Monthly Archive: March 2024

Incomprehensible

“The Lady of the Camellias”
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
March 24, 2024, (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

 1. Ensemble, “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.TaylorShouts of “Bravi!” mingled with enthusiastic applause after the curtain closed on John Neumeier’s The Lady of the Camellias last Sunday at the Vienna State Opera. I, who was following the performance on screen, was less happy. Being familiar with this piece as it was performed by other companies, I felt that this premiere left a lot to be desired.

To begin with, the choreography—almost forty-five years after its creation—suffers from the same mannerisms present in large parts of Neumeier’s oeuvre. The tools that he uses to express his protagonists’ inner life are repetitive. For example, books, confectionery, and bunches of flowers slipped from the dancers’ grip to signal astonishment or absent-mindedness. The number of people who stumbled, fell, barged into one another, and ran around precipitously was remarkable. As in other Neumeier-ballets, the buffoon (in this case, Count N., whom Géraud Wielick turned into an especially silly specimen of jealous lover) wore glasses. That Neumeier intertwined Marguerite and Armand’s fate with that of Manon Lescaut—a connection that is inherent in Alexandre Dumas’s novel—would be ingenious if the relevant scenes were less mawkish and didactic.

4. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor3. T.Afshar (Armand Duval) and K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor2. A.Garcia Torres, K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), D.Tariello, and G.Fourés; “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.TaylorTo be clear, the libretto of Lady of the Camellias is expert work. Each pas de deux is a highlight, Chopin’s music fits perfectly, and Jürgen Rose’s set and costume designs are a treat for the eyes. Hyo-Jung Kang was a fine Manon Lescaut, and Marcos Menha danced the role of Des Grieux impeccably except for some turns. I liked the loyalty and restraint of Nanina (Adi Hanan), Marguerite’s servant. The Count (Rashaen Arts) behaved offish in public but seemed more responsive when intimate with Marguerite. The sleek Gaston (Masayu Kimoto), by comparison, oozed virility, which he directed primarily toward Ioanna Avraam’s sassy Prudence. Her mere smile reflected her happy-go-lucky nature. She had more decency than the pretty Olympia (Elena Bottaro) who, as she seduced Armand right under Marguerite’s nose, revealed her true character—an impertinent bitch.
5. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and ensemble, “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor6. T.Afshar (Armand Duval) and K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.TaylorWhile the supporting characters and the corps gave reputable performances, the leading couple was so obviously ill-cast that it was beyond my comprehension why they were chosen for the premiere. True, Ketevan Papava has a versatile face. Her Marguerite looked young and happy, sometimes naive, and then aristocratic. When badly snubbed by Armand (Timoor Afshar), she became haggard, as if suddenly aged by decades. She seemed most inside herself in the countryside while wearing a dress that was as breezy as the vibes. My sympathy was stirred as I watched her crouch in front of Armand like a picture of misery after having been forced to leave him. Yet the confrontation with Armand’s father, Monsieur Duval (Eno Peci), wasn’t convincing. Both seemed to dance as if their steps were in a language unfamiliar to them.

8. T.Afshar (Armand Duval) and K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor7. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and T.Afshar (Armand Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor The main problem was, however, that Ketevan’s Marguerite lacked the allure you’d expect from a courtesan. She was not the type of woman at whose feet men lie. Compare that to, for example, Svetlana Zakharova’s Marguerite. Even, for example, the way that Zakharova invited Armand to take a seat next to her—her refinement and coquetry, the scintillating femininity—will make the difference obvious.

Timoor Afshar’s performance of Armand left me puzzled given that he completed his training at the John Cranko School, which is known for its solid training. After his graduation in 2016, Afshar joined the Stuttgart Ballet, which he left to join the Vienna State Ballet this season. I saw him twice at Cranko School galas and once in 2022 in a modern piece with the Stuttgart Ballet, hence, I cannot comment on his overall artistic effort.
9. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and E.Peci (Monsieur Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor10. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), H.-J.Kang (Manon Lescaut), and ensemble; “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor 11. T.Afshar (Armand Duval), H.-J.Kang (Manon Lescaut), and M.Menha (Des Grieux); “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor In any case, his Armand lacked the demeanor of a classical dancer from the moment he set foot on stage. The way he slumped at Marguerite’s feet made me think of a bag of potatoes. Although Afshar tried hard, his fury after Marguerite’s secret departure wasn’t fed from inside. Perhaps emotions echoed deep inside of him, but little surfaced. I had to re-watch Jiří Bubeníček’s interpretation of Armand afterward to reassure myself of the myriad of subtle feelings that can be reflected in a face. Afshar’s technique was so-so, but in the final (black) pas de deux, matters turned cringy. Perhaps the lovers’ unrestrained abandon made them forsake the choreography? Or did Afshar run out of stamina given that each lift was a struggle?

14. T.Afshar (Armand Duval) and E.Bottaro (Olympia), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor13. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and T.Afshar (Armand Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor12. K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and T.Afshar (Armand Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor Of the two highlights of the evening, one was pianist Igor Zapravdin who joined the dancers on stage during the auction and the countryside retreat. Zapravdin’s lively charisma and spirited playing were a joy. The other highlight was part of a video shown during the break. It featured Jürgen Rose overseeing the costume fitting. The eighty-six-year-old looked pleased as he repeated a comment by his colleagues: “Rose, you still notice each petty crap.” I’m glad he does.
15. T.Afshar (Armand Duval) and K.Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor

Links: Website of the Vienna State Ballet
The Lady of the Camellias – Trailer
Costume fitting – Jürgen Rose (video)
Rehearsal with John Neumeier (video)
Photos: 1. Ensemble, “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
2. Andrés Garcia Torres, Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), Duccio Tariello, and Giorgio Fourés; “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
3. Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval) and Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
4. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
5. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and ensemble, “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
6. Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval) and Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
7. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
8. Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval) and Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
9. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and Eno Peci (Monsieur Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
10. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), Hyo-Jung Kang (Manon Lescaut), and ensemble; “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
11. Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval), Hyo-Jung Kang (Manon Lescaut), and Marcos Menha (Des Grieux); “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
12. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
13. Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier) and Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
14. Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval) and Elena Bottaro (Olympia), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
15. Timoor Afshar (Armand Duval) and Ketevan Papava (Marguerite Gautier), “The Lady of the Camellias” by John Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet 2024
all photos © Vienna State Ballet/Ashley Taylor
Editing: Kayla Kauffman

Half-Baked

“Faust”
Maribor Slovene National Theatre
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
March 16, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Martino (Mephisto) and D.Buffone (Faust), “Faust” by E.Clug, Maribor Slovene National Theatre 2024 © Maribor Slovene National Theatre/T.MartaGoethe’s Faust: The Tragedy’s First Part wasn’t on Edward Clug’s agenda when choreographing a new piece for the Zurich Ballet in 2018. He wanted to tackle Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, but upon finding out that Zurich’s audience wasn’t familiar with the so-called “Soviet Faust,” he turned to his German representative. After its Zurich premiere, Clug’s Faust entered the repertory of other ballet companies, among them Clug’s home company in Maribor, Slovenia. Last weekend, this company performed the piece on their tour to Ludwigsburg.

Fate decided that Clug would indeed later adapt Master and Margarita for the ballet stage, but it was the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow where it premiered in 2021. Faust is a journeyman’s piece whereas Master and Margarita by comparison counts as a masterpiece. Faust assembles plenty of dance theater with group sequences, some of which are trenchant, while others are less convincing. At times, its acrid wit is close to horror. Although the ingredients are fine overall, they didn’t merge as a whole. (more…)

In Commemoration of Ekaterina Maximova

“Fragments of One Biography”
Bolshoi Ballet and Guests
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 01, 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Fragments of One Biography” staged by V.Vasiliev, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.FetisovaOn February 1st, the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina, Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009), would have celebrated her 85th birthday. A phenomenally successful (and multi-decorated) artist, Maximova’s fame reached far beyond Russia’s borders. After retiring from the stage of the Bolshoi in 1988, she continued to dance with other Russian and international companies—and sometimes even returned home to the Bolshoi. From 1990 on, Maximova worked as a coach, teacher, and member of several arts councils and committees. Every five years, Maximova’s husband, Vladimir Vasiliev, stages a gala at the Bolshoi in honor of his late wife. I was able to watch this year’s event on video. (more…)

Love, Faith, and the Inevitability of Karma

“Land of Faith – Bargujin Tukum”
Ballet of the Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre
Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre
Ulan-Ude, Russia
February 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Ovcharov and ensemble, “Land of Faith - Bargujin Tukum” by N.Dmitrievsky, Ballet of the Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre 2023 © N.Dmitrievsky Roughly 4000 miles separate Moscow from the Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East. Two-thirds along this stretch towards the east lies Ulan-Ude, the capital city of the Republic of Buryatia. Its population amounted to 436,000 last year. Lake Baikal is about 100 miles north of Ulan-Ude; the border with Mongolia to the south is 130 miles or so away.
Last year, the Republic celebrated the centenary of the foundation of the Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic—currently known as Buryatia (which is still an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation). On this occasion, the Buryat National Ballet and Opera Theatre commissioned the Moscow-based contemporary choreographer, Nikita Dmitrievsky, to create a new ballet. His Land of Faith – Bargujin Tukum premiered last May and will return to the schedule later this year. During a tour to Moscow last December, it was shown at the Stanislavsky Theatre. I was able to watch a video of the premiere. (more…)