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Choreographer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2024

Prix Benois de la Danse
Martin Chaix, Marco Goecke, Jo Kanamori, Yuri Possokhov, and Maxim Sevagin
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre2. Statuette of the Prix Benois de la Danse, design by Igor Ustinov © Benois Center On June 25th, the Bolshoi Theatre will host the annual Prix Benois charity gala and awards ceremony. It will be followed by a gala concert on June 26th during which laureates of previous years will perform. Prizes will be awarded to the best choreographer and the best female and male dancers. Below is an overview of the five nominated choreographers in alphabetical order. A report on the nominated dancers will follow.

Martin Chaix, a former dancer with the Paris Opéra Ballet, the Leipzig Ballet, and Ballett am Rhein, has worked as a freelance choreographer since 2016. Giselle is his second piece for the Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin. Feminist movements (e.g., Femen, MeToo, and #TimesUp) inspired Chaix to create a modern interpretation whose characters reflect contemporary society. His Giselle meets Albrecht in a subway station somewhere in today’s Eastern Germany, but instead of dying upon discovering his infidelity, Giselle joins Myrtha’s gender-fluid street gang in an urban park. Myrtha facilitates Giselle’s self-discovery, which culminates in Giselle’s and Albrecht’s reconciliation.
Chaix has both men and women dance on pointe. The music combines parts of Adolphe Adam’s original score and Louise Farrenc’s (1804-1875) symphonies. Thomas Mika designed the sets; Catherine Voeffray was in charge of the costumes.
Marco Goecke, associate choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) and newly appointed artistic director of the Ballet at the Theater Basel, was nominated for In the Dutch Mountains, his first full-evening piece for NDT. It’s a typical “Goecke” in appearance and style—tense, odd, and enigmatic. For Goecke, “The Dutch mountains,” which do not exist in the flat country of Holland, are the stage floor, “which you always have to climb when you make a work.” Although the piece is plotless, the shoreline of a rough sea on the backdrop as well as the songs reminiscent of sea and nature by This Mortal Coil connect it to the Netherlands to which In the Dutch Mountains pays tribute. The music also includes compositions by Béla Bartók, Johannes Brahms, and the Amsterdam pop band Nits.

 

Jo Kanamori studied and danced in Europe before returning to Japan in 2002 where he took up the artistic reins at the Dance Department at Niigata City Performing Arts Center. He developed KAGUYAHIME, which he created for the Tokyo Ballet, over time. Act I premiered in November 2021 and Act II in April 2023. In 2023, Kanamori completed Act III and combined it with reworked versions of the previous acts to form the final piece. It’s accompanied by Claude Debussy’s piano compositions.
KAGUYAHIME is based on Japan’s oldest surviving literary tale, which was written in the late 9th or early 10th century. Kanamori’s adaption tells the story of the poor bamboo cutter Okina who, thanks to the help of fairies, discovers a tiny princess in a bamboo stalk. He names her Kaguyahime meaning “princess from the Moon.”

Once grown up, Kaguyahime falls in love with the orphan Douji. When Kaguyahime is brought to court, her beauty is admired by many suitors, including the emperor of Japan. Douji’s attempt to free Kaguyahime fails as does Okina’s plan to marry her away profitably. In the meantime, Kaguyahime’s former home, the bamboo grove, was destroyed due to avarice and a war between the villagers and the court chancellors breaks out. The warring parties see reason only when Kaguyahime’s soul, assisted by the fairies, ascends to her home, the moon.

Yuri Possokhov regularly choreographs for the Bolshoi Ballet. His latest work, The Queen of Spades, interprets Pushkin’s eponymous short story for the ballet stage, a genre from which it has been previously absent. The story’s anti-hero, the Imperial army officer-cum-gambler, Hermann, tries to squeeze a card player trick out of an old countess by feigning interest in her young ward, Lisa. Lisa allows Hermann into the house where he confronts the countess so harshly that the old lady dies of fright. Her ghost seems to reveal the secret card trick to Hermann but ultimately fools him. Lisa abandons Hermann in disgust upon learning his true motives. He ends up a madman in an asylum.

Valery Pecheykin, dramaturge at the Gogol Center Moscow, contributed an iridescent libretto with nuanced irony. The music of Tchaikovsky’s eponymous opera and his other compositions comprise the foundation of Yuri Krasavin’s score. Krasavin also included a countertenor who accompanies the countess’s ghost.
The main structure of Polina Bhaktina’s set is a giant cement-colored imperial hall whose crumbling stucco, arched galleries, and dim mirror on the backdrop are reminiscent of the collapse of an empire.

Maxim Sevagin, artistic director of the Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre, was nominated for Class-Concert, a one-act ballet created for his own company. It shows all the ranks of a company in a ballet class sometime between the 19th and 20th centuries. They treat hard work with a sense of professional irony that turns everyday endeavor into a fun game. Inventive group patterns, female variations, and pas de deux climax in a virtuoso pas de deux danced by bygone stars Anna Pavlova and Enrico Cecchetti. In the final, all dancers demonstrate their prowess.
Murky mirrors, elongated tutus, culottes, and vests designed by Vladimir Arefiev define the period as does the music by Daniel Auber and Jacques Offenbach.

3. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre

Links: Website of the Prix Benois de la Danse
Website of Martin Chaix
Website of the Ballet de l’Opéra national du Rhin
Website of the Nederlands Dans Theater
Website of Jo Kanamori/Noism Company Niigata
Website of the Tokyo Ballet
Website of Yuri Possokhov
Website of the Bolshoi Theatre
Website of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Videos: “Giselle” – Teaser
“Giselle”- Excerpt Act I
  “Giselle” – Excerpt Act II
  “In the Dutch Mountains” – Trailer
  “KAGUYAHIME” – Excerpt Act I
  “KAGUYAHIME”- Trailer
  The full version of “KAGUYAHIME” can be watched on MediciTV.
  “The Queen of Spades” – Premiere
  Open Reherasal of “Class-Concert”, June 9, 2023
Photos: 1. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov
2. Statuette of the Prix Benois de la Danse, design by Igor Ustinov © Benois Center
3. Bolshoi Theatre © Damir Yusupov
Editing: Kayla Kauffman

Laureates of the XVIII Russian Open Ballet Competition Arabesque 2024

“Gala Concert”
Perm State Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre
Perm, Russia
April 27, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Awardees, Gala Concert of the Ballet Competition Arabesque 2024 © A.Chuntomov Last weekend, Perm’s ten-day Ballet Competition Arabesque closed with two gala concerts performed by laureates and diploma winners. Many were Russians, but young dancers from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Armenia, Brazil, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and Great Britain also won awards. Thanks to many live streams, dance enthusiasts could easily follow the tournament. Saturday’s gala was the last broadcast and again presented by Aleksandra Domracheva. The first half was reserved for the award ceremony; during the second half, twenty-two of the thirty-nine prize winners performed a mixed program of solos and pas de deux. Treasures from the video archive from previous laureates and a well-made backstage video filmed during this year’s contemporary performance were shown during the break. Sunday’s gala had a different program, which included further awardees. (more…)

XVIII Russian Open Ballet Competition Arabesque – 2024 named after Ekaterina Maximova

“Gala Concert”
Perm State Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre
Perm, Russia
April 17, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, Gala Concert of the Ballet Competition Arabesque 2024 © A.Chuntomov “Perm is remarkable in that it’s Ballet Lovers’ Society initiated the first Russian ballet competition,” stated Russia’s dance icon, Vladimir Vasiliev. Though it was mainly an event for young Russian dancers at its inauguration in 1988, four years later, the biannual Arabesque Competition welcomed participants from the U.S.A. and Japan. In 1996, the same Ballet Lovers’ Society coaxed Vasiliev and his wife, Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009)—Russia’s most prestigious ballet couple—to lead the jury. (Notably, Arabesque has a two-tier jury consisting of renowned dancers and ballet and theater critics.) In addition, Vasiliev became its artistic director. This year’s run is dedicated to the 85th anniversary of the birth of Maximova.

At the opening gala concert, director, Elena Zavershinskaya, recalled how Arabesque has grown: “Over the years, the spectrum of prizes increased thanks to generous donations and so did the amount of countries that participated. We used to have dancers from 8-9 countries and were quite happy with that. Seventy applicants were a big figure; eighty were many. Once we had one-hundred applicants and were so excited! Now, however, young talents from nineteen countries participate, among them dancers from twenty-three regions of Russia. This year we received a record-high of 266 applications!” (more…)

Prix de Lausanne 2024

“Rising Stars”
Théâtre de Beaulieu
Lausanne, Switzerland
February 04, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Finalists, Prix de Lausanne 2024 © G.BatardonYear after year, the organization team of the Prix de Lausanne has done a great job offering its online audience insight into the competition. This year, the one-week event concluded with a newly launched Rising Stars gala, which presented the finalists and three new choreographies. It was also streamed live. (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…)

Brilliant!

“Anna Karenina”
The Australian Ballet
Arts Center Melbourne / State Theatre
Melbourne, Australia
March 08, 2022 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2022 by Ilona Landgraf

1. R.Hendricks (Anna Karenina) and C.Linnane (Count Alexei Vronsky), “Anna Karenina” by Y.Possokhov, The Australian Ballet 2022 © J.BusbyWhile western cancel culture appears to be targeting all things Russian, the Australian Ballet points the way towards cooperation. This February, a ballet about an icon of Russian culture – Tolstoy’s epic novel “Anna Karenina” – premiered in Melbourne. Co-produced with the Joffrey Ballet and decorated with the 2021 Prix Benois for best choreography, it was a prime example of the uniting power of the arts. Its US-based choreographer Yuri Possokhov was born in Luhansk / Ukraine; the composer Ilya Demutsky, a frequent collaborator of Possokhov, is Russian. Valeriy Pecheykin, an Uzbeg working at Moscow’s Gogol Center, wrote the libretto. Set and costumes are by the British designer Tom Pye. Finn Ross, also a Brit, oversaw the video projections, and US-born David Finn created the lighting. (more…)

Dancers’ Choice

Spring Special”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
April 05, 2021 (online)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Tonoli, S.Yamada, J.Spunda, and S.Leverashvili (Peasants), “Giselle“ by M.Petipa after J.Coralli and J.Perrot, production and additional choreography by R.Beaujean and R.Bustamante, Dutch National Ballet 2021 © H.GerritsenFor most artists, the flow of opportunities for performance on home stages or abroad has either thinned to a trickle or dried up altogether since the onset of the pandemic. The Dutch National Ballet filled some of those gaps with a “Spring Special” -gala that featured a selection of ten short pieces in total – eight excerpts from the company’s existing repertory, one new acquisition, and one world premiere. Each dancer was able to choose which piece to perform in (with appropriate attention to pandemic-related restrictions of group size). All of the principals, several soloists, and one member of the corps de ballet participated. The gala was streamed live on April 5th. A second broadcast is scheduled for April 10, 2021 (more…)

Leader(s) and Followers

“Five Years and Three Days With Makhar Vaziev”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 26, 2021 (documentary)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Tsvirko and M.Vaziev after a performance of “Ivan the Terrible”, “Ivan the Terrible” by Y. Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / G.Uféras This year marks the fifth season with Makhar Vaziev as head of the Bolshoi Ballet. Upon this occasion, the Bolshoi Theatre released the TV documentary “Five Years and Three Days with Makhar Vaziev”, which is also available on YouTube (and includes English subtitles). For three days at the end of January, a film crew followed Vaziev from meeting to rehearsal to performance and back again, conducting several interviews along the way. Despite COVID-19, everyday work has continued at the Bolshoi. We witness the company’s preparations for two revivals: a performance of “Nureyev”, supervised by its stage director and set designer Kirill Serebrennikov, and a re-run of Sergei Vikharev’s version of “Coppélia(more…)

Second International Ballet Conference at Dutch National Ballet

“Positioning Ballet 2019”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

February 16/17, 2019
by Ilona Landgraf

Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

This February, the Dutch National Ballet welcomed international dance professionals for a two-day working meeting at the second “Positioning Ballet” conference. In 2017, at the first iteration of the event, the key topics were heritage, diversity, and identity. The 2019 meeting dealt with the relevance of ballet in the 21st century, the work culture ballet aims to embody, and the types of leadership required from artistic directors. Unlike in 2017, this year’s conference was closed for the press on the first day. As such, I missed the two keynote speeches – one by Jennifer Homans, the author of “Apollo’s Angels”, and the other by Theresa Ruth Howard, the founder and curator of MoBBallet (Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet) – and the discussions that followed. Homans spoke about internal and external threats to the arts and ballet in particular, while Howard’s speech was titled “The Deconstruction of the Anatomy of Culture and Leadership in Ballet”. (more…)

Good News

I’m happy to announce that the blog will be re-opened in a few days.

Ilona Landgraf
December 18, 2018

A Personal Matter

It is time for a personal matter to go public.

I’m sorry to have to say that this blog is closing.
It has become impossible for me to continue traveling to dance performances while having to work at another job to support myself.
Many thanks to the readers – your support was hugely encouraging!
The site will remain on-line for a while.

Ilona Landgraf
25 February 2018

Wasted Effort?

“Gala des Étoiles”
Grand Théâtre
Luxembourg
May 20, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Tamazlacaru and I.Salenko / State Ballet Berlin, “Chopiniana” by M.Fokin, Gala des Étoiles 2017 © P.Abbondanza Luxembourg, one of the smallest sovereign states in Europe, has no ballet tradition. To change this is the aim of former dancer Natascha Ipatova and Georges Rischette, both founders of the Luxembourg dance school DanceXperience. This year’s two galas on May 20th and 21st mark the fifth year in succession trying to wet the Luxembourg audience’s appetite for the art form. Unlike the suggestive title of the event, no étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet were involved. Instead, there were leading principals and their colleagues from various international companies. (more…)

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin on “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Vienna State Ballet
Moscow / Vienna
April 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “Swan Lake” by Y.Grigorovich after M.Petipa, L.Ivanov and A.Gorsky, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovIn mid-May Vienna State Ballet revives Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake,” the version he choreographed for the company in 1964. The new set and costumes are by Luisa Spinatelli. Four guest dancers will take the leading roles in the course of the run. The Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin dance twice, on May 14th and 17th; on June 4th Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov of The Royal Ballet guest in Vienna. The last performance on Monday, June 12th, will be streamed live on the internet.

While “Swan Lake” is Smirnova’s debut in Vienna, Chudin returns for the third time to the Austrian capital. Two weeks before opening night I asked both about their roles and about Nureyev’s production in particular. Smirnova, who at that time was in Moscow, answered in written form. Katerina Novikova, head of the Bolshoi’s press office, kindly translated Smirnova’s answers into English. Chudin, already rehearsing with the company in Vienna, talked with me via Skype. (more…)

Noverre Evening 2017

“Young Choreographers”
Noverre Society
Schauspielhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
April 20, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.McGowan and E.Comak, “Fraternal | Stories” by A.McGowan and E.Comak, Noverre Society Stuttgart – Young Choreographers 2017 © R.NovitzkyTwelve young choreographers presented their works to the public as part of this season’s two Noverre Evenings – Stuttgart’s platform for aspiring choreographers of dance. Two of the choreographers are female. Two of the ten pieces are collaborative works. Seven originated from within the ranks of the Stuttgart Ballet, and three were created by individual dancers from Lyon, Munich and Mannheim. Notably, none included point work. The quality of the works varied, but each was warmly applauded and some raised enthusiastic cheers. (more…)