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Summer Ballet Copenhagen

“The Picture of Dorian Gray”, “The Elephant Man”
Bellevue Theater
Copenhagen, Denmark
August 17, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiří Bubeníček, The Picture of Dorian Gray by J.Bubeníček, photo Costin RaduEnchanting beauty and monstrous ugliness – both extremes were united in “Summer Ballet 2013” at the Bellevue Theater in Klampenborg, a suburb of Copenhagen. The handsome Dorian Gray, striving after eternal youth in choreography by Jiří and Otto Bubeníček, met the deformed Elephant Man, the title character in Cathy Marston’s new work.

Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, in which unscrupulous glorification of physical beauty combined with the chase after everlasting youth and ultimate pleasure ends in disaster, inspired the Czech twins Jiří and Otto Bubeníček’s modern adaptation of the subject. Both principal dancers – Otto at Hamburg Ballet and Jiří formerly in John Neumeier’s ensemble and later with Dresden Semperoper Ballet – they’ve been busy staging their own works with other companies as well as with their own troupe, Les Ballets Bubeníček. Although Jiří is usually the choreographer while Otto designs sets and costumes, sometimes also composing the music, there’s no strict division of labor, but rather a cross-fertilization. (more…)

A lightweight legend of lovers

“Orphée et Euridice”
Stuttgart State Opera and Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
May 08, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Yuko Kakuta and ensemble (2009) Orphée et Euridice by Christian Spuck, Stuttgart Coproductions of opera and ballet are not the order of the day in Germany. Hence I looked forward to Stuttgart’s revival of “ Orphée et Euridice”, a 2009 production based on Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera, directed and choreographed by Christian Spuck. Then Spuck was Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer. Now he heads the Zurich Ballet.
Spuck used Gluck’s French version of the opera, a quite radical revision of the initial Viennese “Orfeo ed Euridice” from 1762, tackled in 1774 for Paris. Regarding French opera tradition and Parisien taste, Gluck adapted the original score and reworked the orchestration. As castrati singers weren’t established in France, he transposed the part of Orpheus to tenor. Further, the original’s ninety minutes were expanded into the dimensions of a full-evening to make room for extended ballet scenes. (more…)

What’s gone is gone

“Café Müller”, “The Rite of Spring”
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Opera House
Wuppertal, Germany
May 02, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Tanztheater Wuppertal, pina40, copyright Maarten Vanden Abeele WEBThis season marks the 40th anniversary of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal. To celebrate this jubilee the company has already toured extensively. Bordeaux, London, Hong Kong were only some of the stops. In the upcoming months, it will head to Toronto and Paris. More performances are being given in the Ruhr region too, and they include an additional program. I saw two of Bausch’s signature pieces, “Café Müller” and “The Rite of Spring” at the company’s traditional home base of Wuppertal.

“Café Müller”, a 1978 production, depicts the encounters of six people in a somewhat shabby cafe, which is – like its guests – past its best years. The decor as well as the costumes are by Rolf Borzik. He lined several mirrors up along the side walls. A revolving door at the rear is the cafe’s main entrance. Wooden tables and chairs stand around in disorder and during the following three-quarters of an hour the café becomes even more messy. (more…)

Where’s this route taking them?

“Wayfarers”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
April 25, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Edward Clug, Maurice Béjart, Demis Volpi, Wayfarers, Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet’s innovative energy seems unstoppable. Some days ago this season’s third premiere, “Wayfarers” went smoothly, a fourth will follow this month and the annual evening of the Noverre Society, featuring young choreographers, is yet to come. “Wayfarers” is a triple bill consisting of two world premieres, Edward Clug’s “No Men’s Land” and Demis Volpi’s “Aftermath”, framing  Maurice Béjart’s “Songs of a Wayfarer”, a work familiar to the Stuttgart audience.

Sparing neither trouble nor expense, both new creations had new music. Slovene Milko Lazar had been commissioned for the music of “No Men’s Land”. His suite of five movements for cello and full orchestra, belonging to the field of minimal and postmodern music, evokes an energetic, martial atmosphere. Only a cello solo by Zoltan Paulich provided a little lyricism amidst the unvaryingly pulsing rhythm. (more…)

Last Dance

“Giselle”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
April 22, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Yumiko Takeshima, Giselle by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Two principal ballerinas of the Semperoper Ballet gave farewell performances at Easter: Natalia Sologub and Yumiko Takeshima. I watched Takeshima’s goodbye in the title role of a “Giselle” production which David Dawson had staged for her in 2008. Sologub’s last appearance had been a few days earlier, and in the same role. To come straight to the point, Takeshima’s farewell was altogether well-rounded.

Dawson’s “Giselle” belongs to the present. Fresh and light footed at first glance, the emotions and the resulting tragedy are, in fact, clear cut and powerful.
The romance of Giselle and Albrecht unfolds against the setting of wedding preparations for another young couple. This opens up abundant opportunities for dancing: there is a wedding pas de cinq and various other groupings. The warning that she will become an unhappy bride and end as a Wili is presented as a macabre joke and in act 2 turns out to have been an exaggeration. Dawson’s Wilis are innocent natures. (more…)

Mass at Neumeier’s

“Messiah”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
April 18, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Aleix Martinez, Messiah by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet This year Hamburg Ballet broke with its (almost) usual practice of performing John Neumeier’s “Saint Matthew Passion”. Instead, the company revived Neumeier’s “Messiah”, a 1999 work to George Frideric Handel’s eponymous oratorio.
For Neumeier, Handel’s oratorio is more than a depiction of Christ’s life of suffering. The oratorio goes back to a time before the Redeemer’s appearance, it includes several prophecies and predictions, it tells of Christ’s birth, of his ordeal and his Ascension. Moreover, it includes the disciples’ spreading the word, the doubters’ rejection of the Christian message, their punishment and also the joy of the ones who are of true faith. Thus, for Neumeier, it is the suffering of all mankind, of all humanity that Handel considered his subject matter.

In the context of the 1998/99 war in Kosovo Neumeier focused on people’s desire and pleading for peace. This certainly has currency and is as relevant as it was a decade and a half ago. Together with Günter Jena, a church music specialist, Neumeier chose arias, choruses, accompagnati and recitatives mainly from the first part of Handel’s threepart “Messiah”. Preferring God as the Prince of Peace, Neumeier omitted such arias as “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”. Recalling a comment by Will Quadflieg (one of Germany’s major post-World War II actors) that during happy moments one has to keep the darkest moments in mind, Neumeier chose – following the triumphal Hallelujah Chorus – to close with Arvo Pärt’s “Agnus Dei”. This put Handel’s apotheosis of God’s omnipotence into perspective. Similarly, Pärt’s “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” as the opening, indicated that a fall was needed to make the subsequent redemption comprehensible. (more…)

The Recurring Chance to Awaken the Beauty

“Sleeping Beauty”
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
April 13, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Y.Han and O.Kollmannsperger, Sleeping Beauty by Mats Ek, Zurich BalletHaving the Royal Ballet’s gorgeous production of Marius Petipa’s “The Sleeping Beauty” in mind (with Alina Cojocaru in the title role), I faced Mats Ek’s modern version, currently performed by Ballet Zurich, with mixed feelings. A drug-addicted Aurora seemed to be an all too tasteless twist on the iconic fairy tale. The Zurich company, however, disabused me. Ek’s “Sleeping Beauty” provided around two hours of fascination during which I kept my eyes glued to the stage to miss no single detail. (more…)

Does a Big Name Deliver its Promise?

“Ratmansky/Welch”
State Ballet Berlin
Schiller Theater
Berlin, Germany
April 04, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, Clear by Stanton Welch, State Ballet BerlinAt the end of his era as head of State Ballet Berlin, Vladimir Malakhov mounted two German premieres: Stanton Welch’s “Clear” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Namouna – a Grand Divertissement”. Both works showed the company to be in good shape and its atmosphere confident.

“Clear” was Welch’s reaction to the terror attack on the World Trade Center that took place September 11, 2001. It premiered with American Ballet Theatre the same year. However, a connection to 9/11 isn’t obvious at first glance. Seven men and one woman indulge themselves in energetic duos, trios and group numbers. Foremost, these dances radiate verve. They are lively, in accord with the music – Johann Sebastian Bach’s concertos (Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C-Minor and Concerto for Violin in G-Minor, excellently played by violinist Wolfram Brandl and oboist Fabian Schäfer).

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Between this World and the Afterworld

“Giselle”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
March 21, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alicia Amatriain, Giselle, Stuttgart Ballet The revival of “Giselle” in Stuttgart generated a buoyant atmosphere in the Opera House. Though it’s only four years since Albrecht last double dealt here in affairs of the heart, the return of this archetypical romantic ballet had, it seemed, been waited for with anticipation.
Stuttgart Ballet’s tradition with “Giselle” goes way back. From 1851 on “Giselle” was in the repertory, but often squeezed in between musical comedies, drolleries and divertissements on entertaining mixed bills – strange, motley assemblies from a current perspective. With the end of the 19th Century, “Giselle” disappeared completely from Stuttgart’s stage for quite some time (as it did from many another European theater). Not until 1955 were a number of new stagings undertaken, of which Peter Wright’s 1966 production certainly is the best known. In charge of the current version – modeled on the original choreography of Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot and on Marius Petipa’s revisions – were Stuttgart’s artistic director Reid Anderson and Valentina Savina.

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In a Gray and Surreal World

“Choreographies by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot”
Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT 1)
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
March 08, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Sehnsucht by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, NDT 1 Nederlands Dans Theater showed only “Choreographies by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot” on its two day visit to Baden-Baden. Perhaps this was a test run for the coming time of not dancing anything by Jiří Kylián, the company’s former artistic director. Kylian is withdrawing the performing rights to all of his pieces for a three year period that begins in the fall of 2014. Is the idea to boost new creativity? Certainly the repertory’s one-sidedness surprised. NDT is supposed to be at the heart of European modern dance, ever since the company was founded 55 years ago. Instead of showing off NDT’s fascinating vibrancy and diversity (in works by the four associate choreographers – Marco Goecke, Crystal Pite, Johan Inger and Alexander Ekman), we were subjected to much the same fare three times over. A pity! (more…)

Setting an Example

Barbara Newman:
“Never Far from Dancing: Ballet Artists in New Roles”
204 pages, b/w illustrations
Routledge 2014
ISBN: 978-0-415832151

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

Barbara Newman, Never Far from Dancing, Routledge WEBDancers have two lives. One is on stage in the limelight, and the other follows their final curtain call. Out of sight, out of mind – being no longer in the spotlight often means sinking into oblivion. What becomes of former stars? Do they experience a transition? These were the questions that fueled Barbara Newman setting out to interview some of the 20th Century’s most luminous ballet stars. Newman’s recently published book “Never Far from Dancing: Ballet Artists in New Roles” is a compilation of her conversations with retired ballet performers. It makes intriguing and enriching reading.

Already in the 1980s and early ‘90s, Newman had investigated how dancers thought and felt about their work. The results can be found in her first book, “Striking a Balance”. Now, thirty years later, she spoke with eleven of her then twenty-seven interviewees again. Each of them remained dedicated in one way or another to their chosen art.
Four of them – Alicia Alonso (the oldest), Monica Mason, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Nina Ananiashvili (the youngest) – were at the helm of ballet companies when these interviews took place in 2008 and ‘09. Four others, former ballerinas, were connected to dance to a certain degree – from full-time engagement involving a packed schedule (Beryl Grey) to minimal involvement (Lynn Seymour). Still others (three men, all Brits) varied: Donald MacLeary had just stopped being répétiteur at the Royal Ballet, whereas Desmond Kelly was embarking as Elmhurst School of Dance’s artistic director in Birmingham (he retired from this post in 2012), and David Wall (who died last year) was transmitting his knowledge as ballet master for English National Ballet. (more…)

Sex and Crime – Stijn Celis’s Shakespeare Falls Short

“Romeo and Juliet”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
February 21, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Julia Weiss, Jiri Bubenicek, Romeo and Juliet by S.Celis, Semperoper Ballet To ‘carry off the audience to emotionally deep experiences’ was Stijn Celis’s stated aim for his new “Romeo and Juliet” adaptation at Dresden’s Semperoper. His approach is totally modern, avoiding any reference to the Renaissance. The Belgian choreographer wanted his work to be ‘linked to reality’ and to abstain from ‘artificiality and deformation’. Did he accomplish these noble goals?

Concrete dominated the set, aptly so for a current approach. Gray walls served as a church interior or as facades of austere homes. Two large windows allowed either a view into what was going on in apartments or, when the windows were opened, served as balconies for the two lovers’ core encounter. The atmosphere was as gloomy as Jan Versweyveld’s decor.

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Stuttgart’s Bewitched Ravens

“Krabat”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
February 14, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Roman Novitzky and ensemble, Krabat by Demis Volpi, Stuttgart BalletTerrifying things happen in “Krabat” by Demis Volpi, resident choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet. It is the story of a beggar boy apprenticed along with eleven other fellows to a mill master who is an evil magician. Only a young girl’s love for Krabat, the central boy, finally breaks the magician’s power.
This, Volpi’s first program-filling ballet, is based on a novel of the same name by Ottfried Preußler (1923 – 2013). Born in Bohemia, Preußler wove his experiences during World War II, including five years spent in Russian captivity, into the story. However, he set the plot in the 18th Century, during the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721) in Lusatia. The mill represents a place where humans are scorned and killed, literally ground, as the millstones not only pulverize grain but also human bones that are regularly delivered by the Grim Reaper – a figure even the mill-master/magician dreads.

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Pieces by Maliphant, Limón and Massine Put to the Test

“Forever Young”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
February 01, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Nikita Korotkov and Ekaterina Petina, Broken Fall by Russell Maliphant, Forever Young, Bavarian State Ballet“Forever young”, claims the Bavarian State Ballet, are the pieces on this eponymous triple bill, which premiered last season. At least two of them – “The Moor’s Pavane”, choreographed in 1949 by modern dance icon José Limón, and “Choreartium”, choreographed in 1933 by Léonide Massine – are said to be masterpieces exempt from aging. The third, Russell Maliphant’s “Broken Fall”, dating from 2003, has yet to prove its endurance.

The evening started with the contemporary “Broken Fall” and turned back along the timeline to the modernist classics. Created for the Royal Ballet, or more precisely for Sylvie Guillem, the Maliphant work toys with gravity and the risk of falling by challenging the body control of three dancers. It tests the limits of mutual trust. Set to artificial soundscapes by Berry Adamson, the atmosphere was slightly surreal. Two men and one woman – Matej Urban, Nikita Korotkov and Ekaterina Petina -, bare foot and clad in shorts and simple tops, gave little samples of their abilities in passing. They seemed cool professionals engaged in casual training. Their interactions began with slow motion lifts and counterbalances, the interactions becoming more and more risky. Petina’s knee pads seemed to proclaim that, in the sports context, no hazard would be avoided. The three dancers’ faces were, aptly, serious throughout. Although the dancing had the appearance of contact improvisation, it lacked spontaneity and play. Everything was too well-calculated. Lifts and falls were audacious, yet all motion had a smooth quality with the transitions, especially, being softened. Consequently, the interaction of strongly contrasting forces was pretty much watered down. What we got was a physical gymnastics demonstration. Petina, in her final solo which included some classical dance vocabulary, had feline strength, radiated power and was expressive – more so than anything preceding this display.

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Malakhov’s Upshot

“Malakhov & Friends – The Finale”
State Ballet Berlin
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Berlin, Germany
January 24, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Vladimir Malakhov and Mika Yoshioka, Les Sylphides, Malakhov and Friends, State Ballet Berlin The gala evening “Malakhov & Friends” has its fifth anniversary this season since Vladimir Malakhov became artistic director of State Ballet Berlin, and it’s the final one. After ten years being at the helm the Ukrainian takes his leave. From the next season on he’ll be artistic adviser of the Tokyo Ballet. As an appreciation of his great service for dance in Berlin, Malakhov was awarded the honorary title “Kammertänzer of Berlin” by Berlin’s state culture secretary Andrè Schmitz after the premiere on Tuesday – an act to be understood as keeping face, as Malakhov doesn’t part by mutual consent but was urged to resign. He’ll be succeeded by the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s current artistic director Nacho Duato.

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