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Bleak Prospects for the Future

“Ground Breakers”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
December 15, 2013, 2pm

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. P.von Sternenfels, H.MacIsaac, workwithinwork by William Forsythe, Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet, seldom lacking self-assurance, titled its new ballet evening “Ground Breakers”. The German term “Fort//Schritt//Macher” better conveys this triple bill’s intention: Presented are works by three choreographers of different epochs, all driving forces behind European modern ballet’s progress, in short true trailblazers. And further all three – William Forsythe, Hans van Manen and Marco Goecke – are closely associated with the company or are even home-bred.

William Forsythe spread his choreographic wings in Stuttgart. There he made his debut at an evening of the Noverre Society, which promotes up-and-coming talent. Several pieces for Stuttgart Ballet followed and, after some years as freelance choreographer, Forsythe was appointed artistic director of Frankfurt Ballet in 1984. Striving after continual development, he modernized 20th century ballet by deconstructing all aspects of ballet, reassembling the fragments into abstract and speedy movements. Off-balances and overexpansions are his hallmarks. Forsythe also became more and more interested in other fields such as literature, philosophy, media and architecture, which he draws upon for inspiration. His approach is as cognitive as a researcher’s. Though Frankfurt Ballet was liquidated in 2004 for financial reasons, Forsythe continues his search for innovation with “The Forsythe Company”, founded in 2005, which resides in Dresden/Hellerau and in Frankfurt’s Bockenheimer Depot.

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Rejoice, Exult?

“Christmas Oratorio I-VI”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 09, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Lloyd Riggins, Christmas Oratorio by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier recently extended his contract as head of the Hamburg Ballet and general manager of the Hamburg State Opera until 2019. In his tenure’s final phase he has returned to Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” completing what he had begun in 2007 with the choreography of parts I-III. With the entire “Christmas Oratorio I-VI”, “Saint Matthew Passion” (1981) and “Magnificat” (1987) he has now come full circle: From the lost paradise to Maria as the chosen one, to Christ’s incarnation and finally his crucifixion. Other religiously inspired works were “Requiem” (1991) set to Mozart and “Messiah” to music by George Frideric Handel and Arvo Pärt. Though a practicing Christian and strongly influenced by his long friendship with Jesuit Father John J. Walsh, (who led the drama group at Milwaukee’s Marquette University, where Neumeier took up his studies as young man), Neumeier emphasizes that his choreographies are not religious undertakings. They’re neither substitute services nor an attempt to proselytize. This piece’s key topics are rather universal human values, basic emotional experiences and above all hope for salvation. (more…)

A Treasure Chest of Russian Stage Design.

“Masterpieces of Russian Stage Design 1880 – 1930” (Vol I)
“Encyclopedia of Russian Stage Design 1880 – 1930” (Vol II)
John E. Bowlt, Nina and Nikita D. Lobanov-Rostovsky and Olga Shaumyan:
Antique Collectors’ Club, 2012/2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Front cover, Léon Bakst, Costume Design for the Péri, La Péri, 1911When it comes to Russian stage design, naturally one person has his finger in the pie: Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes. Even years after his death in 1929 he made great projects happen, aiming to preserve and promote Russian design. London’s Diaghilev-exhibition in 1954 – how could it be different? – was the ignition spark for Nina and Nikita D. Lobanov-Rostovsky for what developed into an impressively vast collection of Russian stage design. Russian Nikita D. Lobanov-Rostovsky’s enthusiasm about Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes was so infectious that the cosmopolitan Nina, daughter of a French diplomat, not only became his fellow collector but also his wife.
UK’s Antique Collectors’ Club took on the task to publish two volumes about the collection. “Masterpieces of Russian Stage Design”, released in 2012, recently was complemented by a catalog raisonnè. (more…)

Murder as the Last Resort.

“Woyzeck”
Ballet Zurich
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
November 28, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Manuel Renard, Filipe Portugal, Christian Alex Assis, William Moore and Jan Casier, Woyzeck by C.Spuck, Ballet Zurich “Woyzeck” is Christian Spuck’s second work of choreography based on a piece by the German writer Georg Büchner. In 2008 Spuck already had staged the comedy “Leonce and Lena”, two years later the gloomy “Woyzeck” premiered in Oslo. Formerly resident choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet and since 2012 artistic director of Ballet Zurich, Spuck literally brought “Woyzeck” home. Büchner, who died well ahead his time in 1837 at the age of twenty-three due to a typhus infection, spent his last month in Zurich and moreover was buried there. Yet “Woyzeck”, the last piece of his small oeuvre, couldn’t be finished. The handwritten fragments later were assembled and underwent several edits. (more…)

About Desire

“The Little Mermaid”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
November 15, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Silvia Azzoni and Sasha Riva, The Little Mermaid by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet The story of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale “The Little Mermaid” is quickly told: The little mermaid rescues a young prince from being drowned and falls in love with him. Driven by her strong desire for the prince and moreover longing for an immortal human soul she decides to leave the underwater world. Helped by the sea witch she becomes human, but on the condition that if she fails to win the prince’s love she has to die. Finding the prince, the mermaid suffers tremendously on shore, not only physically – every step feels like treading on knives’ edges – but even more emotionally, as she witnesses the developing affection between the prince and another woman – a human one. At the end, the mermaid’s love remains unrequited. She transcends to an entity of an upper sphere and is given a soul.

The Danish author actually wrote no fairy-tale for children in 1837, but instead a concealed depiction of his personal drama as homosexual. Like the mermaid losing the prince, Andersen’s love for his guardian’s handsome son Edvard Collin was unfulfilled. Collin married Henriette Thyberg which is exactly the scene John Neumeier’s “Little Mermaid” starts with. By remembering the wedding, his poet, unmistakably the figure of Andersen himself, slips into his own memories and fantasies. (more…)

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…)