People

Boris Akimov – Half a Century for the Bolshoi

Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Akimov, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovDid you watch the Bolshoi Ballet’s live broadcast last October on World Ballet Day? If so, you must remember the lean, white-haired man who taught morning class: Boris Akimov. The motivation he spread was contagious, his vigor stupendous. Akimov demonstrated the exercises, had an eye on everyone and, simply with his charisma, kept everyone’s attention focused. Katerina Novikova, head of the press office, had just revealed in her introductory words that Akimov has been working at the Bolshoi for fifty years, and yet no one could have imagined that he was seventy years old at the time.

Akimov danced with the company, directed it artistically and for decades since has been teaching, rehearsing and coaching not only dancers of the Bolshoi and other companies abroad, but also students of the Russian University of Theatre Arts. He has been honored and recognized for his artwork extensively, including receiving the “People’s Artist of the USSR” in 1989, the highest title Russia can bestow on an artist.

I met Akimov on March 10th at the Bolshoi Theatre to find out more about his career and artistic vision. Novikova kindly interpreted from Russian to English and vice versa.
Akimov’s answers are in italics. (more…)

Toer van Schayk – One Pillar of Dutch National Ballet

Dutch National Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.van Schayk working on the statue of Romeo and Juliet, Dutch National Ballet © R.HolleboomDutch National Ballet has been shaped by a troika of “van”: Rudi van Dantzig, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk, three fellow countrymen of roughly the same generation. Van Dantzig (1933 – 2012) became the company’s resident choreographer shortly after it emerged out of the Amsterdam Ballet and Nederlands Ballet fusion in 1961. He later co-directed the troupe for two decades before holding the director’s post. Since then, Hans van Manen, the Dutch doyen of choreographers, has created work for the company for more than forty years. Eighty-four-years old and still choreographing, he is internationally renowned. (more…)

Léon Bakst’s Flights of Fancy

“Bakst – Des Ballets Russes à la Haute Couture”
Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra Palais Garnier
Paris, France
January, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Cover of the program of the Ballets Russes season in Paris 1911: costume for a bacchanal from “Narcisse”, chor.: M.Fokine © BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra A waving bright orange veil waves around the bacchanal who boisterously dashes across the poster indicating the entry of the current exhibition at the Palais Garnier. Engrossed in sensual thoughts, she strides out so vigorously that her long black hair wafts behind her. This bacchanal sprang from the painter’s easel of Léon Bakst. A costume design for Michel Fokine’s “Narcisse”, it decorated the official program of the 1911 Ballets Russes season in Paris.

Bakst (1866 – 1924), born as Leyb-Khaim Izrailevich (later: Samoylovich) Rosenberg, a Russian painter, set and costume designer, became famous as a member of the illustrious circle around Sergey Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He worked for theaters all over the world and in all types of theater genres. In 2016 Bakst would have celebrated his 150th birthday. On this occasion the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Opéra national de Paris have been paying tribute to him in an exhibition at the Palais Garnier, which opened last November. 130 objects – paintings, drawings, sketches, photos, costumes, letters either by Bakst or by related artists and a video – are shown in a side wing of around 300 square meters. They are loans from various museums in Paris and Marseille, the Paris Opera, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and private collectors. (more…)

Fighting for Syria’s Dance Culture

Dutch National Ballet
Amsterdam, Netherlands
December, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Joudeh, National Ballet Academy / Dutch National Ballet © M.Schnater“Every day when I wake up I look around myself, wondering where I am” Ahmad Joudeh tells me. The Syrian dancer grew up and lived in Damascus until in October of this year he had the chance to come to Amsterdam. “The first month I couldn’t accept the situation. Electricity for 24 hours, and water, hot water, every time; there is heat and the house … it’s a very nice house.”

How did things come about? Prompted by a press release from Dutch National Ballet about Joudeh, I skyped with him a few days ago to learn more about his background. (more…)

Séverine Ferrolier – Queen of the Night, Ballerina and Osteopath-to-be

Bavarian State Ballet
Munich, Germany
October, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Ferrolier rehearsing “Giselle”, chor.: P.Wright after M.Petipa, J.Coralli and J.Perrot, Bavarian State Ballet 2016 © S.Ballone“I was a little catastrophe”, said Séverine Ferrolier, soloist of the Bavarian State Ballet. “I had so much energy as a child, I was always joking, horsing around and teasing my older brother. Like a little actress. I wasn’t shy.” Her self-description surprised me. The women, I was sitting opposite to in the rehearsal premises of the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, was mindfully serene, warm-hearted and centered in herself. We met in mid-October to talk about her career and her plans for the future. (more…)

A Conversation with Hans van Manen

Horst Koegler in Conversation with Hans van Manen in 1982
Altes Kammertheater
Stuttgart, Germany
October 31, 2016

transcribed and translated by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Hans van Manen, ca. 1980 © Gert WeigeltHorst Koegler (1927-2012) spoke with Hans van Manen in 1982 at the Altes Kammertheater in Stutt­gart during an evening of the Noverre Society, which at the time was directed by Fritz Höver. This article was edited from an audiotape that was transcribed and translated into English by Ilona Landgraf.
Photos courtesy of Dutch National Ballet, Ballett am Rhein, State Ballet Berlin, Stuttgart Ballet, Maryinsky Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet.The portraits of Hans van Manen and Horst Koegler are by Gert Weigelt. Please click to enlarge.

2. Horst Koegler, ca. 1980 © Gert WeigeltHans van Manen: You ask how I came to speak my German. I think that’s an inborn skill. My mother was German, but we never spoke much German at home. Yet it must be innate because I can speak a quite good German without knowing that many words. What I heard from my mother were mostly nonsense tongue twisters like “Ein Student in Stulpenstiefeln stand auf einem spitzen Stein. Starrte stundenlang auf die still stehenden Sterne.” I think that was the way I learned German. (more…)

Closing a Chapter

“Tribute to Otto and Jiří Bubeníček”
53. International Television Festival Golden Prague
Prague, Czech Republic
September 29, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O. and J.Bubeníček, “Tribute to Otto and Jiří Bubeníček”, International Television Festival Golden Prague © Czech Television 2016September 28th marked the opening of the annual International Television Festival Golden Prague. The city truly lived up to the festival’s title. Warm autumn sun bathed the beautiful historic facades in golden light, inviting the crowds of tourists to stroll in T-shirts and summer dresses. The five-day television festival took place on the New Stage of the National Theatre, located just behind the old theater house.

Loved by their countrymen, Otto and Jiří Bubeníček have regularly appeared on Czech TV. A new, one-hour documentary, produced by Jaroslav Bouček and directed by Martin Kubala, provides insight into the twins’ artistic and private lives during the last two and a half years. (more…)

“I feel like Lensky”

Semyon Chudin, Bolshoi Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
August, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin © Bolshoi TheatreI first saw Semyon Chudin dance in Stuttgart Ballet’s end-of-the season gala this July. He had danced the Wedding Pas de Deux from “Sleeping Beauty” next to Anna Osadcenko and immediately caught my attention. Chudin has an aura, which only a great personality is able to radiate.

As it happens the Bolshoi toured London for three weeks during this summer. One and a half weeks after the Stuttgart gala I sat in the Royal Opera House, watching the company in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “The Taming of the Shrew”. The following day I met Chudin in the Opera House’s cafeteria to talk about his career and his life offstage. We spoke twice, first in the afternoon, and, after rehearsals and with translation support by Sonia Serduk, a longstanding friend of Chudin from St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre, again in the evening. Chudin’s English is good but he feels more at ease when speaking Russian. I guess our group of three attracted attention as we had much fun.

Chudin is natural, kind and easy-going. He does not make the slightest attempt to cultivate a glossy image of himself or to feign a conformist mindset. Telling people what they want to hear isn’t his. The timbre of his voice simply reveals his true opinions. Centered in himself Chudin radiates calmness but at the same time is very self-critical. After the Stuttgart gala he asked Filip Baranciwicz and Mikhail Kaniskin to give him corrections. How many principals act in the same way? “One could always improve something. When you’re satisfied with yourself you should stop,” he later stated. (more…)

Giving Perspectives

Tigran Mikayelyan and “Forceful Feelings”
Munich, Germany
June, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Mikayelyan, Bavarian State Ballet © S,KletzschI doubt whether Armenia was on the international ballet map twenty years ago. That this has changed is due to Tigran Mikayelyan. He was the first to leave his home country in 1997 for the sake of dance. Others followed. In 2006 he founded the ballet troupe “Forceful Feelings” with his best friend, Arsen Mehrabyan. They were joined by three fellow Armenians, Arman Grigoryan, now soloist of the State Ballet Berlin, Vahe Martirosyan, first soloist of the Royal Swedish Ballet and Artur Babajanyan, who dances with the Joffrey Ballet. Mikayelyan is principal of the Bavarian State Ballet; Mehrabyan, also principal, dances with the Royal Swedish Ballet.

For a number of years the five have been building bridges for their art between their home country and the west. All were born in Yerevan, trained in the Armenian National Ballet School, and left their country to pursue their careers abroad. They are as close as brothers, not related by blood, but kindred spirits. Also their families are closely connected. Now geographically separated, their paths came together again in Zurich where they danced with Zurich Ballet under Heinz Spoerli’s tenure. The next performances of “Forceful Feelings” at the end of June will bring them back to Switzerland’s global city. (more…)

Turning Points

Bavarian State Ballet’s Matteo Dilaghi, Mia Rudic and Matej Urban
Munich, Germany
May, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Matteo Dilaghi, Bavarian State Ballet © S.Kletzsch 2. Mia Rudic, Bavarian State Ballet © S.Kletzsch3. Matej Urban, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl Pina Bausch’s “Für die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen” (“For the children of yesterday, today and tomorrow”), which entered the Bavarian State Ballet’s repertory just a few weeks ago, has since then caused a stir. Audiences, though divided at first, are meanwhile storming the box office. An extra performance has been scheduled. (more…)

A Unique Charisma

“Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater”
The Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany
Bonn, Germany
April 16, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. P.Bausch, photo by W.Krüger © Pina Bausch Foundation 2016“Actually I always wanted nothing but to dance. I had to dance. That was the language where I could express myself. I had never thought of becoming a choreographer.”

As is known things developed differently. Although reluctant at first, Pina Bausch took over as artistic director of the Wuppertal Opera ballet in 1973. She held the post for thirty-six years until her death in 2009. Her vision confronted the Wuppertal audience, up to then mainly used to classical ballet, with a radical change. While in Bausch’s first dance evening Kurt Jooss’s “The Green Table” and Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo” framed her own new choreography “Fritz” – already the title was deemed provocative – , future programs were all-Bausch. Her troupe no longer was a ballet company but the “Tanztheater Wuppertal”.

2. P.Bausch rehearsing “A Choreographer Comments” by Antony Tudor, Juillard School, New York 1960 © Impact Photos Inc., Juillard Archives During the following decades more than forty full-evening programs came into being. From the outset Bausch wanted her audience to watch and listen closely. She almost forced spectators to reflect upon themselves, their relationships, the hidden reasons of their emotions. “Could we really afford to kill our precious time with operetta-like distractions as if we have already solved all our problems?” she pointed out in an interview with the dramaturg Edmund Gleede in 1975.
Bausch never followed a special style or aimed to develop a genre. Her pieces arose from the questions she was bothered by. A piece’s character resulted out of the search for answers, which Bausch described as a very painful process, a constant struggle. (more…)

Keeping Cranko’s Heritage Vivid

Georgette Tsinguirides
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart, Germany
December, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Georgette Tsinguirides © Roman Novitzky 2015Reviving a ballet from the repertory or mounting it for another company isn’t just learning the steps. The most crucial part of the work is to make the role speak. In story ballets, the characters’ personalities have to come across authentically. Most of all the choreographer’s intentions must have priority.

Today, when starting rehearsals, ballet masters and dancers usually refer to videos of former performances. They are the perfect tools to convey a piece’s atmosphere, the steps and lifts of a pas de deux or a solo variation. Depending on the perspective of the camera they also depict group patterns. But other details are lost. What exactly is each member of the corps doing from the third line back? What is the posture hidden by the costume? Learning from videos promotes copying. But isn’t the goal to develop one’s own interpretation of the role?

Stuttgart Ballet also draws on videos when reviving old choreography. The ballet masters’ and Reid Anderson’s recollections are trustworthy too. They have danced the ballets many times themselves. But first and foremost the company relies on Georgette Tsinguirides, choreologist, ballet mistress and coach. (more…)

True to Himself

True to Himself
Jiří Jelínek
Gelsenkirchen, Germany
November, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiří Jelinek © Stuttgart Ballet Jiří Jelínek’s dance career has been a journey. Born and trained in Prague he literally danced at the other end of the world, that is in Australia. Crisscrossing the world he gained invaluable experience with various companies and diverse repertories. Recently he danced with the Ballett im Revier in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. I took the rare opportunity to meet him the day after his last show in a café in Gelsenkirchen to talk about his career and his life.

Jelínek started to dance at the age of seven. A boy full of energy, he loved to move; he was very often outside, running around, playing and quarreling with his friends. The dance lessons in a children’s group was one hobby of several. “Then, when I was ten years old my mother urged me to audition for the Dance Conservatory in Prague. They took me and in the following four years I learned the basics.” (more…)

“As an artist it is my duty to speak up.”

Fabien Voranger
Dresden, Germany
November 30, 2015

Interviewed by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

Fabien Voranger, photo: Ian Whalen 2015Fabien Voranger, principal dancer of Semperoper Ballet Dresden, is French. Confronted with the terror attacks in Paris a few weeks ago he feels compelled to comment on the events.

“First, there is the right to free speech, which was massively threatened by the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January this year. As an artist I am grounded in freedom of expression. Second, the biggest massacre of the recent terror attacks in Paris happened in Bataclam, a music club. The theater, the stage is my home. This time the target was a music club, but what places might be attacked in the future?”

“What has happened is horrible and it is my duty to take action. I don’t want to focus on politics or discuss whether one religion is more right or wrong than another. Instead I feel the need, the responsibility, to fight for keystones of our culture: freedom of expression and pluralism. Culture evolves through influence from outside. Without that input it wouldn’t develop. We all know that. Therefor we should be courageous and take a clear stance. We believe in what can be achieved by art. We have an opinion. Ballet dancers are not naive. Hence we should encourage, foster and defend diversity. It is our fertile soil.” (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…)