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Real Life and Ideals – Nureyev’s “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
May 14, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “Swan Lake” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa and L.Ivanov, Vienna State Ballet © Vienna State Ballet / A.Taylor “French and Russian style differ, so everything is a bit new at the moment,” Semyon Chudin told me in an interview a few weeks before his premiere in Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake” in Vienna. He and Olga Smirnova, both figureheads of the Bolshoi, guested in the leading roles with Manuel Legris’s company. I saw the first of two performances. How did they do?

Nureyev’s version differs in style, choreography and the weight given to several characters in comparison to other traditional interpretations of “Swan Lake”. The role of Benno, Prince Siegfried’s friend, is gone and, unlike in Russian productions, there is no fool either. Instead the focus shifts towards Siegfried, whom Nureyev danced more than fifty times himself; his last performance was in 1988 a few days after his 50th birthday. Nureyev’s Siegfried has more to dance – a formal Pas de cinq at his birthday party followed by a melancholy solo, for example – and allows deeper insight into his psyche. At the end he falls victim to Von Rothbart’s revenge and drowns in the floods of the lake, whereas Odette, still alive, stands at the lakeside like the idealized female. However desperately Siegfried stretches his arms towards her she is unattainable. He is doomed to die. (more…)

State Ballet Berlin – The Die is Cast

State Ballet Berlin
Berlin, Germany
May 04, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Waltz and J.Öhman © A.RivalAround six months ago, questions were raised about the legitimacy of Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman’s contracts as future artistic directors of the State Ballet Berlin. Their appointments needed the approval of the Stiftungsrat of the Opera, but because of the upcoming elections, the board hadn’t (and still hasn’t) the required quorum of members for making valid decisions. Having firmly protested against the appointment of the new directors for months, the dancers intensified their opposition at that time.

Apparently hoping that the furor would die down in the meantime, Waltz and Öhman, together with Berlin’s new cultural senator Dr. Klaus Lederer (DIE LINKE), talked with the dancers as part of a staff meeting at the end of April. Their aim was to provide insight into their artistic program, and to start “an open and constructive dialogue”*. On the following mid-morning, Waltz and Öhman gave a press conference in which they tried to imply that the waves had calmed and that all were eager to establish a “trustful and creative atmosphere”*.

The facts are as follows: (more…)

An Ordeal

“Don Quixote”
Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg
State Theater
Nuremberg, Germany
April 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Sasaki, R.Scott and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by G.Montero, Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg 2017 © J.Vallinas“Don Quixote” is best associated with the showy dancing of snappy youth, lighthearted joie de vivre and air sizzling with eroticism. The Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg’s new “Don Quixote” offers the opposite. Goyo Montero, artistic director of the company of around twenty dancers, boiled down the traditional three acts to a single one lasting 90 minutes. According to the program booklet, the production begins in a mental institution, a prison or a refugee camp. Given the huge gunny sacks serving as seats, buffers or protective wall (set design by Eva Adler and Montero), the scruffy gray and brown costumes and the simple bag-like headdresses credited to Angelo Alberto and Montero, I thought of mill hands kept in arrest. But regardless of the place one imagines the figures inhabiting it are insane. (more…)

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin on “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Vienna State Ballet
Moscow / Vienna
April 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “Swan Lake” by Y.Grigorovich after M.Petipa, L.Ivanov and A.Gorsky, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovIn mid-May Vienna State Ballet revives Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake,” the version he choreographed for the company in 1964. The new set and costumes are by Luisa Spinatelli. Four guest dancers will take the leading roles in the course of the run. The Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin dance twice, on May 14th and 17th; on June 4th Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov of The Royal Ballet guest in Vienna. The last performance on Monday, June 12th, will be streamed live on the internet.

While “Swan Lake” is Smirnova’s debut in Vienna, Chudin returns for the third time to the Austrian capital. Two weeks before opening night I asked both about their roles and about Nureyev’s production in particular. Smirnova, who at that time was in Moscow, answered in written form. Katerina Novikova, head of the Bolshoi’s press office, kindly translated Smirnova’s answers into English. Chudin, already rehearsing with the company in Vienna, talked with me via Skype. (more…)

Noverre Evening 2017

“Young Choreographers”
Noverre Society
Schauspielhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
April 20, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.McGowan and E.Comak, “Fraternal | Stories” by A.McGowan and E.Comak, Noverre Society Stuttgart – Young Choreographers 2017 © R.NovitzkyTwelve young choreographers presented their works to the public as part of this season’s two Noverre Evenings – Stuttgart’s platform for aspiring choreographers of dance. Two of the choreographers are female. Two of the ten pieces are collaborative works. Seven originated from within the ranks of the Stuttgart Ballet, and three were created by individual dancers from Lyon, Munich and Mannheim. Notably, none included point work. The quality of the works varied, but each was warmly applauded and some raised enthusiastic cheers. (more…)

Stuttgart Ballet’s “Walking, Talking Historical Person”

“Reid Anderson – Having it”
240 pages, b/w illustrations
Henschel Publishing House, April 2017
ISBN 978-3894877903
April 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Reid Anderson – Having It”, book cover © Henschel Publishing HouseReid Anderson celebrated his 68 years anniversary on April 1st a few weeks ago. His birthday present was a book: Reid Anderson – Having It, From Dancer to Director, initiated and edited by Vivien Arnold, Stuttgart Ballet’s Director of Press, Dramaturgy and Communications. Its authors, Angela Reinhardt and Gary Smith, are both very familiar with Anderson’s career. Smith covered Anderson’s childhood and teenage years in Canada, his training at the Royal Ballet School in London and his time as director, first of the Ballet British Columbia, then of the National Ballet of Canada. Stuttgart-based Reinhardt contributed the Stuttgart chapters of Anderson’s life, one as a dancer of John Cranko’s company, and the second, ten years later, as director of the company, a post he still holds.

The book, available in German and English, was introduced to the public by Anderson and Tim Schleider, Head of the Culture Department of the Stuttgarter Zeitung and the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, in a matinée talk in Stuttgart’s opera house on April 1st. (more…)

Heightened Drama

“Mayerling”
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
National Theater
Munich, Germany
April 06, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Polunin and A.Pershenkova, “Mayerling” by K.MacMillan, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2017 © W.Hösl Igor Zelensky invited Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, his own former troupe, to perform as a guest company for this month’s Ballet Festival Week in Munich. Last October, after a short period of double directorship in Moscow and Munich, Zelensky decided to concentrate solely on directing the Bavarian State Ballet. Laurent Hilaire, former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile, took over Zelensky’s post at the Stanislavsky in January this year.

The Stanislavsky brought along Kenneth MacMillan’s “Mayerling”, a piece rarely performed on German stages. As a special treat, Sergei Polunin danced the leading role at both performances. I saw the opening night. Although Polunin left the Stanislavsky in summer 2014, he continued to perform with the company on occasion. In Munich, he has been a permanent guest dancer since Zelensky took up the reins.

“Mayerling” isn’t the sort of piece one eagerly watches again and again – for at the root of the catastrophe of the piece is a tragedy that is too sad and a society that is too disgusting to witness repeatedly. The story is based on a dark chapter of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The Emperor’s third child with Elisabeth (“Sisi”), Duchess of the house of Wittelsbach, was Crown Prince Rudolf, who at the age of twenty-three, was forced into a marriage with Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. The ballet begins with the couple’s wedding ball and ends with the double suicide of Rudolf and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge at Mayerling. (more…)

Munich Opens Wonderland

“Alice in Wonderland”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
April 03, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Alice in Wonderland” by C.Wheeldon, Bavarian State Ballet 2017 © W.Hösl The first day of Munich’s Ballet Festival Week heralded the start of an extended cricket season at the city’s National Theater. Captains of noble descent lead the competing teams. Which of the players – half a zoo plus numerous playing cards – fight for the Queen of Hearts and which fight for the Duchess isn’t always clear. Games aren’t played by the rules in Wonderland. (more…)

Two Farewells at the Semperoper Ballet

“Theme and Variations” (Triple bill: “Theme and Variations”, New Suite”, “She Was Black”)
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
March 30, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. F.Voranger, Semperoper Ballet © I.WhalenSemperoper Ballet bid a double farewell on April 1st. True to his announcement last year, Mats Ek withdrew his works from the stage forever as he heads into retirement. “She Was Black”, originally choreographed in 1995, is among those that will retire with him. It has been part of the repertoire of the Dresden company for six years. When I learned about the 2nd goodbye, I thought it might be a premature April Fools’ joke – but it wasn’t. Fabien Voranger, the 36-year old principal of the company, ended his active dancing career with a final pas de deux in “She Was Black” in the middle of the season.

Born in Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, Voranger was trained at the Opéra National de Paris and the Studio Ballet Colette Armand in Marseille. A Prix de Lausanne scholarship led him to The Royal Ballet School before signing his first contract with Roland Petit’s troupe in Marseille. Engagements at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Vienna State Ballet soon followed. As Voranger stated in an interview in 2015, he tended to move on to another company whenever he felt stuck in his artistic growth: There will be always someone who can do more pirouettes than you, who is technically superior. So the most important thing in a career is to find someone who makes something of you.” (more…)

Boris Akimov – Half a Century for the Bolshoi

Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Akimov, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovDid you watch the Bolshoi Ballet’s live broadcast last October on World Ballet Day? If so, you must remember the lean, white-haired man who taught morning class: Boris Akimov. The motivation he spread was contagious, his vigor stupendous. Akimov demonstrated the exercises, had an eye on everyone and, simply with his charisma, kept everyone’s attention focused. Katerina Novikova, head of the press office, had just revealed in her introductory words that Akimov has been working at the Bolshoi for fifty years, and yet no one could have imagined that he was seventy years old at the time.

Akimov danced with the company, directed it artistically and for decades since has been teaching, rehearsing and coaching not only dancers of the Bolshoi and other companies abroad, but also students of the Russian University of Theatre Arts. He has been honored and recognized for his artwork extensively, including receiving the “People’s Artist of the USSR” in 1989, the highest title Russia can bestow on an artist.

I met Akimov on March 10th at the Bolshoi Theatre to find out more about his career and artistic vision. Novikova kindly interpreted from Russian to English and vice versa.
Akimov’s answers are in italics. (more…)

Room for Improvement

“Onegin”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 11, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova and N.Semizorova, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovConditions were the same overall on the second of the three evening performances of “Onegin” at the Bolshoi. The sky above the garden of the Larina family’s country house was bright blue, domestic bliss was as yet unclouded, the village folk were in an expansively jolly mood. The Bolshoi Orchestra under Pavel Sorokin, reliable as always, ensured a fine rendition of Tchaikovsky’s music. Yet unlike the evening before the story didn’t gain momentum.

“Onegin” needs four dancers of equal or complementary strength in the leading roles. The role of Olga is smaller than the other three, but her part is pivotal for the dramatic turn the story takes. Saturday’s cast had only one consistently strong dancer, Evgenia Obraztsova as Tatiana. (more…)

Bringing “Onegin” Home

“Onegin”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Tikhomirova, S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.Yusupov“John is here” is a well-known saying within the walls of Stuttgart Ballet. People know what they are talking about. Ever since his untimely death more than forty years ago John Cranko’s spirit has energized his Stuttgart company.
Yet last weekend his presence was strongly palpable elsewhere. The Bolshoi performed his “Onegin” on three consecutive evenings at home in Moscow. On first night not only Cranko seemed close but also Reid Anderson, who had supervised the production at the Bolshoi in 2013, and Jürgen Rose, whose costumes and set design are unvaryingly matchless. The Bolshoi Theatre and Stuttgart State Opera merged into one house on this Friday evening uniting their powers in a performance of overwhelming intensity. (more…)

Still Elusive: The Eternal Feminine

“Ondine”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 04, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Tsvirko and E.Krysanova, “Ondine” by V.Samodurov, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovIn 1958 Frederick Ashton choreographed the story of “Ondine” for The Royal Ballet in London. This three-act work is about the water nymph Ondine – a role Ashton made specially for Margot Fonteyn – who becomes the object of a worldly prince’s desire. Upon finding the prince unfaithful, Ondine kills him with a kiss. German composer Hans Werner Henze was commissioned with the “Undine” music. Other choreographers subsequently used Henze’s score for their own productions, the most recent dating from the summer of 2016 by Vyacheslav Samodurov for the Bolshoi Ballet. (more…)

Toer van Schayk – One Pillar of Dutch National Ballet

Dutch National Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.van Schayk working on the statue of Romeo and Juliet, Dutch National Ballet © R.HolleboomDutch National Ballet has been shaped by a troika of “van”: Rudi van Dantzig, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk, three fellow countrymen of roughly the same generation. Van Dantzig (1933 – 2012) became the company’s resident choreographer shortly after it emerged out of the Amsterdam Ballet and Nederlands Ballet fusion in 1961. He later co-directed the troupe for two decades before holding the director’s post. Since then, Hans van Manen, the Dutch doyen of choreographers, has created work for the company for more than forty years. Eighty-four-years old and still choreographing, he is internationally renowned. (more…)

A Dutch Program at the Bolshoi

“Frank Bridge Variations / Short Time Together / Symphony of Psalms”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 02, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Rodkin and E.Shipulina, “Frank Bridge Variations” by H.van Manen, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © M.Logvinov / Bolshoi TheatreReading the names of choreographers Hans van Manen, Paul Lightfoot and Jiří Kylián as part of the same program one immediately thinks of a performance in Amsterdam or Den Haag, or maybe also in Germany. Yet this triple bill was the Bolshoi’s. It’s a menu that’s not quite so familiar for the Moscow audience. Applause was respectable, though not overwhelming. The dancers, however, were in great shape! (more…)