Hamburg Ballet

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

“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…)

More of the Same

“The Song of the Earth”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 09, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. H.Bouchet and A.Trusch, “The Song of the Earth” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © S.Ballone 2016While the Nutcracker-season is in full swing elsewhere, some ballet stages in German-speaking countries bring up serious and even fierce topics during Christmas time. Just recently, Christian Spuck premiered “Messa da Requiem”, his new creation for Zurich Ballet; the Bavarian State Ballet is in its final rehearsals for “Spartacus” awaiting Yuri Grigorovich’s finishing touch. In Hamburg, John Neumeier added another ballet, his fifteenth, to his encyclopedic collection of choreographies to music by Gustav Mahler. (more…)

Almost Holy

“The World of John Neumeier”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 08, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Riggins and ensemble, “Bernstein Dances” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © K.West 2016Calling two big stages home is a luxury few can call their own. Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier enjoyed it for the seventieth time this autumn when touring the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden for one week. Usually they bring along two pieces and one workshop moderated by Neumeier himself. This year the two ballets were “Romeo and Juliet”, scheduled three times with different leading couples, and “The World of John Neumeier”, a collection of excerpts from autobiographically significant pieces. It premiered in Tokyo earlier this year and was shown on two consecutive evenings in Baden-Baden. I saw the first performance. (more…)

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

“Turangalȋla”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 05, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Evans, “Turangalȋla” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © K.West 2016Traditionally Hamburg Ballet opens its annual Ballet Days with the season’s second premiere. This July John Neumeier’s “Turangalȋla” saw the light of day. It is set to Olivier Messiaen’s symphony of the same title, composed in 1948. “Turangalȋla” is derived from the Sanskrit words “turanga” and “lila” roughly meaning a “love song and hymn of joy, rhythm, life and death”. I saw the second performance after the premiere. Unfortunately, one found little to delight in.

Choreographing to Messiaen’s symphony has been on Neumeier’s wish list since the 1960s. But Messiaen persistently refused to give his approval. He deemed the composition a sacral work not meant to be danced to. (more…)

Tracking Eleonora Duse

“Duse”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 11, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alessandra Ferri, “Duse” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015In his latest creation, “Duse”, John Neumeier explores the life of the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse (1858 – 1924). The ballet received its world premiere earlier in December with Hamburg Ballet. Alessandra Ferri, guesting with the company, is dancing the leading role.

Duse rose to international stardom at a time when the reputation of acting had considerably improved in bourgeois society. At the end of the 19th century Henrik Ibsen’s dramas were the first to offer major character roles for women. As a result, more and more actresses left their mark on stage, motivated by a previously unparalleled enthusiasm for the theater. (more…)

Not Exactly a Happy Love Affair

“A Cinderella Story”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 23, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Heylmann, S.Azzoni, C.Agüero and H.Bouchet, "A Cinderella Story" by J.Neumeier, photo: Holger BadekowIndeed Cinderella gets golden shoes to dance in at the royal ball, but unlike in the Brothers Grimm’s or Charles Perrault’s fairy tale they are not the key element of John Neumeier’s “A Cinderella Story”. The 1992 production has been revived earlier this season. It is a version mainly referring to the Brothers Grimm text but also includes a few details from Perrault. Yet above all it is Neumeier’s own interpretation, his perspective on the story.

Neumeier avoided the bloody cruelties one finds in the written sources. The mean stepsisters neither chop off their toes or heels to fit into Cinderella’s shoes, nor are their eyes picked out as a punishment at the end. Instead Neumeier added a heavy dose of humor and exaggerated most characters with stark cliches, yet also allowed character traits to surface which put another complexion on some figures. (more…)

Grand Finale

“Nijinsky-Gala XLI”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 12, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Collado and A.Robinson, “Clear” by S.Welch, Houston Ballet © H.Badekow 2015Traditionally Hamburg Ballet’s “Ballet Days” end with a Nijinsky-Gala and traditionally John Neumeier presents an extra large format, that is five hours or more. The programs of past galas did not necessarily refer directly to Nijinsky, but this year’s prominently did. Otto Bubeníček bid his farewell as Vaslav Nijinsky in an excerpt from Neumeier’s “’Le Pavillon d’Armide” which was the center piece of the three-part evening. It was in the “Spirit of the Romantic Period”, which was the common theme of the season’s repertory. The first part offered insights into eight different ballets, the final third part was made up of excerpts from five other ballets. Neumeier never presents small snippets, instead he tends to add another pas de deux rather than cutting one. Dancers from the Houston Ballet and the National Ballet of China broadened the spectrum. Other guests were the Bolshoi Ballet’s Svetlana Zakharova and Johan Kobborg who danced with Alina Cojocaru, a permanent guest of Hamburg Ballet. As usual Neumeier in person guided the audience through the program. (more…)

Missed Chances

“Peer Gynt”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
June 30, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Jung, A.Laudere, A.Riabko, K.Azatyan, M.Jubete and A.Martínez, “Peer Gynt” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015John Neumeier’s “Peer Gynt” saw the light of day in 1989. Now, twenty-six years later, he has put it thoroughly to the test with a reworked version opening Hamburg Ballet’s 41. Ballet Days, bringing back for two weeks a kaleidoscope of the season’s repertory culminating in a gala this year on July 12th.

Boiling down Henrik Ibsen’s five act play about Peer Gynt’s life into a ballet evening of tolerable duration is a master stroke per se. Neumeier cut it down to three acts plus an epilogue and managed to tell the Norwegian’s life’s journey within three hours divided by a break. The first half comprised of two acts deals with Peer’s birth and his relationship with his mother Aase, a peasant’s widow. Peer is a blowhard, a prowler and scalawag, one hardly on good terms with the neighboring peasantry. (more…)

Safety and Comfort are Rare

“Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”)
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
March 29, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Martínez, “Winterreise” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015Reviving John Neumeier’s “Winterreise” in early spring seems odd programming. The ballet is based on Franz Schubert’s somber song cycle of 1828 as rendered musically by German conductor and composer Hans Zender. The twenty-four songs’ verses seem simple at first glance, almost folk-like, but plumb deeply into existential states of mind. Center stage are a young wayfarer’s experiences – encounters he has had with others along his life’s passionate path. Even if spring moods must be left aside “Winterreise” was a good opener the week before Easter.
Schubert had based “Winterreise” on poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794 – 1827), and he set them without informing the poet. Some attribute Müller’s death, which was untimely, to complete exhaustion; others speculate that he committed suicide due to unbearable depression. His verses exude gloom. He died in September and Schubert began composing in October. The two never met. Allegedly, Schubert secluded himself while composing. Eventually, when visiting friends he seemed to be unhinged. Zender suspects that the first concert performances of the piece must have caused fright rather than delight. Schubert died only one year later, in 1828. He was just thirty-one years old. (more…)

A Real Man

“Liliom”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
January 31, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Cojocaru and C.Jung, “Liliom” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015“By the way we have to see how Dortmund played” a tall, athletic man said to his female companion when walking into Hamburg State Opera’s auditorium in front of me. Saturdays are usually match days in the German Bundesliga. “Dortmund”, or “Borussia Dortmund” respectively, was obviously the man’s favorite club in the top tier of the German football league system. His companion, slightly annoyed, looked heavenwards. But after all she had made her football addict friend accompany her to a ballet evening. Maybe John Neumeier’s “Liliom” was exactly the right choice to stir his cultural enthusiasm.

At least on first sight, its titular character Liliom fits perfectly into the cliche of a real man. He is a womanizer with plenty of brawn. Talking isn’t his forte. Worse, looking closer, Liliom turns out to be a good for nothing dude. When not knowing how to deal with a situation, when feeling helpless, he can’t stop himself from striking out. He is likewise quick to pull a knife, a macho man with a limited range of action alternatives who avoids at any cost exposing his innermost self. (more…)

The Land Where the Lemon Trees Blossom

“Napoli”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 31, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Cazzaniga, A.Riabko, S.Azzoni, K.Tselikov, M.Jubete and ensemble, “Napoli” by A.Bournonville and with new choreography by L.Riggins, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2014Like the Bavarian State Ballet’s recent triumph with “Paquita”, John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet revived an old classic, August Bournonville’s “Napoli”, a buoyant, romantic love story with dramatic sprinklings, transferring the southern Italian joy of life to the Elbe River.
Premiering in 1842 in Copenhagen, “Napoli” is a staple of the Royal Danish Ballet’s repertory, so long as Nikolai Hübbe doesn’t continue replacing Bournonville’s legacy with his own creations, as happened with “La Sylphide” this autumn. Similar to other ballets of the romantic period, the libretto of “Napoli” is lightweight. Bournonville’s source of inspiration was a journey to southern Italy. Drawing on myriad impressions – from the quarreling fish traders to different types of street merchants, flirting youth, ragged beggars and monks strolling around – he wrote the libretto on his way back home, more precisely in the stagecoach between Paris and Dunkirk in northern France. Even an episode during an excursion to the fishing village Baiae was worked in: until 1848 Bournonville, still actively dancing in Copenhagen’s ensemble and also artistic director and senior choreographer, surprised his fellow travelers when he himself suddenly replaced a dancer of a local dance group in a lightning tarantella. (more…)

What Young Girls Dream About

“The Nutcracker”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 23, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Trusch and A.Cojocaru, “The Nutcracker” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © Holger Badekow 2014Shortly before Christmas Eve, Hamburg Ballet had some special candy in store, John Neumeier’s “Nutcracker” with Alina Cojocaru as Marie and Otto Bubeníček as Drosselmeier. Bubeníček is the strongest of Hamburg’s male dancers in this role and having the opportunity to see Cojocaru dance is a Christmas gift all by itself. The appearance of both had already been planned for last season but was cancelled due to Bubeníček being injured. Complemented by a strong cast, this year’s run of “The Nutcracker” hence had a powerful start.

Inspired by John Cranko’s “Nutcracker” Neumeier also separated his version from the Christmas Season. Nevertheless it’s often scheduled at the end of the year. Any mice involved in fighting were eliminated by Neumeier. For him the story’s core topic is the transition from being a child to becoming an adult. His story begins at Marie Stahlbaum’s twelfth birthday party where she is presented with a wooden nutcracker – her companion throughout the ballet – and her first pair of toe shoes. The latter are a gift from Drosselmeier who is the ballet master of Marie’s older sister Louise and Neumeier’s homage to Marius Petipa. (more…)

Final Fulfillment

“Death in Venice”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 17, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

“Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen,
ist dem Tode schon anheimgegeben,…”
(August von Platen, “Tristan”, 1824)

1. A.Trusch, L.Riggins, "Death in Venice" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet“Whose eyes saw the beauty is already entrusted to death,…”
August von Platen’s late-romantic song, written in 1825, is grounded on the medieval tale “Tristan and Isolde”. Transgressive love and love-death are core aspects of Richard Wagner’s eponymous opera and Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice”, published in 1913. John Neumeier’s ballet version of Mann’s text pays homage to both monumental figures of the history of art. It wouldn’t be “made by John Neumeier”, however, if he hadn’t included additional historical references to broaden and enrich the total picture of the unique love story. He chose Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Musical Offering” as music to depict the intellectual, well-organized world of Gustav von Aschenbach, alternating with piano pieces by Richard Wagner. The latter evoke the ecstatic, Dionysian counterworld Aschenbach gets into in Venice. Integrating music by Wagner moreover takes into account that many aspects of his autobiography, published in 1911, recur in Mann’s “Death in Venice”. Just as for Aschenbach, Venice was Wagner’s city of refuge. In 1848 he intended to finish his “Tristan” in the lagoon city where he also wanted respite from his broken marriage with Minna and his desperate love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. (more…)

Trouble Backstage

“Shakespeare Dances”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 04, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.West, K.Tselikov, "As You Like It" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier’s “Shakespeare Dances” is a triple bill that he assembled in 2013 to celebrate his forty-year jubilee in Hamburg. It consists of short versions of “As You Like It”, “Hamlet” and “VIVALDI or What you will”, and aims to capture the essences of the respective full versions choreographed in previous years.

Not surprisingly, each piece’s unique qualities fade due to strong compression. While some characters could be omitted without much harm, Neumeier has tried to give the two Shakespeare comedies and the tragedy a degree of consistency. Does he tell the stories clearly? (more…)