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The Triumph of Love!

“Romeo and Juliet”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 31, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Edvin Revazov and Alina Cojocaru, Romeo and Juliet by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet April in lovely Verona, the feast day of the town’s patron San Zeno lies ahead, and there’s a lot going on. Events, from highest bliss to deepest desperation, come thick and fast – as if condensing into a hot spot. In just four days the leading characters of “Romeo and Juliet” will be dead. Although it is almost forty years old, John Neumeier’s highly sophisticated creation to Prokofiev’s score remains a thoroughly convincing synthesis of the arts. Neumeier’s narrative style snares the spectators’ attention. One is transfixed and returns to reality only when the lights come up for intermissions. (more…)

Berlin’s New “Nutcracker” – No Cracker Jack!

“The Nutcracker”
State Ballet Berlin
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Berlin, Germany
October 25, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Nikolai Petrak, Michael Banzhaf and Sabrina Salvia Gaglio, The Nutcracker, State Ballet BerlinDespite the amazingly mild weather so far, State Ballet Berlin’s premiere of its new “Nutcracker” heralded an early start for this year’s Christmas season. Vladimir Malakhov, in his last year as artistic director of the company, decided to replace Patrice Bart’s production – which had been in repertory from 1999 until two years ago – with one based on St. Petersburg’s 1892 original. Entrusted with the choreography were Russia’s Yuri Burlaka and Vasily Medvedev, both familiar with their homeland’s ballet tradition. Neither of them is unknown in Berlin, having staged an adaption of “La Esmeralda” for the State Ballet in 2011.

A huge spectacle, more splendid, more fairytale-like and magical than ever – those were the superlatives with which Malakhov advertised this “Nutcracker”. Was it to be his proud parting gift (and certainly no cheap one) after his more than ten years tenure? (more…)

Searching for Misery

Deirdre Kelly:
“Ballerina – Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection”
272 pages, b&w illustrations
Greystone Books, 2012
ISBN: 1-926812-66-2

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Deirdre Kelly, Ballerina, book coverSex sells – and especially well if accompanied by scandal and suffering victims. This truism is used by Deirdre Kelly, a Canadian journalist, author and dance critic, in her book “Ballerina – Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection”, published in the autumn of last year. What looks like a knowledgeable overview of the role ballerinas have played in the course of time is actually more a collection of sentimental, glossy magazine stories.

In about 200 pages Kelly paints a historical line from dance at King Louis XIV’s court to our time, but despite 250 or so references and considerable notes she seems less interested in insightful and comprehensive analysis – which exist already in Jennifer Homans’ excellent “Apollo’s Angels – A History of Ballet”. Kelly pieces together a patchwork of individual fates. Again and again she expresses her conviction that danseuses are tormented, ill-treated and exploited creatures, true martyrs in the service of art. Indeed, she persuasively depicts the situations of ballerinas of the French Ballet de cours, the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic period. The Paris Opera’s murky backstage did degenerate into an institutionalized brothel, with career prospects dependent on the influence and number of the danseuse’s male protectors, fittingly called “les abonnés”. But things aren’t put into perspective. Not in accordance with the facts, for example, is that from circa 1840 on male roles in France were danced en travesti because so many girls stormed the ballet schools and had to be kept busy later. That the fatal accident of the Paris dancer Emma Livry in 1862 – her costume was set aflame during a dress rehearsal and she died as a result of her serious burns – led to the decline of the Romantic ballet in Paris and the subsequent artistic stagnation, is simply wrong. In this and similar instances, Jennifer Homans’ book is more reliable. (more…)

Who’s as Big?

“Made in Germany”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart Schauspielhaus
Stuttgart, Germany
October 10, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Constantine Allen in Fancy Goods by Marco Goecke, Stuttgart Ballet 2013, photo Stuttgart BalletOnce upon a time the label “Made in Germany” conveyed craftsmanship and reliability. Innovation, novelty and experimentation weren’t features associated with this phrase in any primary way. Now, Stuttgart Ballet has proven the opposite. “Made in Germany” is the ever so self-confident title of the company’s new ballet program which premiered earlier this month. A mixed bill of twelve little pieces, specially created for the dancers of Stuttgart Ballet by nine choreographers, it serves as nibbles for various tastes. In addition to these miniatures, a vast number of works have been made for the company since Reid Anderson’s directorship began in 1996: more than eighty, seven of them program-filling story ballets. Where else can one find such fertile creativity alongside the careful guardianship of tradition?

Crucial for spotting new choreographic talent is Stuttgart’s Noverre Society. Founded during Cranko’s era, it annually gives as yet unknown choreographers the opportunity to show their creations to an audience. For six of the current evening’s choreographers the Noverre presentations were the doorway to the big stages for which they have subsequently been making work. (more…)

Bonbons from Stuttgart

The Taming of the Shrew”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
September 28, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alicia Amatriain and Alexander Jones, The Taming of the Shrew by John Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet, photo Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet opened its season with a revival of one of John Cranko’s classics:”The Taming of the Shrew”- a turbulent, crisp comic. Audiences find it irresistible, like a bonbonnière filled with colorfully wrapped sweets.

At its premiere in 1969 the success of “Shrew”was all the more momentous given that narrative ballets were not in vogue during the preceding decade and ballet comedies were unusual. Next to Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet”, “Shrew” added considerably to what the New York Times’ Clive Barnes termed “The Stuttgart Ballet Miracle” following the company’s 1969 visit to the Metropolitan Opera House. The premiere’s cast list reads like the “who’s who?” of ballet: Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun in leading roles, with John Neumeier, Egon Madsen and Heinz Clauss as Bianca’s (Susanne Hanke) three suitors, and in the corps de ballet: Jiří Kylián. Almost forty-five years later “Shrew” hasn’t gathered dust. On the contrary the Stuttgart audience thrilled to it and the atmosphere was splendid. (more…)

A Life’s Voyage

Christina Gallea-Roy
“Here Today – Gone Tomorrow, A Life in Dance”
338 pages, b/w and color illustrations
Book Guild Publishing 2012
ISBN: 978-1-84624-690-6

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Here Today-Gone Tomorrow, book coverThey met each other by coincidence at a rehearsal in Germany of the American Festival Ballet before a tour to Spain: Alexander Roy, who had performed his first ballet steps in bombed-out Magdeburg, Germany, and Sydney-born Australian Christina Gallea. What started as a collaborative dance career at the end of the 1950s grew into a lifelong artistic and personal partnership. They ran their own company and were successful worldwide.
Lady Fortune was surely by their side.

Christina Gallea Roy’s memories of the hurly-burly decades on the international dance scene are recalled in her book, “Here Today – Gone Tomorrow, A Life in Dance”, an engaging, worthwhile read. An instigator for it was the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is actively interested in documenting independent dance companies.
Based in London, the couple toured around the world with International Ballet Caravan, which in 1973 was renamed Alexander Roy Ballet Theatre. They appeared in East and West Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Malta, Southeast-Asia, North and South America, and once even in Bombay. (more…)