German Companies

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?

2. C.Jung, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestGiven the technical level the dancers reached, Legris must have worked intensely with them. Alexandr Trusch as Basilio delivered clean jumps and tour en l’airs with precise landings and plucky manèges. He seemed full of confidence. Madoka Sugai’s Kitri darted with high leaps across the stage, balanced assuredly, and played teasingly with her fan as with the pace. Both were a well matched couple. Sugai also portrayed Dulcinea, the heroine of the chivalric novels that grizzled, old-fashioned Don Quixote (Carsten Jung) dreamed of. She was beautiful and composed, but – as dreams tend to be – an unapproachable ideal. Driven by chivalric illusions he decamped from his cozy home onto a grand knight’s journey with the chubby, bawdy and gluttonous monk, Sancho Panza (Nicolas Gläsmann), in tow. When popping up in Barcelona right in front of the inn owned by Lorenzo (Dario Franconi), Kitri’s 3. N.Gläsmann, C.Jung and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westhardheaded father, they get entangled in the father and daughter’s quarrel about who is to become her groom. Kitri desires the penniless Basilio, whereas her father wants to marry her off to Gamache, an effeminate and ludicrous fop, but noble and wealthy. Konstantin Tselikov, a fine actor, was hilarious in this role.

Kitri and Basilio eventually managed to slip away and find shelter at a gypsy camp, from which they escaped Lorenzo’s grasp again due to Don Quixote’s chivalric – albeit self-defeating – feat. The colossal enemy he believed to attack was in fact a windmill, in whose sails he got caught. Using a bold fraud the young couple obtained Lorenzo’s blessings at the end and love, peace and harmony were restored. Even Gamache, who had been vigorously rejected by Kitri and relentlessly tricked by Barcelona’s 5. A.Trusch, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West4. M.Sugai, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westyouth, found satisfaction. Disguised as a woman, he flirted with Don Quixote until suddenly pulling the veil off his bald head and scoffingly poking his tongue out at the self-styled knight. Revenge was sweet.

Yet for different reasons the performance was uneven. The acting by the maidservants and Don Quixote’s custodians in the prologue was hammy. In Act I hustle and bustle should reign at the square in front of Lorenzo’s inn. But despite dedicated acting and keen dancing by fishermen, matadors, and Barcelona’s ladies, the overall scene didn’t merge into a unity fired by an overarching cohesive 6. A.Trusch and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West7. M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westenergy. The happy feasting and the wedding in Act III were, by comparison, more convincing.

David Rodriguez was a snappy leader of the gypsies. His troop swirled their skirts and shawls and stomped their feet on the ground with panache. The dryads in the wood, that Don Quixote dreamed of, danced duly at first, but became more and more light and graceful. Yun-Su Park as their queen melded regal poise with tender femininity. Mayo Arii’s solo as Cupid was crisp and colorful. If “The Sleeping Beauty” were in Hamburg Ballet’s repertoire it would be interesting to see her as one of the fairies.

8. A.Trusch, M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestLudwig Minkus’s music for “Don Quixote” was adapted by John Lanchbery for Nureyev’s version. The Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg played it under the baton of Garrett Keast. But either Keast had sometimes switched off his antenna as to stage action or a few dancers were not listening to the tempo of the music, because a few times solos ended prematurely to the music, marring the bravura in the last movement.

The main reason, however, why this “Don Quixote” didn’t emit sparks, was its lack of passion. And what is a “Don Quixote” 9. M.Sugai, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West10. M.Arii, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.Westwithout passion? Without a bubbly, exuberant, and heated-up atmosphere? Without unabashed bragging and saucy flirting? Yes, what the dancers achieved with Legris is impressive. But on top of this they now need to work up the passion from within themselves to set the stage ablaze. There was only one who radiated such fire – the tall Argentinian Matias Oberlin as the bullfighter Espada. Lucia Rios was Espada’s sultry love interest Mercedes.

Set and costumes were by Nicholas Georgiadis and just gorgeous.

11. K.Tselikov and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.West

Links: Website of Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Trailer “Don Quixote” (partly different cast)
Photos:  1. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio), Madoka Sugai (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 2. Carsten Jung (Don Quixote), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 3. Nicolas Gläsmann (Sancho Panza), Carsten Jung (Don Quixote) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 4. Madoka Sugai (Kitri), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 5. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 6. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 7. Madoka Sugai (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 8. Alexandr Trusch (Basilio), Madoka Sugai (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
 9. Madoka Sugai (Dulcinea), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
10. Mayo Arii (Cupid), “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
11. Konstantin Tselikov (Gamache) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev after Marius Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018
all photos © Kiran West
 Editing: Laurence Smelser

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…)

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…)

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…)

State of Affairs in Munich and News from Berlin

Bavarian State Ballet / State Ballet Berlin
Munich / Berlin, Germany
September 12, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Zelensky © W.HöslAt the end of last season, the first under director Igor Zelensky, a second wave of dancers left the Bavarian State Ballet. Exact numbers and names weren’t announced by the press office, but according to information from within the company 22 out of a total of 69 dancers packed their bags. My report prompted an email by the press office that corrected the number to 21 and denied that the principals Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklyarov would quit the company. What did finally come of it?

First, over the summer break the number of those leaving increased to 23, because demi-soloist Wentao Li had meanwhile returned to China, his home country, for family reasons and guest ballerina Svetlana Zakharova had withdrawn her commitment. Yet in the course of the last season Zakharova had performed only once in Munich. Secondly, Shirinkina and Shklyarov indeed did bid farewell to the core company and returned to the Maryinsky Ballet. They will appear in Munich as guest dancers.

So the gaps were considerable. How did Igor Zelensky fill them?
The company starts the new season with 66 dancers, four of them guest dancers (Shirinkina & Shklyarov and again, as last year, Natalia Osipova & Sergei Polunin). Five dancers of English National Ballet have joined: (more…)

Society’s Boggy Grounds

“Manon”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
September 04, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. R.Arndt, M.Madar, A.Ol, J.Vallejo and A.Gibson, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Semperoper Ballet 2017 © I.Whalen Semperoper Ballet opened the season with a final run of Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon.” In most performances since the Dresden premiere in fall 2015 Melissa Hamilton danced the title role. Hamilton returned to her home company, the Royal Ballet London, in May this year. The gap she left was filled by two guest ballerinas familiar with the role – Anna Ol (Principal of Dutch National Ballet) and Dorothée Gilbert (Étoile of Paris Opera Ballet). Both dance twice. The Semperoper Ballet’s Gina Scott is cast for the final two performances in mid-October. I saw the opening night with Ol alongside Julian Amir Lacey as Des Grieux. (more…)

“Anna Karenina” – Another Lesson By Neumeier

“Anna Karenina”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 14, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Arii, M.Huguet, I.Urban, A.Laudere, L.Wang / G.Fuhrman and ensemble, “Anna Karenina” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © S.Ballone Several choreographers have adapted Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel “Anna Karenina” for the dance stage. Maya Plisetskaya choreographed the piece for the Bolshoi in 1972 and danced the title role; Alexei Ratmansky created several versions, his latest for the Maryinsky in 2010; Christian Spuck, artistic director of Ballet Zurich, premiered his version in 2014. Now John Neumeier has tackled the subject with Hamburg Ballet. It is a co-production with the Bolshoi Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada, but has been solely produced in Hamburg. (more…)

Young Choreographers of the Ballett am Rhein

“Young Moves”
Ballett am Rhein
Opera House Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, Germany
July 09, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Jaroszewski and A.Pinet, “No Destination” by W.S.Chan, Ballett am Rhein © G.Weigelt For the second time, Ballett am Rhein presented works by young choreographers. All six ballets of “Young Moves” were created by members of the company. Four of them – Wun Sze Chan, Boris Randzio, So-Yeon Kim and Michael Foster – already participated in last year’s event; Sonny Locsin and Chidozie Nzerem were novices. The program was shown three times during the first half of July. I saw the second show, an afternoon matinee. Maybe it was because of the gorgeous summer weather that many seats in the auditorium remained empty. Applause was, however, warm and intense. (more…)

Drain of the Bavarian State Ballet Worse Than Thought

Bavarian State Ballet
Munich, Germany
July 12, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

Igor Zelensky © Wilfried HöslAccording to media reports one week ago, 18 out of a total of 69 dancers are leaving the Bavarian State Ballet at the end of this season. Names weren’t given. Yesterday the company’s press office emailed its newsletter. It contains messages of success – around 95% of seats were sold throughout the season and important pieces entered the repertoire – as well as announcements of promotions: Jonah Cook to principal, Alexander Omalchenko and Erik Murzagaliyev to first soloists, Dmitry Vyskubenko to demi soloist (Prisca Zeisel had become first soloist already in April); and that Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin will appear in Cranko’s “Shrew”.

The press office was, however, economical with the names of the ones leaving. The newsletter’s second to the last paragraph contains only seven names:
First Soloist Matêj Urban (→ Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo)
Demi Soloists: Mai Kono (→ Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal), Adam Zvonaŕ (→ Czech National Ballet, Prague)
Corps de Ballet: Nicha Rodboon (→ Royal Ballet of Flanders, Antwerp), Radka Příhodová (→ Czech National Ballet, Prague), Robin Strona (→ Semperoper Ballet, Dresden) and Gianmarco Romano (→ Finish National Ballet, Helsinki). (more…)

More Than a Quarter of the Company Leaves the Bavarian State Ballet

Bavarian State Ballet
Munich, Germany
July 07, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Zelensky © W.HöslTwenty-nine dancers – around forty percent of the company – left the Bavarian State Ballet last summer when Igor Zelensky took over directorship in Munich. Now, after the first year under his guidance, another 18 of 69 dancers in total (26% of the company) are leaving.

Zelensky declined an interview on this matter, communicating through his press office that two days before going into the summer break he would have no time. A few days ago he drew up a balance on his first season with the German Press Agency (Deutsche Presseagentur dpa) though including some comments on the personnel changes within the company. Those were echoed in the German press (see links below). Zelensky said, “Some [dancers] leave, some I fired. I wanted more quality according to my taste – those are no bad dancers, but I have my vision of what I want to do in the future. […] It’s a huge drama, 18 of 69 are really many. It will take much time to bind all together anew.”* In an interview with the German Press Agency this spring Zelensky had envisioned a larger ensemble, four new productions per season and more than 74 performances. Where will he now draw the resources – the dancers – from? (more…)

Works By Four Young Choreographers in Munich

“Young Choreographers”
Bavarian State Ballet
Prinzregententheater / Prince Regent Theatre
Munich, Germany
July 02, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Mama, ich kann fliegen” by D.Klein, Bavarian State Ballet 2017 © W.Hösl After a break of more than a decade the Bavarian State Ballet revived its “Young Choreographers” evenings last weekend. Of the four up-and-coming choreographers who presented their works on three consecutive nights at Munich’s Prince Regent Theatre, German-born Dustin Klein was the only one from within the ranks of the company. He was joined by the Swiss Benoît Favre, a dancer from Ballet Zurich. and two Russian colleagues: Anton Pimonov from the Maryinsky Ballet and Andrey Kaydanovskiy from the Vienna State Ballet. (more…)

Changes

“Don Quixote”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
June 03, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Badenes, A.Soares da Silva and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by M.Guerra, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet is facing a time of great change. Just recently, artistic director Reid Anderson announced that the company will part at the end of this season with Demis Volpi, who had been its resident choreographer since 2013. Whether the contract of Marco Goecke, the company’s second in-house-choreographer, will be extended beyond summer 2018 (after which Tamas Detrich will take the reins from Anderson) is still the subject of rumors. What is certain, though, is that this season will be the last for an icon of Stuttgart Ballet. After more than seventy years as dancer, choreologist, coach, ballet master and linchpin for the company, 89-year-old Georgette Tsinguirides will retire in July. (more…)

A Masterpiece?

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
May 26, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.Ryshkova, “A Midsummer Night's Dream” by J.Neumeier, Bavarian State Ballet 2017 © W.Hösl Balmy nights that follow days of 86°F are ideal to get one in a dreamy midsummer night’s mood. It was just the right time for reviving John Neumeier’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s iconic comedy, as danced by the Bavarian State Ballet this May. The amorous entanglements Shakespeare invented in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” are confusingly intricate and very juicy. Theseus, the duke of Athens, is about to marry Hippolyta, the former queen of the Amazons. Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, his queen, have come to the forests surrounding Athens to attend the wedding. A bit short of domestic bliss, their quarrels cause great trouble among the four lovers of the human world, Lysander & Hermia and Demetrius & Helena. Chaos intensifies because of Puck, Oberon’s shrewd and knavish sprite. A group of incompetent, amateur actors, preparing to entertain the royal wedding with “Pyramus and Thisbe” adds to the overall confusion.

Neumeier streamlined the knotty story by dropping side characters and subplots and allocating distinct music to the three lifeworlds. Felix Mendelssohn’s compositions for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (and other pieces by him) accompany the events at court. The mechanicals rehearse and perform to barrel organ music. Oberon, Titania and their fairies live inside György Ligeti’s electronic soundscapes. The Mendelssohn was played live by the Bavarian State Orchestra under the baton of Michael Schmidtsdorff; of Ligeti, we heard a recorded version. James Lyttle, one of the mechanicals, played the barrel organ. (more…)