European Companies

The Art of Storytelling

“Don Quixote”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 13, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Makhateli, D.Camargo and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Petipa, A.Gorski and A.Ratmansky, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanLast June, after the premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy” at Dutch National Ballet, principal dancer Jozef Varga told me how much he was looking forward to the revival of Ratmansky’s “Don Quixote”. Amsterdam’s company holds six pieces by Ratmansky in its repertoire and quite likely it will soon have more. The dancers love to work with him. Ratmansky’s “Don Quixote” premiered in 2010 and now, for the third revival, he came over from New York to direct the final rehearsals. Varga wasn’t on stage on opening night, but will dance in later performances. (more…)

Let Heads Roll

“The Last Supper”
DEKKADANCERS
The New Stage
Prague, Czech Republic
January 28, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Š.Pechar, M.Deneux and M.Lanoue, “The Last Supper” by Š.Pechar, O.Vinklát and M.Svobodník, DEKKADANCERS © M.Hančovský  Two French chefs (Morgane Lanoue and Mathias Deneux) were already preparing “The Last Supper” onstage when the audience took its seats. Wearing pristine white chef’s hats and red and blue shoes respectively, they were on the hunt for a bluebottle that hummed obtrusively around the blocky table and marred the cozy bar music played by a little band in the back. But using a kitchen trowel as swatter wasn’t productive. While the guests arrived and gathered around the huge table center stage, the fly buzzed towards a safe place. The table, made of several smaller blocks, was plastered with pages of the international press, which later, when the parts were separated, revealed huge red blood stains splashed across the newspaper. This was certainly not a Christian meal… (more…)

A Fairy Tale Told Too Simply

“The Snow Queen”
Czech National Ballet
The National Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
January 27, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Nanu and ensemble, “The Snow Queen” by M.Corder, Czech National Ballet © D.WhartonWhile beautifully costumed brass and percussion bands paraded across Prague’s Charles Bridge, vociferously driving out wintertime, icy winter’s cold descended on the National Theatre’s stage as the Snow Queen tried to extend her power over innocent village youth. She fails, securing a happy ending. Over the years a number of choreographers have adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s popular story for the ballet stage. In spring 2016 the Czech National Ballet took Michael Corder’s version into their repertoire, which was created for English National Ballet in 2007. (more…)

Hot Air

“Emergence” (“Speak for Yourself” / “Emergence”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 20, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Mulligan, “Speak for Yourself” by S.León and P.Lightfoot, Ballet Zurich © G.Batardon The program booklet for “Emergence”, Ballet Zurich’s new double bill, raised high expectations. The evening’s title was taken from Crystal Pite’s piece. According to the praise lavished on her, she must be phenomenal and talented beyond belief. “Speak for Yourself”, choreography by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, was dubbed an “alchemistic experiment” in which fire, water, and dance magically merge. Getting in contact with the element water was called a decisive metaphysical moment. Some photos of “Speak for Yourself” were printed with wise sayings quoted from the “Tao Te Ching” by Laozi. Both pieces were danced to recorded music.
Did the program deliver what it promised? (more…)

Progress

“Don Quixote”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
January 13, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Trusch, M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestIn an interview in the program booklet for “Don Quixote” Neumeier said that his vision has been to broaden the horizons of his dancers and of the audience. Noble motives that over the years have left much to be desired. Two years ago, Hamburg Ballet’s season involved only one piece by another choreographer in addition to Neumeier, while last season was all his. This season’s schedule was enriched by two foreign choreographers: Rudolf Nureyev and Jerome Robbins. Already in September a double bill by Robbins (“Dances at a Gathering” and “The Concert”) was revived. In December, Nureyev’s version of “Don Quixote” premiered. Manuel Legris had come over from Vienna to lead the rehearsals. But the question is, being primarily limited to Neumeier’s style and short of input from others, how did the company respond to the challenges Nureyev’s piece presents? (more…)

Dance and Music

“b.33” (“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” / “Roses of Shadow” / “Polish Pieces”)
Ballett am Rhein
Opera House Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, Germany
January 07, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Liashenko and E.White, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Ballett am Rhein 2018 © G.WeigeltJust a few days ago, Ballett am Rhein announced that the contract of its artistic director, Martin Schläpfer, has been extended until the fall of 2024. Schläpfer has helmed the company and its associated ballet school since 2009, but in 2016 handed over his administrative responsibilities to Remus Şucheană so that he might regain some freedom to pursue his artistic work. Şucheană’s contract was similarly extended.

Schläpfer names his ballet programs numerically – and with his latest, which premiered in mid-December, he reached “b.33”. It was a triple bill – a recurring and well-established format in Düsseldorf – with a tried and tested combination of choreographers: Balanchine, Schläpfer, and Hans van Manen. Specifically, Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” and van Manen’s “Polish Pieces” were added to the already considerable repertoire the company dances from both choreographers. The middle piece, “Roses of Shadow”, was a new creation by Schläpfer. (more…)

A Disappointing “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
December 25, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain and F.Vogel, “Swan Lake” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletAfter a five-year absence from the stage Stuttgart Ballet revived John Cranko’s “Swan Lake” this December. It premiered in Stuttgart in 1963 as Cranko’s second evening-length piece after “Romeo and Juliet” in 1962. Cranko generally followed Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s traditional version, but shifted the focus towards the prince. While the third act’s festivities celebrating the prince’s coming of age (the introduction of the potential brides, the national dances, the Black Swan Pas de Deux and Rothbart’s deceptive maneuver) remained largely untouched, Cranko replaced the waltz and the Pas de Trois at Siegfried’s pre-birthday party in Act I with a Pas de Six. Of the various endings, Cranko chose to the one in which Siegfried drowns when the sea bursts its banks during a heavy thunderstorm, whereas Odette stays under Rothbart’s curse. (more…)

The Prince Awakens His Beauty

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 17, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Makhateli and D.Camargo, “The Sleeping Beauty” by P.Wright after M.Petipa, Dutch National Ballet 2017 © A.KaftiraThis Christmas Season Dutch National Ballet revived Peter Wright’s version of Marius Petipa’s “The Sleeping Beauty”, presenting no less than seven different leading couples in seventeen performances. Actually, one should see each cast. Alas – I could only travel once to Amsterdam and saw the matinée on December 17th led by Maia Makhateli as Princess Aurora alongside Daniel Camargo’s Prince Florimund.

Many young children attended the performance, all of them in festive clothing, and it was a pleasure to watch them hop around and imitate the dance steps during the breaks. One little girl in a golden skirt even turned cartwheels in the foyer. (more…)

Weird Matters

“Woke up Blind”, “The Statement”, “The missing door”, “Safe as Houses”
Nederlands Dans Theater / NDT 1
Haus der Berliner Festspiele
Berlin, Germany
December 01, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Woke up Blind” by M.Goecke, Nederlands Dans Theater 2017 © R.RezvaniThe last programs I saw of Nederlands Dans Theater’s main company (NDT I) were rather drab. However, the program they presented during their guest appearance in Berlin turned out to be varied and meaty. Its four pieces were by the Argentinian choreographer Gabriela Carrizo, the company’s associate choreographers, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke (each of them contributing one piece), and by the inseparable team of Sol León and artistic director Paul Lightfoot.

(more…)

Opinions Divide

The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
November 19, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

Reading the recent reviews on the Royal Ballet’s triple bill of works by Twyla Tharp, Arthur Pita and Hofesh Shechter makes one smile and wonder at the same time. Smile, because of the totally different opinions of the writers. While Graham Watts, for example, judged Shechter’s “Untouchable” positively on backtrack.com and Mark Monahan declared it the program’s “undisputable highlight” in The Telegraph, Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times, found it “the most preposterously dance-thin ballet I have ever seen.” Jann Parry deemed it a “dated commission that never merited its place in the repertoire” on DanceTabs.

(more…)

Looking Back

“Ballet Talk” (with Jürgen Rose, Marcia Haydée and Reid Anderson)
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Rose, Stuttgart Ballet © R.NovitzkyThe jubilees pile up for Stuttgart Ballet this season. John Cranko, the company’s founder, would have been ninety years this August. His “Onegin” – its second, revised version to be precise – received its first performance half a century ago on October 27, 1967. Its stage and set designer – the internationally renowned and much admired Jürgen Rose – just celebrated his 80th birthday this August. His career is closely connected with Cranko and Stuttgart Ballet. Moreover, this season is artistic director Reid Anderson’s twenty-second and last one. In short, one special events follows the other. (more…)

Something New?

“Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (“Nutcracker and Mouse King”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
October 20, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Knight and Y.Han, “Nutcracker and Mouse King” by C.Spuck, Ballet Zurich 2017 © G.BatardonThis season the Opera House Zurich launched a new website, new large black and white portraits of dancers of the company decorate the opera’s corridors and side rooms and it also has a new “Nutcracker”. More precisely, its “Nutcracker and Mouse King”, as choreographer and artistic director Christian Spuck based the story on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original fairy tale of the same title rather than on the sweetened and simplified adaption of Hoffmann’s text Alexandre Dumas père wrote in 1844. The latter served as a libretto for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s famous ballet to music by Tchaikovsky. Having already created ballets on “The Sandman” and “Mademoiselle de Scuderi”, “Nutcracker and Mouse King” is Spuck’s third ballet on a text by E.T.A. Hoffmann. (more…)

Fighting Back

“Darkness”
Polish National Ballet
Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa
Warsaw, Poland
October 07, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Nowak, M.Esposito, G.Melfi, L.Alberti, D.Ozeri and V.Kezik, “Darkness” by I.Weiss, Polish National Ballet 2017 © Polish National Ballet / E.KrasuckaDance critic Graham Watts called Izadora Weiss “a tempest on the Baltic shore.” Weiss has been creating a stir in the Polish dance scene from her home base of Gdansk ever since Jiří Kylián spotted her choreographic talent in 1989 during his tenure as artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater. She became his protégé, and would later use Kylián’s company as a model on which to base the Baltic Dance Theatr (BDT), a troupe she founded in 2010 in Gdansk that she continues to direct today. Formerly affiliated with the Baltic Opera, the BDT became an independent company in 2006 and was renamed Biały Teatr Tańca (White Dance Theatr) – BTT for short. Weiss still leads the company, serving as its main choreographer. Pieces by Kylián complement BTT’s repertoire. (more…)

Timeless

“Pure Cranko” (“L’Estro Armonico” / “Brouillards” / “Jeu de Cartes”)
Stuttgart Ballet

Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 03, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Moore, M.F.Paixà and ensemble, “L'Estro Armonico” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletThis season is an especially special one for Stuttgart Ballet. John Cranko, who took over the ballet company of the Wuerttemberg State Theater in 1961 and turned it into the “Stuttgart Ballet Miracle”, would have celebrated his 90th birthday this August. In October, the premiere of his “Onegin” will have its 50th anniversary. Moreover, it’s Reid Anderson’s twenty-second – and last – season as artistic director. He’ll pass the torch to Tamas Detrich next summer.

As a result, there are quite a number of events slated for the season – but, with everything being interconnected in Stuttgart, the first program already brought the company full circle. (more…)

A Patchy Beginning

“The Taming of the Shrew”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
September 30, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Amo and E.Kruteleva, “The Taming of the Shrew” by J.Cranko, Bavarian State Ballet 2017 © W.Hösl This August John Cranko would have celebrated his 90th birthday. Stuttgart Ballet honors its founder with several programs, beginning with the triple bill “Cranko Pur” that premiers on October 3rd. The Bavarian State Ballet, which Cranko directed in addition to his Stuttgart company from 1968 – 1972, revives his three big narratives. “The Taming of the Shrew” opened the season. “Onegin” and “Romeo and Juliet” are scheduled for February and April 2018. During the Ballet Festival Weeks next April all three ballets will be danced on three consecutive evenings.
I saw the second performance of “Shrew” led by Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin, both guest dancers of the Munich company.

Cranko’s characterization of the figures follows Shakespeare’s comedy closely. We are in Padua in the 17th century. Poor Baptista is kept in suspense by his two daughters. No less than three suitors buzz around the pretty Bianca like bees around the honey pot, but her older sister, the strident Katherina, fights getting married tooth and nail. Bianca is not allowed to marry until Katherina is wed, declares Baptista unceremoniously. But how to marry her off? By accident, Bianca’s suitors – Lucentio, Hortensio and Gremio – run into the young Petruchio and recruit him to court Katherina. (more…)