Author Archive: Ilona Landgraf

Marijn Rademaker Turns to Choreography

Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”)
Ballet Dortmund

Theater Dortmund
Dortmund, Germany
April 17, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Uzunova and L.Kalbusch, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) by M.Rademaker, Ballet Dortmund 2021 © L.JanuszewskiFour years ago, Marijn Rademaker told me about his excitement to return to the stage after a long break resulting from injury. At that time, he was involved in umpteen other projects, yet had not given any indication that he wanted to try his hand at choreography or direction – but, as with any seed, talent can sprout in hiding.

This Saturday, Rademaker presented the first result of his new ambition: “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”), a contemporary ballet-film set to Arnold Schoenberg’s eponymous thirty-minute composition, created in collaboration with the Academy for Theatre and Digitality, Dortmund, and the filmmaker Mathieu Gremillet. It was danced by the Ballet Dortmund.

Schoenberg took inspiration from an 1896 poem by Richard Dehmel about a woman who confesses to her new lover that she is pregnant by another man. After some reflection, he accepts the unborn child as if it were his own. Anthony Tudor (among other choreographers) adapted the subject for the dance stage in 1942. His “Pillar of Fire”, an ensemble piece, showed how the guilt-ridden mother-to-be suffered in the chasm between a stiflingly judgmental environment and the licentiousness the younger generation indulged in. Rademaker, by contrast, focused solely on the three protagonists – the woman (Alisa Uzunova), her new lover (Simon Jones), and the father of her child (Lúcio Kalbusch). We don’t know whether this woman was pregnant from the beginning of the piece – the portrayed love affair might have been a flashback – or whether her anxiety arose from other circumstances than secret child-bearing.

2. L.Kalbusch and A.Uzunova, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) by M.Rademaker, Ballet Dortmund 2021 © L.JanuszewskiIn any case, Uzunova’s woman is initially hesitant, putting one foot in front of the other as though she’d prefer to run off and away. Her shoulders are pulled up to her ears; her gaze is frightened and helpless, and her limbs are strangely contorted. Jones stands at a distance, emotionally aloof, but with arms open in a messiah-like gesture of welcome. Like a drowning person reaching a lifeboat, Uzunova escapes to him, reassured and supported by his presence – but not for long. This woman might be frightened, but she is a warrior by nature. But what is she fighting against – or for? As she stretches her arms towards the sky above, what does she want to wrest from the universe?

Though initially intimate, Uzunova and Jones’s relationship soon grows frenzied and rough as red light diffuses over their bodies. Suddenly, Uzunova snaps from one time or place to another; she is now in the midst of an intense duet with another man (Kalbusch) in sexy latex shorts (costumes by the Stuttgart-based costume designer Thomas Lempertz). Their back-and-forth quickly evolves from stiffness to aggressive sexuality. The musicians of Dortmund’s Philharmonic Orchestra, who have been standing or sitting scattered across the stage throughout the entire piece, face away from the scene. Jones, his face stoically unmoved, does the same.
3. A.Uzunova and S.Jones, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) by M.Rademaker, Ballet Dortmund 2021 © L.JanuszewskiWhen the woman finally returns to him, Jones falls flat on his back as if struck by lightning and struggles fiercely as he attempts to deal with the situation. Uzunova stands motionless as he realigns his bones and joints in an attempt to establish a new viewpoint. When he finally resolves to take Uzunova back, his eyes shine with warmth for the first time. Still, she is restless, like a young horse eager to break free from its reins. He gently imposes his pace onto her until her energy peters out. Though it was she who initially sought stability in him, he now leans playfully towards her. Their bond isn’t even strained by the re-appearance of Kalbusch – this time in everyday wear. In Tudor’s version, the woman was cruelly ditched by her former lover; in Rademaker’s piece, all three unite briefly in a peaceful tableaux before Kalbusch strikes out on his own.

Rademaker invented fresh, unorthodox movements imbued with striking expressiveness. The dancers repeatedly roll onto their backs with legs stretched upwards, awkwardly twisted in a shoulder stand or mutually intertwined. A backward bridge held by head and feet with arms stretched out yearningly behind suggest the desire to reconcile. Mutual recognition isn’t merely an act of looking straight into each other’s eyes, but is preceded by balance-acrobatics followed by a glance upside down.
Sadly, “Verklärte Nacht” was only available online for about 24 hours. It’s also regrettable that – unlike any other company I’ve reported about so far – the head of Dortmund Ballet’s press office refused to provide more than three photos free of charge. An incomprehensible marketing strategy in times when theaters struggle against fading from public perception.

Links: Website of the Ballet Dortmund
Marijn Rademaker’s website
Photos: 1. Alisa Uzunova and Lúcio Kalbusch, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) by Marijn Rademaker, Ballet Dortmund 2021
2. Lúcio Kalbusch and Alisa Uzunova, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) by Marijn Rademaker, Ballet Dortmund 2021
3. Alisa Uzunova and Simon Jones, “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) by Marijn Rademaker, Ballet Dortmund 2021
. all photos © Leszek Januszewsk
Editing: Jake Stepansky

Nuremberg’s Junior Choreographers (I)

“Exquisite Corpse Extra” (episode 1)
Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg
State Theater
Nuremberg, Germany
April 10, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C. Blanco, “Me Inside Me” by C.Blanco, Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg 2021 © B.StößThirteen of the State Theater Nuremberg’s twenty-one dancers tried their hand at choreography this season, resulting in eleven new contemporary pieces split over three programs. The first of these programs premiered last Saturday; the remaining two will be broadcast online on upcoming weekends.
The first program (approximately 30 minutes) was assembled from three short pieces: a solo (choreographed and danced by Carlos Blanco) and two ensemble works (one by Edward Nunes and one by Andy Fernández). Each choreographer commented on their work in an accompanying video. (more…)

Dancers’ Choice

Spring Special”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
April 05, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Tonoli, S.Yamada, J.Spunda, and S.Leverashvili (Peasants), “Giselle“ by M.Petipa after J.Coralli and J.Perrot, production and additional choreography by R.Beaujean and R.Bustamante, Dutch National Ballet 2021 © H.GerritsenFor most artists, the flow of opportunities for performance on home stages or abroad has either thinned to a trickle or dried up altogether since the onset of the pandemic. The Dutch National Ballet filled some of those gaps with a “Spring Special” -gala that featured a selection of ten short pieces in total – eight excerpts from the company’s existing repertory, one new acquisition, and one world premiere. Each dancer was able to choose which piece to perform in (with appropriate attention to pandemic-related restrictions of group size). All of the principals, several soloists, and one member of the corps de ballet participated. The gala was streamed live on April 5th. A second broadcast is scheduled for April 10, 2021 (more…)

Saucy

In and Out”
Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
March / April 2021 (online video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Mardegan (center) and members of the Junior Company, “In and Out” by H.van Manen, Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet 2021 © H.GerritsenAlthough the Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company hoped to tour Hans van Manen’s “In and Out” in spring 2020, their plan was shattered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, though, the current members of the Junior Company revived the short ballet on the Dutch National Ballet & Opera’s main-stage. The performance was recorded and can be viewed for free until April 25, 2021 on the company’s website.

(more…)

Necessity Yields Virtue

“Puppet” / “ Dos Soles Solos”
Czech National Ballet
The National Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
March 18 and 25, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1) F.Scarpato, “Puppet” by D.Lee, Czech National Ballet 2021 © M.Divíšek The Czechs’ are clearly adept at making films – no matter the genre. Last December, the Czech National Ballet danced a heartwarming “The Nutcracker – A Christmas Carol”, which was broadcast live on national television and on YouTube. This March, they premiered recordings of two short new pieces on their YouTube channel. The works – “Puppet” by Douglas Lee and “Dos Soles Solos” by Alejandro Cerrudo – are well worth watching. They are part of a triple bill (the third, yet-to-be released piece is by Cayetano Soto) that will be performed for an in-person audience whenever Czech theaters are allowed to re-open for the public. Martin Kubala, the filmmaker who oversaw the recording, expertly captured the production from interesting angles and distances. (more…)

Leader(s) and Followers

“Five Years and Three Days With Makhar Vaziev”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 26, 2021 (documentary)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Tsvirko and M.Vaziev after a performance of “Ivan the Terrible”, “Ivan the Terrible” by Y. Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / G.Uféras This year marks the fifth season with Makhar Vaziev as head of the Bolshoi Ballet. Upon this occasion, the Bolshoi Theatre released the TV documentary “Five Years and Three Days with Makhar Vaziev”, which is also available on YouTube (and includes English subtitles). For three days at the end of January, a film crew followed Vaziev from meeting to rehearsal to performance and back again, conducting several interviews along the way. Despite COVID-19, everyday work has continued at the Bolshoi. We witness the company’s preparations for two revivals: a performance of “Nureyev”, supervised by its stage director and set designer Kirill Serebrennikov, and a re-run of Sergei Vikharev’s version of “Coppélia(more…)

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 (more…)

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…)