Semperoper Ballet

Two Farewells at the Semperoper Ballet

“Theme and Variations” (Triple bill: “Theme and Variations”, New Suite”, “She Was Black”)
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
March 30, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. F.Voranger, Semperoper Ballet © I.WhalenSemperoper Ballet bid a double farewell on April 1st. True to his announcement last year, Mats Ek withdrew his works from the stage forever as he heads into retirement. “She Was Black”, originally choreographed in 1995, is among those that will retire with him. It has been part of the repertoire of the Dresden company for six years. When I learned about the 2nd goodbye, I thought it might be a premature April Fools’ joke – but it wasn’t. Fabien Voranger, the 36-year old principal of the company, ended his active dancing career with a final pas de deux in “She Was Black” in the middle of the season.

Born in Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, Voranger was trained at the Opéra National de Paris and the Studio Ballet Colette Armand in Marseille. A Prix de Lausanne scholarship led him to The Royal Ballet School before signing his first contract with Roland Petit’s troupe in Marseille. Engagements at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Vienna State Ballet soon followed. As Voranger stated in an interview in 2015, he tended to move on to another company whenever he felt stuck in his artistic growth: There will be always someone who can do more pirouettes than you, who is technically superior. So the most important thing in a career is to find someone who makes something of you.” (more…)

Welcome Innovations

“Oracle”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 25, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Gibson, “Oracle” by J.Hernandez, Semperoper Ballet © I.Whalen 2016With the new year quickly approaching, the art of prophecy is in great demand in Dresden. One clairvoyant resides in a cozy, tiny hut on a beautiful, rustic Christmas market in the old stable yard next to the Dresden Castle. An expert in palm reading, cartomancy and runes magic, the white-haired lady offers glances into what next year will bring.

Not far from her stall, in the former opera restaurant just recently altered into the studio stage “Semper Two,” another soothsayer, a quite prominent lady, is at work. Or, to be precise, is fed up with work. Alas, there is currently no chance to receive advice from her. Joseph Hernandez, coryphée of Semperoper Ballet and a fledgling choreographer, attended to the matter in the dance theater “Oracle”, his first piece for Semperoper Ballet. Accompanied by a musical mix consisting of vintage jazz as well as cello and violin sounds of various atmospheres, it unveils the Oracle of Delphi’s problem. Exhausted from putting herself into a trance to answer the never-ending questions, the woman priest, simply called Oracle (Aidan Gibson) by Hernandez, wants to get off the hot seat. But how? (more…)

Straightforward Towards Mediocrity

“Don Quixote”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 13, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Gileva, I.Simon and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by A.S.Watkin, Semperoper Ballet © S.Ballone 2016One wishes for better program coordination given the fact that three German companies, Stuttgart Ballet, the Aalto Ballet Essen and Semperoper Ballet are offering “Don Quixote” almost at the same time. Premieres in Essen and Dresden were even scheduled for the same day, November 5th. The versions in Stuttgart and Essen are traditional adaptions; in Dresden, artistic director Aaron S.Watkin came up with his own creation. The idea sprang from set and costume designer Patrick Kinmonth to strip the adventurous story of Alonso Quixano alias Don Quixote down to a mere framework on which a new, “more real and convincing story” was hung. (more…)

Creating an Image

Ballet Companies in Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland
Semperoper Ballet, Bavarian State Ballet, State Ballet Berlin, Stuttgart Ballet, Ballett am Rhein,
Dutch National Ballet, Zurich Ballet
October 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

What kind of image distinguishes Stuttgart Ballet from Dutch National Ballet? Or the Bavarian State Ballet from the State Ballet Berlin? What is it the dancers – and their audience – identify with as their company? How do companies present themselves to the public? Such were my thoughts when seeing the Semperoper Ballet’s new image campaign, #WHYWEDANCE. I asked several major companies to send me images of their choice representing their respective company’s image.

1. R.Martínez, #WHYWEDANCE, Semperoper Ballet © I.Whalen 20162. J.Gray, #WHYWEDANCE, Semperoper Ballet © I.Whalen 2016Semperoper Ballet chose four of the sixty-one dancer portraits of #WHYWEDANCE. The new ensemble brochure presents each in full-page size. In addition they are spread via social media and on billboards and advertising pillars in Dresden. Aaron S.Watkin, in his eleventh year as artistic director, put the spotlight on his company this season whose face has changed since his beginning in 2006. Next to the dancers, Ian Whalen, the troupe’s photographer and multimedia expert, also shot Watkin and staff members. Names, places of birth, ranks within the company and the year when joining the ensemble come along with each portrait. In addition, every dancer sums up their motivation for the profession, the why and wherefore of choosing a career with dance in a single word. (more…)

“Bullshit”

“COW”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
March 12, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Bauch, “COW” by A.Ekman, Semperoper Ballet © T.M.Rives“COW” is the Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s new creation for the Semperoper Ballet Dresden. As the title suggests, cows – sculptures, not living cattle – are the common thread of this otherwise plotless piece, albeit not dancing but sometimes merely watching what is going on.

The piece is a result of intense teamwork by four artists: composer Mikael Karlsson, costume designer Henrik Vibskov, and multimedia expert T.M.Rives working with Ekman who kept things firmly in hand. Karlsson, who has collaborated with Ekman for several years, contributed the music. He first recorded the basic sounds with Germany’s National Youth Orchestra; then the material was electronically alienated and remixed. It involves a sequence of cowlike “mooing” lasting several minutes. Ekman used the music to generate atmosphere and as a signal for the dancers when to start or which rhythm to keep. One pas de deux, “Silence”, except for single tones, is done without music. The dancers add to the acoustics by speaking, shouting and screaming. One of them, Skyler Maxey-Wert, even sings a song “Nothing Moves a Cow” at the end. (more…)

Giving Oneself to the Love

“Tristan + Isolde”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
January 17, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Richardson and F.Voranger, “Tristan + Isolde” by D.Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden © I.Whalen 
How many performances exist in which the energy already rises with the first tunes of the prelude? Which make one feel that something substantial is about to happen? David Dawson’s “Tristan + Isolde” danced by the Semperoper Ballet Dresden is such a ballet. About one year after its premiere the company revived the piece for three performances in January. Two more are scheduled for June. The car trip to Dresden is long and no fun on wintery highways, yet watching the piece again compensated for the effort. Having ripened during the last year it now is unfolding its whole power. (more…)

A Sweeping Goodbye

“Manon”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 11, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Hamilton and J.Bubeniček, “Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, photo Ian WhalenOne could make things easier when it comes to the end of a dance career. A favorite piece which the audience likes should make for a decent leave-taking. Jiří Bubeníček is of another caliber. After nine years with Semperoper Ballet Dresden he tackled a debut for his farewell, Des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”. Moreover, he asked a ballerina, with whom he had never danced before, to be his Manon: Royal Ballet’s principal Melissa Hamilton, who will stay with the Semperoper company for the whole season.

“Go for it!” is one of Bubeníček’s principles. Exactly this is what he did. In fact, what the whole company did. Aaron S.Watkin, the company’s artistic director, aimed to use “Manon” to explore yet another style with his already versatile company. It was enthusiastically received. No wonder. All ingredients merged splendidly presenting “Manon” as a gripping narrative. (more…)

A Star Enters Another Orbit

Jiří Bubeníček
Dresden, Germany
October, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiri Bubenicek, photo: Costin RaduIn about one week Semperoper Ballet Dresden will lose one of its mainstays, a formative figure of the company, the idol of the Saxon audience, Principal Jiří Bubeníček, who will bid farewell to the Semperoper stage on November 11th as Des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”. In 2009, already a longtime internationally recognized choreographer, he mentioned in an interview on the occasion of a new creation for New York City Ballet that he would have to decide soon whether to focus on dancing or on choreographing. Since then he has managed the balancing act between giving top-notch performances and creating even more ballets.

Jiří’s twin brother Otto had already bid goodby to Hamburg Ballet’s stage at the end of last season. Both are a perfectly attuned team. Jiří choreographs, Otto is in charge of set and costumes; sometimes he also composes the music. Now, shortly after turning forty-one, the time has also come for Jiří to finally stop dancing full-time. His schedule book is packed with commissions for the next two years. So there won’t be time to put up his feet after the final bow. But that would not suit Bubeníček’s nature anyway. A man of action he loves to be busy. Running several projects at the same time isn’t unusual for him. (more…)

“I am always in love.”

Fabien Voranger
Dresden, Germany
October, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Fabien Voranger, photo: Ian WhalenLove guided and catalyzed Fabien Voranger’s career in several decisive situations. Just aged ten, being infatuated with a young girl fueled his interest in ballet and led to his audition for the Ballet School of the Paris Opera; and, as it happens, he was accepted. Later, while he was in a scholarship study program at the Royal Ballet School in London his girlfriend was his major support during a reorientation forced by injury. Love almost made him follow a ballerina to Australia. His desire to express his art led to many moves but ultimately to success.
Now, at the age of thirty-four, his love is rooted in Dresden, where Voranger, meanwhile principal of Semperoper Ballet, lives with his wife, opera singer Antigone Papoulkas, and two sons. In early October we met there in a French bistro to talk about his career, his life and his vision of the art of ballet.

Voranger started to take ballet lessons around the age of six together with two of his his three sisters in his home village close to Aix-en-Provence in Southern France. (more…)

Much Ado About Nothing

“Impressing the Czar”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
May 25, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Impressing the Czar” by W.Forsythe: “Potemkin's Signature”, Semperoper Ballet Dresden © I.Whalen 2015William Forsythe’s “Impressing the Czar” is the Semperoper Ballet’s second premiere this season. It testifies to the company’s strong ties with the choreographer, reinforcing the relationship. After the closure of Forsythe’s own company, Ballet Frankfurt, in 2004, where “Impressing the Czar” had received its premiere in January 1988, only the Royal Ballet of Flanders and now the Semperoper Ballet are allowed to perform it. In the program notes Forsythe emphasized his intense, confidence-building collaboration with the Dresden company. At the moment it is the only one dancing his earlier works in a true and faithful manner.

Hence the prospects were bright that the evening would be exceptional and, as the title implies, really impressive. (more…)

A Team of Strong Individuals

Semperoper Ballet
Dresden, Germany
April/May 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Semperoper Dresden © M.Creutziger 2015In 2006 the winds of change were blowing through the Semperoper Ballet Dresden. After twelve years under Vladimir Derevianko’s directorship the Canadian Aaron S. Watkin took over the reigns. He thoroughly revitalized the company and adopted a new course for the repertory. The classics, already the company’s linchpin, were kept, but modern pieces were now strongly fostered. As a result, after almost a decade of constant work, the company receives much international attention. Ballets by William Forsythe, David Dawson, Stijn Celis and Aaron S. Watkin are its signature features. Recently I spoke with five leading dancers about their backgrounds and how they experienced the company’s development. (more…)

Go All Out Again!

“Giselle”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
April 18, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Richardson and F.Voranger, “Giselle” by D.Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden © I.Whalen 2015Earlier this year, Courtney Richardson and Fabien Voranger enthralled Semperoper Dresden’s audience in the leading roles of David Dawson’s “Tristan + Isolde”. In April both had their debut in Dawson’s “Giselle”. I was curious as to how the two would tackle this quite different love story. The performance on April 18 – the second for Richardson and Voranger – was the last of this season’s run of “Giselle”.
For the specifics of Dawson’s version I would like to refer to what I wrote almost exactly one year ago (Landgraf on Dance: Last Dance). In short, Dawson’s reading of the classic is timeless yet modern. The roles of Berthe (Giselle’s mother) and the Duke of Courland are dropped; the first act’s hunting party is replaced by a wedding party; the miming scene foreboding disaster takes place in the course of the wedding festivities. The second act depicts Abrecht’s memories, his mental state, his process in coping with what had happened. Neither Hilarion appears again nor is there a grave. Nor are the Wilis avenging spirits. Rather, they remind one of impartial beings. (more…)

Stunning Emotions

“Tristan + Isolde”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
February 17, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Richardson and F.Voranger, “Tristan + Isolde” by D.Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden © I.Whalen 2015Reportedly a few of the audience had expected to see the opera, while others, having had a slightly closer look at Semperoper Dresden’s program, were anticipating hearing Richard Wagner’s famous music. Both parties must have been surprised. “Tristan + Isolde” is a ballet by David Dawson to new music by Szymon Brzóska.
Dawson wisely abstained from using Wagner’s well-known opera music. Instead Brzóska, a Pole, composed a tailor-made score for the Dresden company. Both had already collaborated on Dawson’s ballet “Overture” for Dutch National Ballet in 2013. Generally speaking, his music, Brzóska told in an interview, would range between contemporary avant garde and extended tonality that inclined towards minimalism. The new composition reminds one of film music. It’s emotional music, conveying love’s bliss but also dramatic, fragile and threatening moments. Though expressive, Dawson never left it to the music to bring forth the action but always backed it with choreographic substance. Paul Connelly and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden highly focused playing captivated one from the first tone on. Laurels to them! (more…)

Marzipan and Sweetmeats

“The Nutcracker”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 22, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Simon, “The Nutcracker” by A.S. Watkin and J.Beechey, Semperoper Ballet © C.Radu 2014While Dresden is just starting to build up the numerous stalls for its famous Christmas markets, Semperoper Ballet has already begun to put audiences in a festive mood with the first of a series of sixteen “Nutcrackers”.
Rather restrained in choreographing, Semperoper Ballet’s artistic director Aaron S. Watkin replaced John Neumeier’s version of the “Nutcracker” which had been in the company’s repertory until 2010 by his own new creation in 2011. As with “Coppélia” which also premiered in 2011, Watkin collaborated with Jason Beechey, rector of Dresden’s Palucca School for Dance. Putting aside historical records they created completely new choreography yet firmly grounded on classical movement vocabulary. Both two acts of the ballet involve a great number of students of the Palucca School of Dance giving the Christmasy goings-on and the festivities at the Land of Sweets a natural and vivid atmosphere. Almost the whole school participates, around thirty students of different age per cast complemented by eight little children as Polichinelles. (more…)

Still in the Warming Phase

“Bella Figura”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
September 05, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Albouy, Weiss, Cangialosi, Bella Figura by Jiri Kylián, Semperoper Ballet Semperoper Ballet Dresden heralded the new season with the triple bill “Bella Figura”, titled after Jiří Kylián’s eponymous “Bella Figura” and complemented by David Dawson’s “The Grey Area” and “Minus 16” by Ohad Naharin.
(The photos show a different cast of an earlier performance.)

Where is the borderline between art and artificiality? Between fantasy and reality? Truth and falsehood? Such are Kyliàn’s questions behind “Bella Figura”. Also: at which point does a performance actually start? “Bella Figura” has no formal beginning. While the auditorium fills, the dancers warm up. They wear practice clothing and repeat step combinations. When the lights dim, the curtain shuts. With the start of the music – a collage of various Baroque composers plus a Renaissance-based suite by the contemporary American composer Lukas Foss – two dancers are in the spotlight: a section of the curtain, as large as a door, is left open on the right. It leaves room for a man in skin-colored undershorts (Maximilian Genov). Lying on the floor with bent legs up in the air, he reminds of an insect that accidentally has fallen on its back. To the left, Jenni Schäferhoff, bare-breasted and likewise in skin-colored undies, is wrapped into the curtain’s folds by invisible arms from behind. Repeatedly she walks, gesticulating to the forestage but – perhaps confronted with something daunting – backs away and again seeks shelter in the curtain’s embrace. (more…)