Companies

Fiendishly Fine

“Master and Margarita”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage)
Moscow, Russia
October 29, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Ovcharenko (Master) and E.Krysanova (Margarita), “Master and Margarita” by E.Clug, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / Batyr Anadurdiev I was skeptical whether Edward Clug was the right choice to tackle Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita”. A Russian choreographer seemed better equipped to adapt this landmark of Soviet literature for the ballet stage than a Romanian-born working in Maribor, Slovenia. Two years after its premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre, I was able to watch Clug’s “Master and Margarita” – and my reservations were proven thoroughly wrong. It’s a fabulous blend of entertainment and food for thought, brimful of metaphors and allusions. Yuri Possokhov, Clug’s Russian colleague, currently preparing a new piece for the Bolshoi, is full of appreciation for “Master and Margarita” as well. I met him at another performance where he told me that Clug understands the Russian soul perfectly well.

Interestingly, Clug, together with Christian Spuck (then artistic director of Zurich Ballet) intended to stage “Master and Margarita” in Zurich in 2015, but their plan was thwarted when the theater’s research revealed that ticket sales would be uncertain because the Zurich audience wasn’t familiar with Bulgakov’s novel. Destiny brought the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director Makhar Vaziev to the scene who decided to stage the piece in Moscow.

A lifetime could be spent exploring Bulgakov’s political and social satire and the biblical questions raised by the novel. In short “The Master and Margarita” (published only after Bulgakov’s death in 1940, first in an edited serial form in 1966/67 and uncensored in 1973) intertwines two plots: (1) the mayhem caused by the Satan (alias Professor Woland) and his entourage when visiting Moscow in the 1930s, and (2) the trial of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem during Pontius Pilate’s governance. The connecting link is the Master, a Muscovite author (and Bulgakov’s alter ego) whose latest manuscript tells the Jerusalem plot. Margarita is the woman who loves him and – unlike Moscow’s critics – his work. (more…)

An Own Goal

Wiebke Hüster / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Some days ago, an article by Wiebke Hüster, leading dance critic of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, caught my attention (FAZ, October 07, 2023). Hüster wrote on the upcoming premiere of “Last Work” at the Hessian State Ballet. “Last Work” is by the Israeli Ohad Naharin – and he was the one Hüster objected. (more…)

Sorting Out

“Catharsis Dante”
Russian State Ballet of Siberia
Hvorostovsky Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre
Krasnoyarsk, Russia
June 30, 2023 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Botenkov (Sisyphus) and ensemble, “Catharsis Dante” by N.Dmitrievsky, Hvorostovsky Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre 2023 © Y.Raskova This April, the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theatre scored a double victory at Russia’s Golden Mask Awards. Their reconstruction of “Catherine ou la fille du bandit” won the prize for the best ballet production and the best female part. I was curious about the company’s repertoire, but failed because of the distance. Krasnoyarsk is in Siberia, around 2400 miles east of Moscow. Luckily, Nikita Dmitrievsky helped me out. His ballet “Catharsis Dante” received its world premiere at the Krasnoyarsk Ballet this June and Dmitrievsky sent me a recording without much ado.

His name is well-known in Russia, where he realizes the majority of his dance projects, but he also worked in the Netherlands, UK, Israel, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Finland. An allrounder, Dmitrievsky is choreographer, artistic director, producer, filmmaker, lighting designer, and teacher in one. Costume design doesn’t seem to be on his spectrum and in the case of “Catharsis Dante” is by Inna Zaitseva. (more…)

Refurbished

“Swan Lake”
The Australian Ballet
Arts Centre Melbourne / State Theatre
Melbourne, Australia
September 29, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Bemet (Odette), J.Caley (Prince Siegfried), and ensemble, “Swan Lake” by A.Woolliams after M.Petipa, The Australian Ballet 2023 © K.Longley The sixtieth anniversary season of the Australian Ballet called for the crème de la crème of classical ballet: “Swan Lake”. Of the several versions kept in the company’s archive, artistic director David Hallberg decided to reinvent Anne Woolliams’s 1977 rendition. Hallberg, for whom this project marked his debut as a director, commissioned a fresh look, but kept 95% of Woolliams’s choreography. The remaining parts were contributed not by himself (“I’m definitely not a choreographer”, he stated during last Friday’s livestream), but by the Australian choreographer Lucas Jervies.

Woolliams’s “Swan Lake” opens with a prologue, in which the malicious von Rothbart casts a spell over captivated maidens, transforming them into obedient swans. The following four acts are in line with the traditional libretto, but include some noteworthy details. At his birthday party, the prince doesn’t meet his potential fiancées face-to-face, but is confronted with a political choice between the crowns presented by ambassadors from Spain, Hungary, and Italy. The related princesses only attend the ball in Act III, where they lead their country’s delegation of folk dancers. (more…)

Twice as Tragic

“Swan Lake”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
September 27, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Celeste Losa (Odette), “Swan Lake” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Teatro alla Scala 2023 © Teatro alla ScalaLast Wednesday’s livestream of “Swan Lake” was the third such event since Manuel Legris took over the artistic reins of the Teatro alla Scala’s ballet company in December 2020. What a pity that I missed the previous livestreams – “Le Corsaire” and “Romeo and Juliet”!

La Scala dances a version of Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake” that, if I’m not mistaken, is the one he created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984. As all of his ballets, this one has jam-packed choreography. Last time it was shown in Milan in 2014 under the directorship of Makhar Vaziev. After Vaziev left to the Bolshoi Ballet in 2015, La Scala’s company entered unsteady waters. Legris’s guidance seems to be returning the company to its previous standards. Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi (former colleagues at the Bolshoi and meanwhile at Dutch National Ballet) guested in the leading roles twice. The livestream was given to in-house soloists – Maria Celeste Losa (Odette / Odile) and Navrin Turnbull (Prince Siegfried). (more…)

Other than Bright

“Four Temperaments” (“The Four Temperaments” / “The Chairman Dances” / “Frank Bridge Variations” / Full Frontal” / extra: “After the Rain”)

Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
September 17, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. F.Eimers and J.Spunda, “The Four Temperaments” by G.Balanchine, Dutch National Ballet 2023 © M.Haegeman 2. J.Xuan and D.Ramos, “The Four Temperaments” by G.Balanchine, Dutch National Ballet 2023 © M.Haegeman 3. M.Makhateli and V.Caixeta, “The Four Temperaments” by G.Balanchine, Dutch National Ballet 2023 © M.Haegeman It’s unclear whether the Dutch National Ballet’s new mixed bill “Four Temperaments” took its title from one of the pieces – George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” – or alludes to the different personalities of all choreographers involved. Next to Balanchine are the company’s artistic director Ted Brandsen, doyen Hans van Manen, and the Spaniard Juanjo Arqués, a regular contributor to the repertory. Let’s disclose later, why Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” was added as an extra to the matinee.

Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” relates to the Hippocratic medical concept of humourism that four bodily fluids (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and mucus) affect human personality traits and behaviors. Depending on which fluid dominates, an individual is melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic, or choleric. For what would become his first piece for Ballet Society (the predecessor of New York City Ballet) in 1946, Balanchine commissioned a half-hour score by Paul Hindemith. (more…)

More, Please!

“Suite en blanc” / “Windgames”
Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón
Teatro Colón
Buenos Aires, Argentina
August 06, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Suite en blanc” by S.Lifar, Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón 2023 © A.Colombaroli Recently, the Teatro Colón has expanded its online program which gives me hope to watch the company more often. This Sunday, the premiere of a new double bill was streamed live. It comprised Serge Lifar’s “Suite en blanc” (1943) and Patrick de Bana’s “Windgames” (2013). (more…)

Fissures

“Jewels”
The Australian Ballet
Arts Centre Melbourne / State Theatre
Melbourne, Australia
July 06, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Hedditch, K.Sonnekus, and L.Kiyoto-Ward, “Jewels” by G.Balanchine, The Australian Ballet 2023 © R.Lantry David Hallberg, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, has a knack for presenting his company in a complimentary light. Of the many troupes which streamed their performances live during the pandemic, only the Australians have maintained and enhanced this practice. The most recent livestream proved their ability to produce a compelling digital program. Livinia Nixon, who gave her debut as presenter alongside the ever-smiling Hallberg, kept me glued to the screen during the intervals, offering a steady flow of interesting interviews and behind-the-scenes clips. Each of them revealed the warmth and camaraderie within the company that has so often been mentioned in previous livestreams.

Celebrating their sixtieth anniversary this season, the company presented a sparkling new acquisition – Balanchine’s “Jewels” (1967) complete with Barbara Karinska’s sumptuous original costumes. One year of painstaking handicraft was spent on the latter’s recreation, requiring many volunteering hands and two months to sew and glue more than 29.500 beads, crystals, and pearls to dresses, tops, and tiaras. (more…)

What to Choose for a Party

“Ildikó Pongor 70 Ballet Gala”
Hungarian National Ballet
Hungarian State Opera
Budapest, Hungary
June 24, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Pongor, “Ildikó Pongor 70 Ballet Gala”, Hungarian National Ballet 2023 © A.Nagy / Hungarian State Opera One month after the Iván Nagy Ballet Gala, the Hungarian State Opera hosted another festive ballet evening – a birthday gala in honor of Ildikó Pongor, veteran artist of the company, who turned seventy earlier this June. Pongor spent almost her entire professional life at the Hungarian National Ballet, first as a dancer, then as artistic director, ballet master, and co-choreographer. She also worked internationally in Vienna and Stockholm, among others.
The brief compilation of archival videos and photos that opened the gala made it clear within seconds: Pongor has an effervescent energy whose positivity is infectious, even on celluloid. Regrettably, I don’t speak Hungarian and was unable to follow the round of talks. Her colleagues, Mária Aradi, Katalin Csarnóy, and Imre Dózsa, shared memories about Pongor’s career; the humor that sparkled in Pongor’s eyes while listening indicated that she was pleased. (more…)

Prix Benois Laureates 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 21, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Yesterday evening, this year’s laureates of the Prix Benois were announced on the Historic Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.

1. J.Ryu, C.Kerche, and Q.Yunting, Prix Benois de la Danse, Bolshoi Theatre 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / B.Annadurdyev2. M.Kang, Prix Benois de la Danse, Bolshoi Theatre 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / B.AnnadurdyevQiu Yunting (National Ballet of China) and Misun Kang (Universal Ballet, South Korea) share the prize for the best female dancer. Yunting was nominated for her performance of Tatiana in John Cranko’s “Onegin”, Kang for her interpretation of the Widow in Bingxian Liu’s “Mirinaegil”. Hugo Marchand (Paris Opera Ballet) was awarded the prize for the best male dancer. He didn’t attend the ceremony. Vyacheslav Samodurov won the prize for the best choreography for “Dancemania” – a creation for the Bolshoi Ballet.

Mikhail Lavrovsky, People’s Artist of the USSR, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. (more…)

Dancer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
June 17, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Eleven dancers from five nations are nominated for this year’s Prix Benois. Of the six women and five men, one dances in South-Korea, four in Russia, and two each in China, France, and Kazakhstan. This Tuesday the laureates will be announced in an award ceremony at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

Here’s a short overview on the nominees:
1. M.Elchibayeva, Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay © Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay 2. M.Elchibayeva, Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay © Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after AbayMalika Elchibayeva, leading soloist of the Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is nominated for her performance as Queen Shamkhat in “Frescoes” by Zaurbek Raibayev. Gulzhan Tutkibayeva, artistic director of the company, describes Elchibayeva as having “an outstanding appearance, beautiful texture, a professional school, and acting skills. For 5 years in the theater, Elchibayeva has performed almost all the leading parts of the ballet repertoire. In the role of the Queen Shamkhat she is organic, expressive, and managed to fully convey the idea of the ballet master Raibaev.” (more…)

Choreographer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Li Jun / Maša Kolar / Wayne McGregor / Vyacheslav Samodurov
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
June 15, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

On June 20th, the Bolshoi Theatre hosts the annual Prix Benois ceremony, followed by a gala on June 21st. Prizes will be awarded for the best choreographer, and the best female and male dancers. Mikhail Lavrovsky will be honored for his lifetime achievement.

Four choreographers are competing this year:
1. “Where to Pour All My Love?” by L.Jun, National Ballet of China © National Ballet of China 2. “Where to Pour All My Love?” by L.Jun, National Ballet of China © National Ballet of ChinaLi Jun, dancer-choreographer of the National Ballet of China, is nominated for “Where to Pour All My Love?”, a twenty-minute piece set to music by Zhao Jiping. It premiered at the company’s 12th ballet workshop in April 2022. Jun’s source of inspiration was the Chinese multi-episode TV drama “Da Zhai Men” (Grand Mansion Gate) which traces the history of a Beijing-based family from the late Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) to World War II. “Where to Pour All My Love?” focuses on Bai Yuting – one member of this family – whose love for Peking Opera gets out of control. (more…)

Mighty

“Ivan the Terrible”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 06, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova (Anastasia) and I.Vasiliev (Ivan the Terrible), “Ivan the Terrible” by Y.Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov For Yuri Grigorovich’s “Ivan the Terrible” at the Bolshoi Ballet I needed some preparation. The biography by the late Ruslan Skrynnikov (1931 – 2009), a research professor at St. Petersburg State University and a leading historian of early modern Russia, seemed useful. Although it was instructive, the reading was tedious. Skrynnikov is a painstaking sociopolitical analyst, an expert in imparting the cruelty of medieval life, but I learned little about the person Ivan the Terrible (1530 – 1584). Interestingly, his nickname terrible results from a misleading translation of the actual epithet Грозный (grozny) which – according the Russian lexicographer Vladimir Dal (1801 – 1872) – can be translated as “courageous, magnificent, magisterial and keeping enemies in fear, but people in obedience”. A “tsar who managed to keep everything under control” – that’s how ballet legend Ivan Vasiliev (who’s regularly performed the role) describes Ivan the Terrible in an interview (subtitled in English and very much worth seeing), adding that “when you bear responsibility for such a huge country, you cannot lose control.” (more…)

The Very Essence

Swan Lake”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia

June 05, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Drodzdova (Odile) and V.Tedeev (Prince Siegfried), “Swan Lake” by V.Burmeister and L.Ivanov, Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 1974 © Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2. M.Drodzdova (Odette), “Swan Lake” by V.Burmeister and L.Ivanov, Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre © Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 3. O.Kardash, K.Ryzhkova, M.Drodzdova, and K.Shevtsova; “Swan Lake” by V.Burmeister and L.Ivanov, Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2023 © Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre When I arrived at the Stanislavsky Theatre’s royal blue auditorium for Vladimir Burmeister’s 1953 version of “Swan Lake” I had no clue what was awaiting me. No one had told me that this performance wasn’t a regular one, but dedicated to Margarita Drodzdova, People’s Artist of the USSR, who spent almost her entire career at the Stanislavsky Ballet. A leading ballerina, many roles were tailored especially to her. After her farewell from the stage in 1987, Drodzdova continued to work as a teacher, passing her knowledge to future generations of dancers.

On the occasion of Drodzdova’s 75th birthday on May 7th, the Stanislavsky Ballet honored her with a special “Swan Lake” that featured three of her coachees in the roles of Odette and Odile. (more…)

Invincible

“The Flames of Paris”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 04, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Kokoreva (Jeanne), V.Lantratov (Philippe), and ensemble; “The Flames of Paris” by V.Vainonen, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.Fetisova “A highly unlikely work” – commented the late Clement Crisp in his Financial Times review about “The Flames of Paris”, which the Bolshoi Ballet performed at the Royal Opera House as part of their 2016 London tour. He argued that the dramatic scheme was papery and the chief roles were predictable.
I checked myself, watching the 85th performance of the latest production at the Bolshoi Ballet’s home base in Moscow.

“The Flames of Paris”, first staged in 1932 at the Kirov Theater in Leningrad (today’s Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg) is about how French revolutionaries turned politics and society upside down. Its rousing score by Boris Asafiev draws on music by Lully and Rameau, including the Marseillaise, and climaxes in the powerful revolutionary song “Ça ira”. In 2008, the Bolshoi Ballet’s then artistic director Alexey Ratmansky restored and revised Vasily Vainonen’s original choreography. Nikolai Volkov’s and Vladimir Dmitriev’s libretto, initially spanning four acts, was condensed to two acts. It tells the story of the revolutionaries’ march to Paris and their storming of the Bastille in July 1789. Oblivious to the people’s fury, the monarchy and its representatives continue to debauch in festivities (including a court ballet) at Versailles, but eventually apprehend the looming danger. Puppets of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette are already mangled by the crowd, soon to seize the palace. (more…)