Others / Europe

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.

I was surprised, however, about the course Luke Jennings pursued in his online review for The Guardian. At the end of October, Jennings had already labeled Kenneth MacMillan’s “The Judas Three” on The Guardian’s website as presenting misogyny, concluding “the Judas Tree makes voyeurs of us all.” Yet, only one paragraph before in the same article he went on about intimate details from MacMillan’s biography, making one wonder who actually is the voyeur. Clement Crisp, by comparison, wrote in his review on the same program in the Financial Times: ”Kenneth MacMillan understood, given the respect and dignity his work demands in this celebratory season. […] A taxing psychological study by a theatrical master, urgent with meaning and allusion, and here superbly shown by the Royal Ballet.”

Jennings’ review on the Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill was preceded by one written by his Guardian-colleague, Judith Mackrell. While Mackrell had commented on all three pieces of the program, Jennings omitted Shechter’s work entirely and used Tharp’s “The Illustrated Farewell” as a springboard to criticize women’s roles in ballet in general and denouncing Pita’s “The Wind” for having a “violent rape” as “pivotal event” in particular. (Interestingly, Jenny Gilbert avoided the word “rape” in her review on theartsdesk.com, and instead enthused over “a semi-naked Edward Watson in white body paint […] working those famous back muscles” that made the ticket worthwhile. Watson portrayed an indigenous Indian warrior, not the rapist.)

Jennings’ critique extended on the Royal Ballet’s program of the last few seasons, because of its “record numbers of female characters [being] brutalized and killed.” He found “the Royal’s commissioning process […] needs examining” and declared right away in the first lines of his review that Tharp’s and Pita’s pieces “raise serious questions about the company and the vision of its directors”.

Jennings’ opinion was taken up in subsequent articles in The Telegraph and the Evening Standard. On the website of the Evening Standard, Robert Dex talked in the plural pronoun about “critics bemoaning yet more sexual violence”, but the only one doing so was Jennings. Dex also stated that “audience members reacted angrily to the choreography” and quoted two comments from the Royal Ballet’s website made by members of the audience after the performance. Of those I could only find one. The respective site currently has twenty comments, three of which are indeed critical about the rape scene in “The Wind”. The Royal Opera House has more than 2,200 seats. Are three critical voices representative?

Both The Telegraph and the Evening Standard moreover referred to an article by Siobhan Burke in the New York Times from May 2017 about Alexei Ratmansky’s “Odessa”, in which Burke expressed her disgust about what she considered the depiction of a woman being gang-raped. The article had caused a divisive and ongoing debate about violence against women onstage and the portrayal of gender roles. Shall the Royal ballet develop guidelines about the do’s and dont’s for new choreographies?

Has the issue of aggression and violence against women reached a level of awareness that every further encounter causes a hyper-sensitive reaction? If so wouldn’t that need to be addressed from a socio-political level right up to individual relationships? Merely claiming I do not want to see that anymore, so off the repertoire with the piece seems childish. Besides, the Royal Ballet’s shows come along with hints on their content and “The Wind” had a warning for audiences of scenes of an “adult nature” and “sexual violence”. If someone doesn’t consider that the right evening entertainment why not spend the money on a ticket for “Alice in Wonderland”, “ The Nutcracker” or a musical instead?

 And what to make out of Jennings’ complaints about the Royal Ballet’s repertoire? Four of the six ballets he named by title are by MacMillan. Shall the Royal Ballet put the pieces by one of their most influential choreographers on the back burner just to please Jennings’ taste?

Recently, in an online course about opera, Mark Dakin, Technical Director of the Royal Opera House, said, “great art is about tearing you apart, and opening you up, and helping you to look at yourself and the society that you live in.” It’s not about feeling comfortable all the time.

Links: Website of The Royal Ballet
 A first glimpse of The Royal Ballet’s “Illustrated Farewell” with Twyla Tharp (video)
The Royal Ballet rehearses “The Wind” by Arthur Pita (video)
 Hofesh Shechter rehearses “Untouchable” with The Royal Ballet (video)
Editing: Tiffany Lau

 

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…)

Three New Pieces for NDT

“Side A: Split into One” (“Proof” / “Soon” / “Sisters”)
Nederlands Dans Theater
Zuiderstrandtheater
The Hague, The Netherlands
September 22, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Anderson and Y.Takaura, “Proof” by E.Clug, Nederlands Dans Theater 2017 © R.RezvaniOn the right side of the Zuiderstrandtheater berths a huge yellow ship, the way on the left side leads directly to the beach. The theater, a plain concrete building with much glass, opened in 2014 in The Hague’s port area. Its neighborhood and the parking lot in front of the house don’t please the eye, but the view out of the huge windows on the first floor does. Between the dunes one can see the sea gleaming in the setting sun.
Inside, the smell of deep-fried fish permeated the foyer. The reception celebrating Nederlands Dans Theater’s first performance this season – a triple bill with entirely new works – was in full swing. The program consisted of pieces by Edward Clug, Medhi Walerski and the inseparable duo Sol León & Paul Lightfoot. Since 2002 León and Lightfoot have been the company’s house choreographers. In 2011 Lightfoot also took over as artistic director succeeding Jim Vincent. (more…)

Oh Rudolf…

“Romeo and Juliet”
English National Ballet
Royal Festival Hall / Southbank Centre
London, Great Britain
August 02, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Romeo and Juliet” by R.Nureyev, English National Ballet © L.LiotardoEnglish National Ballet’s revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s “Romeo and Juliet” this August celebrated two birthdays at once. The 40th birthday of the ballet itself and the 90th birthday of the one who commissioned it, Dame Beryl Grey, the company’s President and former artistic director. The six performances given in early August at the Southbank Centre, London, included five castings for Romeo and four ballerinas in the role of Juliet. I saw Josua Hoffalt and Laurretta Summerscales as the star-crossed lovers. Hoffalt, étoile of Paris Opera Ballet, guested with English National Ballet for the first time. For Summerscales it was one of her last performances this year with her home company. She will take a sabbatical year with the Bavarian State Ballet in the next season. (more…)

Maillot Revives His Beauty

“La Belle”
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo
Salle des Princes Grimaldi Forum
Monte Carlo, Monaco
December 30, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “La Belle” by J.-C.Maillot, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo © A.Blangero 2017Shortly after Christmas Les Ballets de Monte Carlo revived “La Belle”, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of “La belle au bois dormant”, written by Charles Perrault in 1697. Maillot kept his original choreography from 2001 as well as Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s set design, but commissioned Jérôme Kaplan for new costumes most of which comically quote details of 16th century fashion. The music is Tchaikovsky’s but trimmed to around two hours.

Perrault took his inspiration from “Sun, Moon and Talia”, a fairytale written by Giambattista Basile in 1834, to which Maillot included some references. (more…)

A Prize Accomplishment

“Doctor Zhivago”
SNG Opera in Balet Ljubljana
Ljubljana, Slovenia
April 23, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Pestotnik Stres, “Doctor Zhivago” by J.Bubeníček, SNG Opera in Balet Ljubljana © D.Štravs Tisu 2016A couple of months ago Jiří and Otto Bubeníček ended their active dancing careers with their home companies, Semperoper Ballet and Hamburg Ballet. Since then they have crisscrossed the globe creating ballet after ballet after ballet. In view of the sheer amount of their commissions, lingering doubts about quality seem likely. Moreover as their last creation, “Doctor Zhivago”, promised not to be a cakewalk. It is based on Boris Pasternak’s prizewinning novel of the same title, a rather weighty work dealing with an intricate story. David Lean’s 1965 film version is very popular. (more…)

Visions

Swan Lake”
Scottish Ballet
Theatre Royal
Glasgow, Scotland
April 19, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Martin and C.Harrison, “Swan Lake” by D.Dawson, Scottish Ballet © Scottish Ballet 2016Each new piece reveals more of a choreographer’s artistic self. If it is just “Swan Lake”, the ballet of ballets, tackling an own version equals an acid test. David Dawson just dared it. His interpretation of the tragic love story between Siegfried and Odette/Odile premiered with Scottish Ballet on April 19th. His vision had been to shift the focus to the choreography, to follow the story inherent in Tchaikovsky’s music and, above all, to tell it credibly. The aim was to distill he universal emotional essence of “Swan Lake” into a pure, light and classical ballet. What was the outcome? (more…)

On the Fast Lane

An interview with Jiří and Otto Bubeníček about their new ballet “Doctor Zhivago”
Ljubljana, Slovenia
March 29, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Kmetec and P.Đorčevski, rehearsal of “Doctor Zhivago”, chor.: J.Bubeníček, SNG Opera in Balet Ljubljana © O.Bubeníček 2016Only a few months ago Jiří Bubeníček bid his farewell as principal of the Semperoper Ballet. Balancing his dancing career with the one of a choreographer has always kept him busy. But what he accomplished during the last five months is stupendous. He created pieces for the Ballet of the State Opera Hanover and for Tokyo City Ballet. One short ballet premiered at a gala of San Francisco Ballet. The dance interludes of Vienna’s New Year’s Concert 2016 were also by Bubeníček. Quite a lot for a single person. Enough work to be shouldered by two! While Jiří choreographs, his brother Otto is in charge of set designs, sometimes even of the costumes. He also assists with the dramaturgy. (more…)

La Scala’s Tasteless New “Cinderella”

“Cinderella”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
January 15, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Albano, D.Gazzo and V.Toppi, “Cinderella” by M.Bigonzetti, Ballet Company of Teatro alla ScalaLast Friday a huge crowd queued up in front of La Scala, eagerly waiting to gain entry for Mauro Bigonzetti’s new “Cinderella”. Just ten minutes before the performance was to begin did things finally get going. Passing policemen, who lined the entrance area, people hurried to their seats. Only a few minutes late the curtain went up.
What had happened? The police had decided to do bag checks but, having started much too late, necessarily had to stop to not overly delay the performance. Later, the young Italian woman sitting next to me told me that “Italians already feel safe when police are within sight.” (more…)

A Thought-Provoking Trip to the Alsace

“All We Love About Shakespeare” (“Ophelia, Madness and Death”, “Fatal”, “Romeo and Juliet”)
Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
Opéra Strasbourg
Strasbourg, France
January 09, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Ophelia, Madness and Death” by D.Lee, Ballet de l'Opéra national du RhinThe Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin has advantageous conditions in order to prosper. The company is the dance hub of beautiful Alsace, a region much frequented by tourists. It has three venues: Strasbourg’s Opéra, La Filature in Mulhouse and the Théâtre municipal in Colmar. Ballet connoisseurs from Stuttgart or Zurich might come across the Rhine for a visit as well. Quite likely they get served interesting and innovative art, especially as the company was gifted with a National Choreography Center in 1985, the only one of in a total of nineteen being hosted by an opera house. (more…)

Béjart in Abundance

“Suite Barocco”, “Syncope”, “Liebe und Tod” (“Love and Death”), “Le Mandarin Merveilleux”
Béjart Ballet Lausanne
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
November 27, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Archibald and G.Arenas Ruiz, “Syncope” by Gil Roman, Béjart Ballet © Ilia CholnikAs Stuttgart Ballet tours Korea and Japan, the guesting of the Béjart Ballet Lausanne on the last weekend in November was a welcome extra dose of dance for the aficionados in the Stuttgart audience. The troupe presented a mixed bill of four pieces. Three of them had been choreographed by Maurice Béjart, one was created by Gil Roman, the company’s artistic director since Béjart’s death in 2007.

Béjart’s “Suite Barocco”, a piece from 1997 to vocal Baroque music, has no clear storyline. (more…)

And Now?

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
September 26, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Murru and ensemble, The Sleeping Beauty by M.Petiba and A.Ratmansky, Teatro alla Scala, photo M.Brescia and R.Amisano Six months after Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” received its premiere in Costa Mesa, California, with American Ballet Theater, gracing the company’s 75th anniversary, European audiences now have the opportunity to enjoy the lavish production as well. It premiered on September 26 at the Teatro alla Scala, which shouldered the costs of the project with ABT.

Today’s traditionally known “Sleeping Beauty” is the result of adaptions and changes made since the piece’s premiere in St. Petersburg in 1890. (more…)

Thoroughly Reconfigured

“Raymonda”
The Royal Swedish Ballet
The Royal Opera House
Stockholm, Sweden
September 01, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Sellrup and ensemble, Raymonda by P.Lidberg, Royal Swedish Ballet, photo H.Nilsson

When tackling a new version of “Raymonda”, the last grand ballet Marius Petipa created for the Maryinsky Theatre in 1898, revising the plot is a good idea. Its original libretto by Lidia Pashkova and Petipa, based on a medieval legend, features the noble lady Raymonda who nearly gets abducted by the lovestruck Saracen knight Abderakhman during a festivity but is saved just in time by her reputable fiancé, the knight Jean de Brienne. (more…)

Bringing Sparkle Back to the Homeland

“Les Ballets Bubeníček” (“L’Heure Bleue”, “The Piano”)
Nové Divadlo/ J.K. Tyl-Theater
Pilsen, Czech Republic
July 18, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Morariu, S.Vinograd and J.Bubeníček, “L'Heure Bleue” by J.Bubeníček, Les Ballets Bubeníček 2015 © S.Ballone Pilsen, the Czech Republic’s fourth biggest town, is located in Bohemia between Prague and Germany’s Nuremberg. First and foremost it is known for its pils, a type of pale lager beer produced there since 1842. This year Pilsen is making headlines for another reason: in addition to Belgium’s Mons, it is one of Europe’s Cultural Capitals. More than six hundred cultural events, ranging from theater performances to concerts, art exhibitions and other events are offered. The project which started in January is more than a short-lived affair, promising instead to boost the town’s popularity and fuel local cultural life for a long time to come. (more…)

Missing the Fizz

“KYLWORKS”
“All Ages Dance”
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
February 10, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiří Kylián in 2010 © S.Ligtenberg 2015One of Jiří Kylián’s merits as artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) – a post he held from 1975 to 1999 – was that in 1991 he initiated NDT III. The main company is NDT I, the juniors form NDT II. NDT III gave the seniors a platform to continue presenting their art. In 2006 the project was allowed to die for financial reasons. Kylián remained connected to NDT as a choreographer until 2009. During this time he created 74 works for NTD – nearly three-quarters of his entire body of work. With “KYLWORKS”, subtitled “All Ages Dance” he took up the idea of NDT III again. Kylián carefully selected six dancers, aged between thirty-five and sixty-five, all descending from various large companies, to present morsels of his work. The group does not form a company, Kylián declared in the small program, but rather represents the idea that everyone has absorbed the talent to dance from one’s infancy. Touring Germany, “KYLWORKS” also visited Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart, a sort of homeland for Kylián as his first contract as a dancer in the late 1970s, offered by John Cranko, was with Stuttgart Ballet. Moreover with Stuttgart’s Noverre Society, he took his first steps as choreographer. Also, Kylián’s muse, Sabine Kupferberg, often the main protagonist of many of his works, has strong bonds to Stuttgart. Trained in the John Cranko School she became a member of the company under Cranko’s directorship before joining NDT seven years later. Kylián and Kupferberg shared ways not only artistically but subsequently also privately. (more…)