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Taste, like all else, can be disputed

“Giselle”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
September 26, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alina Cojocaru, Alexandr Trusch and ensemble, Giselle by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet, photo H.BadekowAfter returning home from performances in Copenhagen, Hamburg Ballet opened its season with John Neumeier’s “Giselle”. This paragon dance work of the Romantic period exists in quite a few versions, modern ones as well as those that try to be traditional. How did Neumeier, aiming to “provide this jewel of a classical-romantic ballet with a new, modern setting,” approach the tragic tale?

Neumeier first tackled “Giselle” in 1983. The current production dates back to a revision from the year 2000, a collaboration with Greek set designer Yannis Kokkos. The décor by Kokkos avoids stereotypes of 19th Century style. The first act is transferred to a timeless yard. Giselle’s crooked cottage on the left and the little shed on the right are cardboard-like facades, all in white. The contour of a distant castle is sketched roughly onto the backcloth. Plain, broad brushstrokes in brown, yellow and green color suggest autumn. The costumes of the villagers – grape pickers and peasants – are in the same range of colors: simple dresses in yellow, light blue, green and olive for the women; brown cord pants with suspenders or plain dark suits and white shirts for the men. Those in the Prince of Courland’s hunting party wear classic riding outfits: white pants, red jackets plus black riding boots and hats. (more…)

Still in the Warming Phase

“Bella Figura”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
September 05, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Albouy, Weiss, Cangialosi, Bella Figura by Jiri Kylián, Semperoper Ballet Semperoper Ballet Dresden heralded the new season with the triple bill “Bella Figura”, titled after Jiří Kylián’s eponymous “Bella Figura” and complemented by David Dawson’s “The Grey Area” and “Minus 16” by Ohad Naharin.
(The photos show a different cast of an earlier performance.)

Where is the borderline between art and artificiality? Between fantasy and reality? Truth and falsehood? Such are Kyliàn’s questions behind “Bella Figura”. Also: at which point does a performance actually start? “Bella Figura” has no formal beginning. While the auditorium fills, the dancers warm up. They wear practice clothing and repeat step combinations. When the lights dim, the curtain shuts. With the start of the music – a collage of various Baroque composers plus a Renaissance-based suite by the contemporary American composer Lukas Foss – two dancers are in the spotlight: a section of the curtain, as large as a door, is left open on the right. It leaves room for a man in skin-colored undershorts (Maximilian Genov). Lying on the floor with bent legs up in the air, he reminds of an insect that accidentally has fallen on its back. To the left, Jenni Schäferhoff, bare-breasted and likewise in skin-colored undies, is wrapped into the curtain’s folds by invisible arms from behind. Repeatedly she walks, gesticulating to the forestage but – perhaps confronted with something daunting – backs away and again seeks shelter in the curtain’s embrace. (more…)

Formative Figures Bid Their Farewell

“Romeo and Juliet”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
July 19, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain, F.Barankiewicz, "Romeo and Juliet" by John Cranko, Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet closed its season with a set of performances of John Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Five different couples danced the star-crossed lovers. A remarkable number of these renditions were first rate. Again, the Stuttgart company upheld its high standard. For one of the lead pairs, more precisely for one Romeo, Shakespeare’s tragedy was a special event. Filip Barankiewicz bid his farewell to the stage last Saturday.

After studying at the State Ballet School of his home country Poland and, later, with Marika Besobrasova in Monte Carlo, Barankiewicz joined Stuttgart Ballet in 1996. It was at the time when Reid Anderson had assumed the directorship and was assembling a rejuvenated company. Barankiewicz quickly rose through the ranks. In 2002 he was promoted to first soloist. Blessed with irrepressible high spirits, a captivating stage presence and especially a virtuoso talent for jumps – Japanese fans call him ‘Mr Jump’ – the charming Pole brought down the house on many an occasion. One connoisseur thought he was unforgettable in the “The Flames of Paris” duo. No question but that Barankiewicz was world-class! One of his most striking characteristics, however, is his courtesy. A gentleman, he has been highly regarded by his colleagues and – after eighteen years with Stuttgart Ballet – is a shining example for the ensemble’s younger generation. Barankiewicz will certainly be missed. (more…)

Fledgelings and Returnees

“Young Choreographers”
Noverre Society
Schauspielhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
July 18, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain and ensemble, “Sketched Skin” by W.Kuindersma, Noverre Society: Young Choreographers 2014 Each season Stuttgart’s Noverre Society offers young choreographers the chance to show new creations. It’s a tradition going back to 1958, the year of the Noverre Society’s founding. Among those who have taken their first steps at these evenings are such illustrious names as John Neumeier, William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián. Backed wholeheartedly by Reid Anderson, Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director, the Noverre Society provides everything to make creative ideas become real: rehearsal space, a stage, Stuttgart’s open-minded audience and, above all, professional dancers. Company members of the Stuttgart Ballet regularly volunteer to be part of the action. Costumes usually come from the Stuttgart Opera’s wardrobe department and the financing of set designs is possible – if kept reasonable. Promoted by the project are, first and foremost, ingenuity and intriguing ideas. (more…)

In Honor of Richard Strauss

“Legends – Homage to Richard Strauss”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
July 11, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Fabien Voranger, Tanzsuite by A.Ratmansky, Semperoper BalletRichard Strauss (1864 – 1949), the German composer and conductor, would have celebrated his 150th birthday this year. He was closely connected to Dresden, where nine of his fifteen operas had their world premieres. Thus it isn’t surprising that the Semperoper Dresden is celebrating this jubilee extensively with an array of operas, concerts, song recitals and the ballet evening “Legends – Homage to Richard Strauss”. The ballet program, based on Strauss music, includes two world premieres. For the first time, Alexei Ratmansky has created new choreography in Germany – the ensemble piece “Tanzsuite”, first on the program. The other premiere, “The Legend of Joseph”, is by Stijn Celis, a choreographer already familiar with the Semperoper’s dancers.

Richard Strauss and Alexei Ratmansky seem to share a trait: both are passionate about the past, about evoking history and reconfiguring it as contemporary art. One of Strauss’ historical sources of inspiration was the French rococo period. Its lightness and esprit found expression in Strauss’ creation “Ballroom and Theater Dances in the Style of Louis XV”, better known as the “Tanzsuite”, which premiered 1923 in Vienna. Strauss’ composition drew on a selection of François Couperin’s ‘Pièces de Clavecin’, pieces for the piano from the years 1713 – 1730, which Strauss adapted, rearranged and scored for small orchestra. The style of 20th century’s late romantic music was subtly woven into the rococo miniatures, which evoked a French court of the 18th century. In charge of the choreography for Vienna was Heinrich Kröller (1880 – 1930), a German ballet master and choreographer who worked first for Munich’s ‘Royal Court and National Theater’ and later for the Vienna State Opera. Playing with court dances and including mythological figures, Kröller enchanted his Viennese post-court audience with royal grandeur. (more…)

What Should Ballet Dramaturgy Achieve?

by Horst Koegler
Transcribed from a lecture given in 1976 at the Noverre Society in Stuttgart.
Stuttgart, Germany

June 29, 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1) Horst Koegler, ca. 1976, photo Gert WeigeltHad anyone asked John Cranko what ballet dramaturgy is, I imagine he might have answered, “Ballet dramaturgy is the figment of a frustrated German ballet critic’s imagination, and that person is Horst Koegler.” I have no illusions whatsoever about my persistent demand for more ballet dramaturgy. I dwell on it in order to correct an intolerable situation that puts ballet at a disadvantage compared to drama and opera.

Because the term ballet dramaturgy didn’t exist in the past and ballet got along without it, some people today do not see the need for it. Although I can understand this attitude histori- cally, I don’t agree. Theater dramaturgy has existed ever since Aristotle’s Poetics, which spelled out the rules for comedy and tragedy. We also know what Gotthold Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy accomplished for the German theater. Opera dramaturgy is less explicitly fixed and, despite the Florentine Camerata’s erudite debates on the topic, never produced globally accepted standards. (more…)

Light in the Province

“Ballet Gala 2014”
Mainfranken Theater
Wuerzburg, Germany
July 07, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O.Bubenicek, J.Bubenicek, J.Vallejo, Souffle de l'Esprit by J.Bubenicek, National Theater Prague Halfway between Frankfurt and Nuremberg lies Wuerzburg, a medium-scale town in Lower Franconia. It happens to be my seat of residence but it’s not a Mecca for dance. That’s why I usually head elsewhere to see performances. This year’s Ballet Gala at the Mainfranken Theater, however, offered some highlights I didn’t want to miss.
The Mainfranken Theater’s own ensemble presented only one piece. The rest of the program was left to guest artists from smaller companies all over Germany and to a duo from the Czech National Ballet in Prague. Anna Vita, artistic director of Wuerzburg’s ballet company, and her dramaturge, Christoph Blitt, moderated the evening – basically a good idea if it had set the right tone. But to start by naming all the sponsors and relate what is in the program notes was a mood killer and rendered the playbill’s description of the pieces unnecessary. We are capable of reading! (more…)

Stuttgart Ballet’s Front Line Dancers

Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart, Germany
March 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alexander Jones and Alicia Amatriain, The Taming of the Shrew, Stuttgart Ballet, photo Stuttgart Ballet“Stuttgart Ballet” – the name conjures memories. The company became famous overnight in 1969 as ‘The Stuttgart Ballet Miracle’ following its visit to New York’s ‘Met’ (The Metropolitan Opera House). Luminous ballet stars like Marcia Haydée, Richard Cragun, Ray Barra, Egon Madsen, Vladimir Klos and Birgit Keil shaped the company. At the heart of things was John Cranko. The late director’s imprint remains present to this day on the walls of Stuttgart’s Opera House but above all on the minds and hearts of everyone. Since 1996, Reid Anderson has been at the helm of Germany’s flagship ballet troupe, which flourishes still today at the forefront of the dance world. Who are the dancers shaping Stuttgart Ballet now? Here are a few medallion portraits.

Alicia Amatriain, a Spaniard, currently is Stuttgart’s most versatile ballerina. In her prime technically, the thirty-three year old’s extensive repertory encompasses the most diverse of characters. The multifaceted Amatriain always immerses herself deeply in a role’s psychology, be it that of the hilarious Katharina (in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew) or the innocent Desdemona (in John Neumeier’s Othello). Amatriain intensifies dramatic atmospheres and stirs spectators’ emotions. Not only classic characters but modern women belong to Amatriain’s territory. She has relished working on new creations with many a choreographer (Marco Goecke, Demis Volpi, Christian Spuck and Douglas Lee among them). (more…)

Stuttgart’s Talent Pool

“Ballet Matinee”
John Cranko School of Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
July 06, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Students of the 4th and 6th class, Italiana by Nicola Biasutti, Ballet Matinee of the John Cranko School, Stuttgart 2014Stuttgart’s John Cranko School has a top notch reputation worldwide. Its director, Tadeusz Matacz, regularly crisscrosses the globe in search of talent. Past ex- perience testifies that Matacz has an instinct for picking the up-and-coming generation. What he and his team of teachers turn the juniors into is pretty impressive. Graduates of the Cranko School have a fair chance of getting engagements. Mostly they feed into the Stuttgart Ballet. This year Reid Anderson will take eight of them into the ensemble. Provided with solid technique, they usually stand their ground from the start on the Opera’s stage. (more…)

Power Melts Away

“Tatiana”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
June 29, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Edvin Revazov and Hélène Bouchet, Tatiana by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet, photo H.BadekowTraditionally, Hamburg Ballet opens its Ballet Days at the end of the season with a premiere. This year it was “Tatiana”, John Neumeier’s new interpretation of Alexander Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”, a production in collaboration with Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater.

In the playbill, Neumeier emphasized that he wasn’t driven by the notion of outdoing Cranko’s popular “Onegin”. Conjectures regarding this struck a nerve, however. Indeed, one has to agree with Neumeier – why not risk a new approach to the famous verse romance? It is, after all, almost fifty years since Cranko created his masterpiece of a ballet.

(more…)

Today’s Trash and Tradition Warmed Up

“The Girl and the Knife Thrower”, “Le Sacre du Printemps”
Bavarian State Ballet
Reithalle (Riding Hall)
Munich, Germany
June 19, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, The Girl and the Knife Thrower, Bavarian State Ballet One of this season’s revivals that dance connoisseurs in Germany awaited with much interest, was Mary Wigman’s “Le Sacre du Printemps”. More than fifty years after its Berlin premiere, the Bavarian State Ballet tried to bring the piece back to the stage together with a modern counterpart: Simone Sandroni’s “The Girl and the Knife Thrower”.

Sandroni’s ballet is based on an eponymous cycle of poems by German writer Wolf Wondratschek about singular moments in the daily life of a circus troupe. The main characters are the knife thrower, his target – a girl, two other young women and a clown. Sandroni relocated the goings-on to a filthy playground and supplemented the group of itinerants by devising roles for two hip-hop Russians.

(more…)

Differences in Quality

“Notations”
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
June 15, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jan Casier, William Moore, Manuel Renard, Denis Vieira and Surimu Fukushi, Kairos by Wayne McGregor, Ballet ZurichA huge, metallic green gleaming ant decorates the playbill and the advertising posters of Ballet Zurich’s ballet evening “Notations”, which premiered in April this year. What kind of connection is between the ant and the dance? A riddle! But maybe I’ll get it later.
“Notations” unites no less than three world premieres: Wayne McGregor, working for the first time with the Swiss company, created “Kairos”. The second piece, “Sonnet”, was contributed by Ballet Zurich’s artistic director Christian Spuck and “Deer Vision”, the third piece, is by Marco Goecke, Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer. (more…)

Dark times for the love

“Romeo and Juliet”
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
June 15, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Eva Dewaele , Cristian Alex Assis, Katja Wünsche and ensemble, Romeo and Juliet by Christian Spuck, Ballet ZurichChristian Spuck, formerly Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer, is in his second year at the helm of Ballet Zurich. “Romeo and Juliet” was his first work for Zurich in 2012. A challenging and appealing task for the newly assembled company back then and a chance for Spuck to contrast with Stuttgart’s Cranko heritage. Spuck deemed Jürgen Rose’s set design for Cranko’s version of “Romeo and Juliet” as too sweetish for the story’s hardship and aimed for more emotional authenticity. He got to work with set designer Christian Schmidt and costume designer Emma Ryott. Did he finally come up with a new, convincing approach? (more…)

Tradition made spectacular

“The Kabuki”
The Tokyo Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
June 08, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, The Kabuki by Maurice Béjart, Tokyo Ballet 2014 The Tokyo Ballet toured Stuttgart on June 7th and 8th with one of their core repertory pieces, Maurice Béjart’s “The Kabuki”, a dance-drama created for the troupe in 1986. The plot is based on the Japanese national myth “The Revenge of the 47 Ronin”, events which took place between 1701 – 1703 during the Edo period. The term ‘Ronin’ means ‘masterless samurai’ due to the master’s death or the loss of the master’s favor or privilege.

It’s an intricate story set in the circles of the Shogun. Morono, a high-level officer of the Shogun, is rejected by Lady Kaoyo, the wife of Lord Enya Hangan. Out of wounded vanity he starts to quarrel with the husband. Enya Hangan finally loses his temper and attacks the womanizer, earning more than he bargained for. Provoking fights inside the palace is forbidden and is punished with the stipulation to commit Seppuku, ritual suicide through disembowelment. He also has to dissolve his clan. Having no choice, he took his own life. (more…)

Patience Pays

“The Triadic Ballet”
Bavarian State Ballet II
Reithalle (Riding Hall)
Munich, Germany
June 06, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. The Triadic Ballet by Gerhard Bohner, Big Skirt, Nagisa Hatano, Copyright W. Hösl The revival of Gerhard Bohner’s “The Triadic Ballet”, after a quarter century of enforced slumber, has been a much-anticipated event in Munich. The legendary sequence of dances – famous for its strange, unwieldy costumes – was kissed awake by the Bavarian State Ballet’s artistic director Ivan Liška and his wife Colleen Scott. Both had belonged to Bohner’s faithful first cast from day one. Actually, Bohner’s piece was a reconstruction and revision of an original by the German plastic artist Oskar Schlemmer (1888 – 1943). Schlemmer’s heirs had thwarted every effort to make his artistic work available to the public. Now, seventy years after Schlemmer’s death, the intellectual property rights have expired and this gave Liška leeway to proceed. (more…)