on the floor, her elbow resting pensively upon her knee. Allen kneels behind her, his hand touching her shoulder. He begins to walk away from her, and at that exact moment we hear the first sounds of a melancholic guitar strummed by Joni Mitchell. “I don’t know where I stand,” Mitchell sings, verbalizing Tsykankova’s state of being. (more…)

Joint Venture

“Come In” / “Inquieto”
Ballett am Rhein / São Paulo Dance Company
Düsseldorf, Germany / São Paulo, Brazil
June 11, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Carvalho, “Come In” by A.Barton, Ballett am Rhein 2021 © B.StößDemis Volpi, artistic director of the Ballett am Rhein, and Inês Bogéa, the same at the São Paulo Dance Company, have known each other for years. This June, their professional relationship yielded a joint video release that featured one ensemble piece by each company. The video was available on the Ballett am Rhein’s YouTube channel from June 11-13 and can be re-watched there from June 18-20.

The Ballet am Rhein contributed a modified-for-2021 version of “Come In”, a piece for twelve men choreographed in 2006 by Aszure Barton for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Hell’s Kitchen Dance. (more…)

A Strong Comeback

“Beethoven” (“Prometheus” / “Grosse Fuge”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
June 08, 2021 (live broadcast)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Yamada, D.Silva, and ensemble, “Prometheus” by W.Kuindersma, E.Meisner, and R.Wörtmeyer, Dutch National Ballet 2021 © H.GerritsenThe Dutch National Ballet’s celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday was, in fact, supposed to premiere a year ago. “We’re a little bit late,” admitted Ted Brandsen, Dutch National Ballet’s artistic director, for reasons dictated by COVID-19. The originally scheduled program would have included Toer van Schayk’s “7th Symphony”. The anniversary program that was ultimately shown on June 8th was an adaption of this program comprised of two pieces: “Prometheus” (a new creation by the choreographer-trio Wubkje Kuindersma, Ernst Meisner, and Remi Wörtmeyer) and Hans van Manen’s “Grosse Fuge”. The break was used for an excursion away from Beethoven to Milena Sidorova’s recently released dance film “Rose”. (more…)

Meager Substance

“Dance Gala Baden-Wuerttemberg”
Theater and Orchestra Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Germany
June 06, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Pérez, artistic director of the Dance Biennial Heidelberg and the Dance Theater Heidelberg © S.Reichardt“Everybody Can Dance” was the motto of this year’s Dance Biennial Heidelberg, the fourth since the event’s inception. Pandemic-related restrictions pared down the three-day festival’s schedule to a few online events, crowned by a dance gala on Sunday, June 6th. Nine of Baden-Wuerttemberg’s dance companies were represented there, together contributing thirteen short pieces – nine digital and four danced live.

The Unterwegstheater Heidelberg, a small touring company whose work spans multiple genres opened the program with the video “Die nackte Wahrheit” (“The Naked Truth”). (more…)

Incongruent

“Lyssa”
The Royal Ballet & Nadine Shah
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
June 04, 2021 (dance film)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Shah and artists of the the Royal Ballet in “Lyssa” by L.Page, The Royal Ballet 2021 © A.Verzhbinsky In late 2019, the British choreographer Lynne Page created “Death in Venice” for the Royal Opera. “Lyssa”, a twenty-or-so-minute film, features her first-ever choreography for the Royal Ballet. After a year of pandemic-induced artistic drought (and a severe lack of live music), she felt that the time was ripe for arts institutions to tackle new genres in order to reach new audiences. This project, a merger between song and dance, brings together the English singer / songwriter Nadine Shah and seventeen female dancers from the Royal Ballet. Shah sings “Trad” from her 2020 album “Kitchen Sink”, a less-than-four-minute song with very few lyrics, which has been extended to fifteen minutes in a new version featuring the orchestra of the Royal Opera House. (more…)

The Royal Ballet Re-Opens

“21st-Century Choreographers”
(“Within the Golden Hour” / Optional Family: A Divertissement” / “The Statement” / “Solo Echo”)

The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
May 28, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Artists of the Royal Ballet, “Within the Golden Hour” by C.Wheeldon, The Royal Ballet 2021 © B.Cooper Over half a year ago, pandemic-related restrictions forced the Royal Opera House to close its doors. On May 18th, a limited audience was finally welcomed back to see the company live on stage. The program – “21st-Century Choreographers” – consisted of four pieces: “Within the Golden Hour” by Christopher Wheeldon; “Optional Family: A Divertissement” – a new piece by Kyle Abraham; and two pieces by Crystal Pite: “The Statement” and “Solo Echo”. (more…)

Made For Film

“Young Creatives” (“Memento” / “Rose” / “I Feel It Too”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
May, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Stoop, D.Bai, S.Quintyn, L.Rosillo, W.Wijkstra, and M.Kumar, “Memento” by W.Kuindersma, Dutch National Ballet 2021 © H.GerritsenFollowing the online premiere of “Metamorphosis”, the new ballet by Dutch National Ballet’s associate artist David Dawson, the company released three additional videos at the end of May. Each features a ballet film by a young creative associate: “Memento” (concept and choreography by Wubkje Kuindersma), “Rose” (direction, concept, and choreography by Milena Sidorova), and “I Feel It Too” (creative direction and choreography by Sedrig Verwoert). All three films can be viewed for free on the company’s YouTube channel until October 2021. (more…)

The Royal Ballet’s Young Choreographers

“Spring Draft Works”
The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
May 14, April 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Junker, I.Lubach, F.Serrano, I.Gasparini, K.McNally, and T.Dubreuil, “The Morning Routine” by J.Junker, The Royal Ballet 2021 © A.UspenskiIt’s hard to imagine that the pandemic has had any positive impact on the performing arts – but, as Kevin O’Hare, the Royal Ballet’s ever-optimistic artistic director points out in his introductory comments on this season’s “Spring Draft Works” (an annual project that assembles choreographies created by the company’s dancers) – there’s a silver lining: more free time to unlock hidden choreographic potential and rehearse, and the chance to include live music. Even the renowned lighting designer Natasha Chivers had time to create clever lighting tailored to each piece. (more…)

What Became of …?

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Ballet School
Teatro Nazionale
Rome, Italy
May 2021

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Starace (Oberon), C.Onesti (Titania), and ensemble, “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by A.Delle Monache, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Ballet School 2014 © Y.KageyamaEarlier this May, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma unearthed an archival recording of a 2014 performance by the opera’s ballet school: Shakespeare’s romantic comedy (or, rather, satire on romantic comedy) “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, choreographed and directed by Alessandra Delle Monache. Her genre-spanning production is grounded by the explanations of a narrator (Giulia Tomaselli, a student of the Accademia Nazionale D’Arte Drammatica Silvio d’Amico, Rome) who helps us sort out the tangle of romances blossoming in the forests outside Athens. It’s an understandable move, since – unlike in other productions – two of the four couples (Hermia & Lysander, Helena & Demetrius) are dressed so similarly that mixing them up is inevitable. (more…)