European Companies

Spoiled

“Timekeepers” (“For Hedy”/”Rhapsodies”/”Les Noces”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 20, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Williams, “For Hedy” by M.Tankard, Ballet Zurich 2024 © G.BatardonThe Ballet Zurich’s new triple bill Timekeepers is a testament to a wind of change that has swept through the company since Cathy Marston took the reins as artistic director last August. Twenty new faces joined the company, and many others left to follow the previous artistic director, Christian Spuck, to the State Ballet Berlin. I was told that, despite initial hesitation, the Ballet attracts large audiences to its performances. The premiere of Timekeepers was indeed very well attended. Its program combined two world premieres – Meryl Tankard’s For Hedy and Mthuthuzeli November’s Rhapsodies – with Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces (1923). Each of the three pieces comprises music that premiered almost exactly one-hundred years ago.

The Australian Tankard took on the challenge to choreograph George Antheil’s composition Ballet Mécanique, a medley of noises made by mechanical instruments, such as electric bells, propellers, a siren, and sixteen self-playing pianos (or pianolas). It couldn’t be realized in 1926, as synchronizing so many pianolas turned out to be impossible back then. (more…)

An Empty Packaging

“Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève” (“Noetic”/“VÏA”)
Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
January 12, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Noetic” by S.L.Cherkaoui, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève 2024 © G.BatardonNothing in last weekend’s tour of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève reflected the name of the company. It did not present ballet, and the two pieces that they performed did not represent in any way the significance that the theater claims. The first – Noetic (2014) – was choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, former artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, who has held the same position at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, since 2022. VÏA is a 2023 creation, which the Morocco-born Fouad Boussouf choreographed for the company.

Noetic (from the Greek noēsis, meaning inner wisdom, direct knowing, intuition, or implicit understanding) opened promisingly as Shogo Yoshii silently stepped behind his Japanese Taiko drums and hammered out a forceful staccato. It called the dancers – ten men and ten women, one of whom was clad like the men – into the light-gray box that the stage had been turned into. As they assembled in groups of three, standing motionless back to back, they reminded me of the triple formations of German federal police when securing the train station against traveling football fans. Noetic’s dancers weren’t uniformed though. (more…)

Additional Thoughts

“Coppélia”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
December 17, 2023 (online broadcast)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Andrijashenko (Franz) and L.Di Pasquale (Coppélia), “Coppélia” by A.Ratmansky, Teatro alla Scala 2023, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla ScalaAlexei Ratmansky’s latest piece is a new version of Coppélia for the Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala. A recording of its premiere on December 17th can be watched on Medici TV. In her review on December 18th, the New York Times dance critic, Roslyn Sulcas, praised the “wealth and detail of nuance” that Ratmansky brought alive. “He has infused [Coppélia] with new life,” she wrote, “as if a carapace of formulaic presentation and interpretation has been cracked open.”

She’s right, it’s an ambitious production in many respects – an asset for the company. At times though, Ratmansky’s wealth of detail feels like a continuous bombardment, as if he is overeager in combining an abundance of steps with plenty of flourish and excessive acting. His unconventional, fresh approach suffers from his striving for exceptionalism. And though I understand that as many dancers as possible should be involved, I’d have preferred a less crowded village square to better show off the pas de deux of the leading couple – Nicoletta Manni (Swanilda) and Timofej Andrijashenko (Franz). (more…)

A Showpiece

“A Swan Lake”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
December 17, 2023 (online since December 28, 2023)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “A Swan Lake” by J.Inger, Semperoper Ballet 2023 © Semperoper Dresden/N.MacKayDo not expect the Semperoper Ballet’s new A Swan Lake to be the well-known classical swan story. True, it’s still danced to Tchaikovsky’s score, but it eschews the greatest part of its traditional personage. Vladimir Begichev’s original libretto of Swan Lake (1877) wasn’t what the Swedish choreographer Johan Inger had in mind. He took inspiration from the German author Johann Karl August Musäus’s folk tale The Stolen Veil (1784), which is considered to be one of several possible sources that Begichev used.

For those familiar with a traditional Swan Lake, a few names of the characters, Inger included, ring a bell. One of them is Benno, the original Prince Siegfried’s friend. Dresden’s version has no Prince Siegfried, and Benno is the lover of Queen Zoe, the unhappy spouse of King Zeno. Thanks to a magic veil, she’s able to transform into a swan and fly to a faraway lake. There, she takes a rejuvenating bath once a year and lives out her secret love affair with Benno. Zeno, however, finds out about it and, tearing up the veil, puts an end to further escapes for Queen Zoe. Act II features Zoe twenty years later. (more…)

Rekindled

“Shifting Symmetries” (“Concertante”/”Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet”)
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
December 23, 2023, (online: December 27, 2023)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Concertante” by H.van Manen, Vienna State Ballet 2023 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor The Vienna State Ballet’s newest triple bill combines pieces by Hans van Manen, William Forsythe, and George Balanchine. As Forsythe doesn’t allow video streaming of his works, his In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated wasn’t part of the online broadcast on December 27th (which showed a recording of the premiere on December 23rd).
I’ve often been unhappy about the Viennese performances, but what’s to expect when the choreographies given to them are mediocre? This time though, a meaty dance-diet was on the menu, and the company rose splendidly to the occasion.

Concertante (1994) has the punchy elegance that van Manen is known for. It’s sophisticated (but without frills) and so densely energetic that my eyes stayed glued on the dancers. Van Manen doesn’t choreograph pretty steps. His dancers prance cooly and strongly, throw challenging glances, and are forcefully present on stage. (more…)

Homage to Rainier III, Prince of Monaco

“Soirée Maurice Ravel” (“La Valse”/“L’Enfant et les Sortilèges”)
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum
Monte-Carlo, Monaco
December 23, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “La Valse” by G.Balanchine, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo 2023 © A.BlangeroThis year, Monaco celebrated the centenary anniversary of Prince Rainier III (1923–2005), the Principality’s monarch and head of state for almost 56 years. One highlight among the numerous events and exhibitions was a new double bill of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, featuring Balanchine’s La Valse and the company’s artistic director, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Spell). Both pieces are set to music by Maurice Ravel. L’Enfant et les Sortilèges is a one-act opera with a libretto by Colette whose 150th anniversary happens to be celebrated this year. World War I delayed its premiere at the Monte-Carlo Opera until 1925. Back then, Balanchine choreographed the dance sequences. In 1992, Maillot created his adaption. As a tribute to Prince Rainier – who is said to have loved Ravel’s music in general and especially L’Enfant et les Sortilèges – he presented a new version this year. There were only four performances scheduled at the Grimaldi Forum, and I saw the last one on December 23rd. It was attended by Prince Albert II, Princess Caroline, and Princess Stéphanie and opened with Monaco’s anthem. (more…)

Lacking Punch (and more)

“The Nutcracker”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
December 19, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Su (Clara), D.Ionescu (Mrs. Stahlbaum), H.Erikson (Fritz), F.Puthenpurayil (Mr. Stahlbaum), and ensemble; “The Nutcracker” by E.Clug, Stuttgart Ballet 2023 © R.Novitzky/Stuttgart BalletAfter half a century without a family-friendly “Nutcracker”, the Stuttgart Ballet decided last year to fill the vacuum with a new version by Edward Clug. Clug, artistic director of the Maribor Ballet/Slovenia, had already contributed several short pieces to the Stuttgart company’s repertory, but “The Nutcracker” was his first full-evening story ballet for them. Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director, Tamas Detrich, took the set and costume design choices into his own hands and commissioned a longstanding collaborator of the troupe – Jürgen Rose – to team up with Clug.

Rose’s design for the Stahlbaums’ Christmas celebration and their daughter Clara’s dream journey into a magical realm is a medley of old and new styles. The costumes and Clara’s bed are Biedermeier-ish, and the Stahlbaums’ mansion is ultra-modern. Its plain, washy-brown walls create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Walnuts of different sizes connect the scenes like a visual leitmotiv. (more…)

Customized

“Jane Eyre”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 09, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Sugai (Jane Eyre), “Jane Eyre” by C.Marston, Hamburg Ballet 2023 © K.WestLast December, John Neumeier announced that his then-new “Dona Nobis Pacem” would be his last choreography for the Hamburg Ballet. I was rightfully doubtful because the eighty-four-year-old did indeed schedule the premiere of yet another new creation – Epilogue” – for July 2024. With very few exceptions, the Hamburg Ballet’s purpose has been to present its artistic director’s oeuvre. In his farewell season, he at least allocated the other premiere to a foreign choreographer, the Zurich Ballet’s new artistic director, Cathy Marston. Her “Jane Eyre” received its Hamburg debut earlier this December. It’s an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous 1847 novel and was created for Northern Ballet in 2016 and later developed into a big-scale production for American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.

In an interview printed in the program booklet, Marston reports having been surprised about the unexpected assignment by Neumeier and also hints as to why Neumeier might have chosen “Jane Eyre”. (more…)

An Own Goal

Wiebke Hüster / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Some days ago, an article by Wiebke Hüster, leading dance critic of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, caught my attention (FAZ, October 07, 2023). Hüster wrote on the upcoming premiere of “Last Work” at the Hessian State Ballet. “Last Work” is by the Israeli Ohad Naharin – and he was the one Hüster objected. (more…)

Twice as Tragic

“Swan Lake”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
September 27, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Celeste Losa (Odette), “Swan Lake” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Teatro alla Scala 2023 © Teatro alla ScalaLast Wednesday’s livestream of “Swan Lake” was the third such event since Manuel Legris took over the artistic reins of the Teatro alla Scala’s ballet company in December 2020. What a pity that I missed the previous livestreams – “Le Corsaire” and “Romeo and Juliet”!

La Scala dances a version of Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake” that, if I’m not mistaken, is the one he created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984. As all of his ballets, this one has jam-packed choreography. Last time it was shown in Milan in 2014 under the directorship of Makhar Vaziev. After Vaziev left to the Bolshoi Ballet in 2015, La Scala’s company entered unsteady waters. Legris’s guidance seems to be returning the company to its previous standards. Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi (former colleagues at the Bolshoi and meanwhile at Dutch National Ballet) guested in the leading roles twice. The livestream was given to in-house soloists – Maria Celeste Losa (Odette / Odile) and Navrin Turnbull (Prince Siegfried). (more…)

Other than Bright

“Four Temperaments” (“The Four Temperaments” / “The Chairman Dances” / “Frank Bridge Variations” / Full Frontal” / extra: “After the Rain”)

Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
September 17, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. F.Eimers and J.Spunda, “The Four Temperaments” by G.Balanchine, Dutch National Ballet 2023 © M.Haegeman 2. J.Xuan and D.Ramos, “The Four Temperaments” by G.Balanchine, Dutch National Ballet 2023 © M.Haegeman 3. M.Makhateli and V.Caixeta, “The Four Temperaments” by G.Balanchine, Dutch National Ballet 2023 © M.Haegeman It’s unclear whether the Dutch National Ballet’s new mixed bill “Four Temperaments” took its title from one of the pieces – George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” – or alludes to the different personalities of all choreographers involved. Next to Balanchine are the company’s artistic director Ted Brandsen, doyen Hans van Manen, and the Spaniard Juanjo Arqués, a regular contributor to the repertory. Let’s disclose later, why Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” was added as an extra to the matinee.

Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” relates to the Hippocratic medical concept of humourism that four bodily fluids (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and mucus) affect human personality traits and behaviors. Depending on which fluid dominates, an individual is melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, or choleric. For what would become his first piece for Ballet Society (the predecessor of New York City Ballet) in 1946, Balanchine commissioned a half-hour score by Paul Hindemith. (more…)

What to Choose for a Party

“Ildikó Pongor 70 Ballet Gala”
Hungarian National Ballet
Hungarian State Opera
Budapest, Hungary
June 24, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Pongor, “Ildikó Pongor 70 Ballet Gala”, Hungarian National Ballet 2023 © A.Nagy / Hungarian State Opera One month after the Iván Nagy Ballet Gala, the Hungarian State Opera hosted another festive ballet evening – a birthday gala in honor of Ildikó Pongor, veteran artist of the company, who turned seventy earlier this June. Pongor spent almost her entire professional life at the Hungarian National Ballet, first as a dancer, then as artistic director, ballet master, and co-choreographer. She also worked internationally in Vienna and Stockholm, among others.
The brief compilation of archival videos and photos that opened the gala made it clear within seconds: Pongor has an effervescent energy whose positivity is infectious, even on celluloid. Regrettably, I don’t speak Hungarian and was unable to follow the round of talks. Her colleagues, Mária Aradi, Katalin Csarnóy, and Imre Dózsa, shared memories about Pongor’s career; the humor that sparkled in Pongor’s eyes while listening indicated that she was pleased. (more…)

Prix Benois Laureates 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 21, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Yesterday evening, this year’s laureates of the Prix Benois were announced on the Historic Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.

1. J.Ryu, C.Kerche, and Q.Yunting, Prix Benois de la Danse, Bolshoi Theatre 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / B.Annadurdyev2. M.Kang, Prix Benois de la Danse, Bolshoi Theatre 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / B.AnnadurdyevQiu Yunting (National Ballet of China) and Misun Kang (Universal Ballet, South Korea) share the prize for the best female dancer. Yunting was nominated for her performance of Tatiana in John Cranko’s “Onegin”, Kang for her interpretation of the Widow in Bingxian Liu’s “Mirinaegil”. Hugo Marchand (Paris Opera Ballet) was awarded the prize for the best male dancer. He didn’t attend the ceremony. Vyacheslav Samodurov won the prize for the best choreography for “Dancemania” – a creation for the Bolshoi Ballet.

Mikhail Lavrovsky, People’s Artist of the USSR, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. (more…)

Dancer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
June 17, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Eleven dancers from five nations are nominated for this year’s Prix Benois. Of the six women and five men, one dances in South-Korea, four in Russia, and two each in China, France, and Kazakhstan. This Tuesday the laureates will be announced in an award ceremony at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

Here’s a short overview on the nominees:
1. M.Elchibayeva, Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay © Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay 2. M.Elchibayeva, Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay © Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after AbayMalika Elchibayeva, leading soloist of the Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is nominated for her performance as Queen Shamkhat in “Frescoes” by Zaurbek Raibayev. Gulzhan Tutkibayeva, artistic director of the company, describes Elchibayeva as having “an outstanding appearance, beautiful texture, a professional school, and acting skills. For 5 years in the theater, Elchibayeva has performed almost all the leading parts of the ballet repertoire. In the role of the Queen Shamkhat she is organic, expressive, and managed to fully convey the idea of the ballet master Raibaev.” (more…)

Choreographer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Li Jun / Maša Kolar / Wayne McGregor / Vyacheslav Samodurov
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
June 15, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

On June 20th, the Bolshoi Theatre hosts the annual Prix Benois ceremony, followed by a gala on June 21st. Prizes will be awarded for the best choreographer, and the best female and male dancers. Mikhail Lavrovsky will be honored for his lifetime achievement.

Four choreographers are competing this year:
1. “Where to Pour All My Love?” by L.Jun, National Ballet of China © National Ballet of China 2. “Where to Pour All My Love?” by L.Jun, National Ballet of China © National Ballet of ChinaLi Jun, dancer-choreographer of the National Ballet of China, is nominated for “Where to Pour All My Love?”, a twenty-minute piece set to music by Zhao Jiping. It premiered at the company’s 12th ballet workshop in April 2022. Jun’s source of inspiration was the Chinese multi-episode TV drama “Da Zhai Men” (Grand Mansion Gate) which traces the history of a Beijing-based family from the late Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) to World War II. “Where to Pour All My Love?” focuses on Bai Yuting – one member of this family – whose love for Peking Opera gets out of control. (more…)