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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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Happy Czechs!

“Les Ballets Bubeníček”
The National Theater
Prague, Czech Republic
January 11, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1.Ensemble, Le Souffle de l Esprit, Les Ballets Bubenicek, Prague, photo Martin Divisek The Czech twins Jiří and Otto Bubeníček, principals of Dresden Semperoper Ballet ( Jiří) and Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier (Otto), regularly gather dancers from various ensembles to tour their own creations worldwide under the label “Les Ballets Bubeníček”. To date, Rome and Tokyo as well as different locations in their homeland have lain on their route. After five years, they have returned to Prague’s National Theater for one weekend to present a gala of four of their own choreographies: Two plotless, neoclassical pieces, “Le Souffle de 2. J.Bubenicek, J.Vallejo and M.Tucker, Le Souffle de l Esprit, Les Ballets Bubenicek, Prague, photo Martin Divisek 3. O.Bubenicek and J.Vallejo, Le Souffle de l Esprit, Les Ballets Bubenicek, Prague, photo Martin Divisek l’Esprit” and “Toccata” contrasted with two narrative works, “Faun” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.

This time dancers from Dresden Semperoper Ballet made up the major part of the troupe. Augmented by Iana Salenko (State Ballet Berlin) and Arsen Mehrabyan (Royal Swedish Ballet) the Bubeníčeks brought fourteen colleagues along and, to get straight to the point, both scheduled shows – the National Theater has almost 1000 seats – were sold out within a day. For those who couldn’t get a ticket, Czech television filmed the performance. All artists earned heartfelt applause, the twins, however, were celebrated and admired like national heroes.

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Glitter Globe Classics Plus a Fresh Breeze

“Ballet Gala”
The Maryinsky Ballet
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
December 26, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Shirinkina, A.Lavrinenko, O.Skorik, X.Parish and ensemble, Chopiniana (Les Sylphides) by Mikhail Fokine, Maryinsky BalletThe Maryinsky Ballet’s end-of-the-year visit to Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus is a long-cherished tradition. Usually the company brings its famous classics to the Black Forest and this year too its holiday programs included Konstantin Sergeyev’s versions of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake” as well as a matinee mixed bill for families plus a Ballet Gala on the day after Christmas. I caught the gala. Termed in the playbill “an exhibition of the Maryinsky dancers’ diverse potential”, the gala items ranged from classic bravura to contemporary choreography. Sandwiched between Fokine’s “Chopiniana” (“Les Sylphides”) and an Act 3 “Le Corsair” excerpt (“Jardin Animé”) were William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” and the recently premiered “Choreographic Game 3×3” by Anton Pimonov.

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A Crisp Nutcracker

“The Nutcracker”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 19, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

John Neumeier’s “Nutcracker” is free of any association with Christmas. This Hamburg production, like John Cranko’s earlier version for Stuttgart, converts the winter-holiday fairytale for children into a ballet for all seasons. Substantial content has been added, and watching it becomes a pleasure for adults, too. Christmas or not, this Neumeier has become a much loved classic during Hamburg’s winter season.

As starting point there is the celebration of the 12th birthday of the ballet’s protagonist, Marie. The party is in full swing already when the quirky Drosselmeier arrives. He is ballet master of the court theater where Marie’s older sister, Louise, dances. Drosselmeier’s present to the birthday girl is a pair of pointe shoes, which fuel her dreams of dancing as beautifully as Louise. Another present, a wooden Nutcracker who becomes Marie’s companion throughout the rest of the story, is given to her by the smart cadet, Günther. Needless to say, he becomes the young girl’s infatuation. When all the party guests have departed, Marie returns to the parlor to take another look at her Nutcracker and falls asleep. She dreams that Drosselmeier introduces her into the court theater, showing her rehearsals for a ballet and for various divertissements. Marie, fascinated, becomes involved and even dances a pas de deux on pointe with Günther. There’s a grand climax but then, woken by her mother, Marie finds herself back in the parlor.
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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…)