People

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…)

Forsythe’s Understanding of Choreography

“William Forsythe, The Fact of Matter”
Museum of Modern Art
Frankfurt/Main, Germany
October 18, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Portrait William Forsythe, 2015, MMK FrankfurtWhen it comes to William Forsythe, one first of all associates the choreographer with Stuttgart Ballet, Ballet Frankfurt and The Forsythe Company, his main places of activity, but pieces by Forsythe are danced worldwide. This spring, after ten years Forsythe as director of The Forsythe Company stepped back. During his tenure’s last period health problems had already forced him to withdraw from the forefront, reducing his involvement to advisory support. Meanwhile his drive seems revived. As of late Forsythe holds a professorship of dance at the University of Southern California and, in addition, became associate choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Now the Museum für Moderne Kunst (Museum of Modern Art, MMK) in Frankfurt dedicates an exhibition to the sixty-five-year-old. Titled “The Fact of Matter”, it combines room installations and videos by Forsythe with art objects of the MMK’s collection selected by him. His having been artistically connected with the city for more than thirty years gives every reason for the exhibit. That Ballet Frankfurt which had been dissolved in 2004 after two decades due to cutting measures is off the cards in this context. (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…)

A Natural Talent

Silvano Ballone
Hamburg, Germany
September 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Silvano Ballone © Dario FranconiSome weeks ago I received the press photos of a ballet evening in Pilsen in the Czech Republic. Having got to see quite a few dance photos meanwhile, ranging from beautiful to poor, I expected nothing special from a one-time weekend’s guesting. But what had been sent to me proved to be a treat: a large selection of truly gorgeous photos! The performance I’m talking about was Les Ballets Bubeníček’s “The Piano”; the photographer in charge was Silvano Ballone. I later learned that he hadn’t known the “The Piano” before and had shot the photos when watching the piece for the first time. Kudos! (more…)

Promoting the Future of Dance in Armenia

Arsen Mehrabyan, “Forceful Feelings”
Stockholm, Sweden
September 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Arsen Mehrabyan, photo Carl Thorborg“Forceful Feelings” is a small ballet troupe created by five Armenian dancers, who, though dancing with various Western companies, are welded together by a determination to foster dance, especially ballet, in their home country. Touring internationally they are also introducing foreign audiences to Armenian culture. All five were born in the capital Yerevan, their families by chance being closely connected to each other; all studied at Yerevan’s National Ballet School where they were classmates, and all left Armenia to dance abroad.
Tigran Mikayelyan is principal dancer with the Bavarian State Ballet, Artur Babajanyan joined the Joffrey Ballet, Arman Grigoryan is solo dancer with the State Ballet Berlin, Vahe Martirosyan and Arsen Mehrabyan dance with the Royal Swedish Ballet, Martirosyan as first soloist, Mehrabyan as principal. Mehrabyan is the troupe’s artistic director and choreographer. I met him in Stockholm’s Royal Opera House in early September to talk about his career, professional dance in Armenia and the intentions of “Forceful Feelings”. (more…)

Taking a Fresh Look

Ian Whalen
Dresden, Germany
August 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ian WhalenA picture paints a thousand words, within milliseconds attracting attention, evoking emotions, and subconscious opinions, – or, if poorly chosen, leaving no trace or, worse, an unintended impression. Its impact is enormous, especially in a highly visual art such as dance. An art in itself, dance photography, as well as videos, transports a production’s atmosphere and the story behind it to a wider public, hopefully attracting people.

Yet advertising goals are only one aspect. Beyond advertising, dance photos must document a work. That they show the dancers at their best should be self-evident. Yet it isn’t. The quality of photos available for press purposes differs considerably. It can happen that a production has the most gorgeous costumes and set, but that the photos are bland and of run-of-the-mill quality. Or that only few photos provided show solely the leading couple, at worst in boring standard poses. Supporting roles and the corps sometimes seem invisible to the one behind the camera. But there are also many companies which place high value on pictures, aware that they greatly influence their public image. (more…)

“I fight for quality. That’s why many people call me difficult.”

 David Dawson
Berlin, Germany
June 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. David Dawson © P.Wamsganz 2015David Dawson seems not at all complicated, when I met with him at his home base in Berlin during his summer break, rather straightforward, open and kind. In conversation, one soon notices that he is driven by a clear vision of the art he aims to create and that he channels all energy towards this goal.

London-born Dawson is a sought after choreographer, mainly working in Europe, but also abroad. He regularly creates for Semperoper Ballet Dresden and Dutch National Ballet. His choreographic language is grounded on the classical style which he explores to and beyond its limits. Both narrative and abstract ballets are his metier. We talked about his beginnings as a dancer, his career on stage and, most of all, about his choreographic work. (more…)

“One has to burn”

“Jürgen Rose: Nothing is as life fulfilling as the theater”
Academy of the Fine Arts & Theater Museum Munich

Munich, Germany
June 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Rose with a costume of “Twelfth Night” (Kammerspiele Munich, 1980) © W.Hösl 2015“Whenever the news broke that Rose would make the next piece, I was always happy.” comments longtime actress of the Kammerspiele Munich, Sybille Canonica, about Jürgen Rose, Germany’s most famous set and costume designer. The seventy-seven-year old’s accolades pile up: actors, singers, dancers – all can feel they are at the bosom of Abraham, says theater critic Beate Kayser. Coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova who worked in several opera productions with Rose calls him a genius, full of enthusiasm. His work would be extremely thorough and precise. She entirely trusts his taste and guidance. But Rose is modest. One always has doubts, he says in the exhibition catalog. One never knows if one’s work is sufficient.

Currently Munich’s Theater Museum and the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts are showing a corporate exhibition of Rose’s work. His oeuvre encompasses designs for almost three hundred productions, operas, ballets, as well as plays. He has always been in charge of the costumes and only two times not responsible for the sets. In addition, as stage director, he has created “La Traviata” (1994, Opera Bonn), “The Magic Flute” (1996, Opera Bonn), “Don Carlo” (2000, Bavarian State Opera), “The Cunning Little Vixen” (2002, Bavarian State Opera) and “Norma” (2006, Bavarian State Opera). Rose is a universal artist. “Norma” and “Don Carlo” will be staged at the Bavarian State Opera at the end of June and in July, “Werther” will be revived in October with Rolando Villazón singing the title role. As usual, “Don Carlo” was sold out as soon as it was announced. (more…)

Still enigmatic

Marco Goecke
Stuttgart, Germany
May 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Goecke © Die arge lola 2015Marco Goecke is a well-established German choreographer. Though he is open, kind and easy-going, he is mysterious, with an air of inscrutability surrounding him. His choreography can hardly be classified among the existing canon of styles. He has established something new. Meanwhile “Goeckes” are in the repertory of ballet companies all over Europe and abroad, but, above all, they are integral to the repertory of his two home bases: Stuttgart Ballet and the Nederlands Dans Theater.

We met on the occasion of a rehearsal with Thomas Lempertz in a basement studio belonging to Stuttgart’s Theaterhaus. Lempertz, ex-first soloist of Stuttgart Ballet, is planning to come back on stage with a solo by Goecke. The premiere is scheduled for November.

At first sight one could easily think Goecke stepped out of a detective film. His dark sunglasses – signature features of his outfit – contrast with his fair skin. He wears a trench coat, robust shoes, smokes a lot, and has his steady companion, a sausage dog named Gustav, at his side. (more…)