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Half-Baked

“Faust”
Maribor Slovene National Theatre
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
March 16, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Martino (Mephisto) and D.Buffone (Faust), “Faust” by E.Clug, Maribor Slovene National Theatre 2024 © Maribor Slovene National Theatre/T.MartaGoethe’s Faust: The Tragedy’s First Part wasn’t on Edward Clug’s agenda when choreographing a new piece for the Zurich Ballet in 2018. He wanted to tackle Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, but upon finding out that Zurich’s audience wasn’t familiar with the so-called “Soviet Faust,” he turned to his German representative. After its Zurich premiere, Clug’s Faust entered the repertory of other ballet companies, among them Clug’s home company in Maribor, Slovenia. Last weekend, this company performed the piece on their tour to Ludwigsburg.

Fate decided that Clug would indeed later adapt Master and Margarita for the ballet stage, but it was the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow where it premiered in 2021. Faust is a journeyman’s piece whereas Master and Margarita by comparison counts as a masterpiece. Faust assembles plenty of dance theater with group sequences, some of which are trenchant, while others are less convincing. At times, its acrid wit is close to horror. Although the ingredients are fine overall, they didn’t merge as a whole. (more…)

In Commemoration of Ekaterina Maximova

“Fragments of One Biography”
Bolshoi Ballet and Guests
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 01, 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Fragments of One Biography” staged by V.Vasiliev, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.FetisovaOn February 1st, the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina, Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009), would have celebrated her 85th birthday. A phenomenally successful (and multi-decorated) artist, Maximova’s fame reached far beyond Russia’s borders. After retiring from the stage of the Bolshoi in 1988, she continued to dance with other Russian and international companies—and sometimes even returned home to the Bolshoi. From 1990 on, Maximova worked as a coach, teacher, and member of several arts councils and committees. Every five years, Maximova’s husband, Vladimir Vasiliev, stages a gala at the Bolshoi in honor of his late wife. I was able to watch this year’s event on video. (more…)

Love, Faith, and the Inevitability of Karma

“Land of Faith – Bargujin Tukum”
Ballet of the Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre
Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre
Ulan-Ude, Russia
February 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Ovcharov and ensemble, “Land of Faith - Bargujin Tukum” by N.Dmitrievsky, Ballet of the Buryat Academic Ballet and Opera Theatre 2023 © N.Dmitrievsky Roughly 4000 miles separate Moscow from the Sakhalin Island in Russia’s Far East. Two-thirds along this stretch towards the east lies Ulan-Ude, the capital city of the Republic of Buryatia. Its population amounted to 436,000 last year. Lake Baikal is about 100 miles north of Ulan-Ude; the border with Mongolia to the south is 130 miles or so away.
Last year, the Republic celebrated the centenary of the foundation of the Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic—currently known as Buryatia (which is still an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation). On this occasion, the Buryat National Ballet and Opera Theatre commissioned the Moscow-based contemporary choreographer, Nikita Dmitrievsky, to create a new ballet. His Land of Faith – Bargujin Tukum premiered last May and will return to the schedule later this year. During a tour to Moscow last December, it was shown at the Stanislavsky Theatre. I was able to watch a video of the premiere. (more…)

A Grand Spectacle

“La Fille du Pharaon”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 16, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Mishina (Ramze), E.Kokoreva (Aspicia), and ensemble; “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov The Bolshoi Ballet’s La Fille du Pharaon is about an Egyptian pipe dream—and it felt like a dream indeed. I was already impressed in 2019 when I watched it for the first time. Five years later, the cultural landscape has changed so much that its magnificence seems surreal. It highlights the extent to which the paths of Western and Russian cultures have diverged. While European culture finds itself on shaky grounds, the Bolshoi stands firm as a rock. The critics who argue that Pierre Lacotte’s recreation of Marius Petipa’s La Fille du Pharaon (1862) is like unearthing a dusty ballet mummy are wrong. True, the piece’s libretto (which is based on Theophile Gautier’s 1857 Le Roman de la Momie and was edited by Lacotte) is flimsy. Hearty drags on an opium pipe transport a traveling Englishman and his servant to the pyramids during the reign of a mighty pharaoh. This pharaoh has a daughter who instantly falls in love with the Englishman. After some adventurous trouble (including the dispatch of a lion, a last-minute escape, a nearly murderous assault, a suicide attempt, and the hero’s near execution), the lovers are happily united. But – alas! Upon awakening, (more…)

How to Warm an Audience

Don Quixote”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia

February 15, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Limenko (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev, Stanislavsky Ballet 2024 © K.Zhitkova Moscow’s ballet audience is well-versed and demanding. The crowd that filled the Stanislavsky Theatre last Thursday to watch Don Quixote gave the quirky Don Quixote (Nikita Kirillov) and his gluttonous squire, Sancho Panza (Konstantin Semenov), a friendly but reserved welcome. The company’s former artistic director, Laurent Hilaire, added the production to the repertoire in 2019, and Hilaire’s successor, Maxim Sevagin, has kept it since 2022. As a former etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet who danced under Rudolf Nureyev’s directorate, Hilaire chose to introduce the Russian audience to Nureyev’s version of Don Quixote. Its set and costume design replicates Nicholas Georgiadis’s originals for the Paris Opera premiere.

Back at the bustling market square, the exuberance of the Spanish youth gradually spread through the rows. The legs of the toreadors sliced the air like knife edges; their leader, Espada (Evgeny Zhukov), missed no chance to parade his oomph; the sultry show of Olga Sizykh’s street dancer heated the air so much that the men began to brawl over the women – but the arrival of Don Quixote (on top of his armored old nag Rocinante) chilled passions. (more…)

Reassuring

“Chopiniana”/“Grand Pas from the Ballet Paquita
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
February 14, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

 1. A.Denisova, “Chopiniana” by M.Fokine, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov The musicians of the Bolshoi Orchestra are on their toes. After acknowledging the welcoming applause, conductor, Pavel Klinichev, raised his baton in the same instant that he turned around to face them. The vigorous bars that he prompted belonged to a Polonaise by Chopin. It opened Mikhail Fokine’s romantic Chopiniana (1908), which the Bolshoi Ballet revived in November 2022. It’s the first part of a double bill the second piece of which – the Grand Pas from Petipa’s Paquita – has been a landmark of classical dance since its creation in 1881.

There’s no need to discuss how Fokine’s choreography was performed. The Bolshoi is a guarantor of sublime performances. Indeed, the unity of the corps was nothing less than staggering; every step was measured yet effortless like an outpouring of natural decency. Perfect proportions soothed the eye. As the leading sylphs, Anastasia Stashkevich, Elizaveta Kruteleva, and Anastasia Denisova paid great attention to detail, adding the right tinge of buoyancy, melancholy, or playfulness to their solos. Vyacheslav Lopatin’s poet combined sensitivity and decisiveness. His clean and – at times mighty – jumps earned applause. Alyona Pikalova’s set design – an arch of gnarled treetops opening onto a sunny water meadow – invited the mind to dream.
I’ve watched several companies dance Chopiniana, but no performance was as complete as the Bolshoi’s. Perhaps due to experiencing messy times in my home country of Germany (and in the West in general), the refined order and serenity of Chopiniana felt especially comforting. It seemed like the epitome of civilization. (more…)

Prix de Lausanne 2024

“Rising Stars”
Théâtre de Beaulieu
Lausanne, Switzerland
February 04, 2024 (live stream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Finalists, Prix de Lausanne 2024 © G.BatardonYear after year, the organization team of the Prix de Lausanne has done a great job offering its online audience insight into the competition. This year, the one-week event concluded with a newly launched Rising Stars gala, which presented the finalists and three new choreographies. It was also streamed live. (more…)

Spoiled

“Timekeepers” (“For Hedy”/”Rhapsodies”/”Les Noces”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 20, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Williams, “For Hedy” by M.Tankard, Ballet Zurich 2024 © G.BatardonThe Ballet Zurich’s new triple bill Timekeepers is a testament to a wind of change that has swept through the company since Cathy Marston took the reins as artistic director last August. Twenty new faces joined the company, and many others left to follow the previous artistic director, Christian Spuck, to the State Ballet Berlin. I was told that, despite initial hesitation, the Ballet attracts large audiences to its performances. The premiere of Timekeepers was indeed very well attended. Its program combined two world premieres – Meryl Tankard’s For Hedy and Mthuthuzeli November’s Rhapsodies – with Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces (1923). Each of the three pieces comprises music that premiered almost exactly one-hundred years ago.

The Australian Tankard took on the challenge to choreograph George Antheil’s composition Ballet Mécanique, a medley of noises made by mechanical instruments, such as electric bells, propellers, a siren, and sixteen self-playing pianos (or pianolas). It couldn’t be realized in 1926, as synchronizing so many pianolas turned out to be impossible back then. (more…)

An Empty Packaging

“Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève” (“Noetic”/“VÏA”)
Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
January 12, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Noetic” by S.L.Cherkaoui, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève 2024 © G.BatardonNothing in last weekend’s tour of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève reflected the name of the company. It did not present ballet, and the two pieces that they performed did not represent in any way the significance that the theater claims. The first – Noetic (2014) – was choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, former artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, who has held the same position at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, since 2022. VÏA is a 2023 creation, which the Morocco-born Fouad Boussouf choreographed for the company.

Noetic (from the Greek noēsis, meaning inner wisdom, direct knowing, intuition, or implicit understanding) opened promisingly as Shogo Yoshii silently stepped behind his Japanese Taiko drums and hammered out a forceful staccato. It called the dancers – ten men and ten women, one of whom was clad like the men – into the light-gray box that the stage had been turned into. As they assembled in groups of three, standing motionless back to back, they reminded me of the triple formations of German federal police when securing the train station against traveling football fans. Noetic’s dancers weren’t uniformed though. (more…)

Additional Thoughts

“Coppélia”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
December 17, 2023 (online broadcast)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Andrijashenko (Franz) and L.Di Pasquale (Coppélia), “Coppélia” by A.Ratmansky, Teatro alla Scala 2023, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla ScalaAlexei Ratmansky’s latest piece is a new version of Coppélia for the Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala. A recording of its premiere on December 17th can be watched on Medici TV. In her review on December 18th, the New York Times dance critic, Roslyn Sulcas, praised the “wealth and detail of nuance” that Ratmansky brought alive. “He has infused [Coppélia] with new life,” she wrote, “as if a carapace of formulaic presentation and interpretation has been cracked open.”

She’s right, it’s an ambitious production in many respects – an asset for the company. At times though, Ratmansky’s wealth of detail feels like a continuous bombardment, as if he is overeager in combining an abundance of steps with plenty of flourish and excessive acting. His unconventional, fresh approach suffers from his striving for exceptionalism. And though I understand that as many dancers as possible should be involved, I’d have preferred a less crowded village square to better show off the pas de deux of the leading couple – Nicoletta Manni (Swanilda) and Timofej Andrijashenko (Franz). (more…)

A Showpiece

“A Swan Lake”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
December 17, 2023 (online since December 28, 2023)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “A Swan Lake” by J.Inger, Semperoper Ballet 2023 © Semperoper Dresden/N.MacKayDo not expect the Semperoper Ballet’s new A Swan Lake to be the well-known classical swan story. True, it’s still danced to Tchaikovsky’s score, but it eschews the greatest part of its traditional personage. Vladimir Begichev’s original libretto of Swan Lake (1877) wasn’t what the Swedish choreographer Johan Inger had in mind. He took inspiration from the German author Johann Karl August Musäus’s folk tale The Stolen Veil (1784), which is considered to be one of several possible sources that Begichev used.

For those familiar with a traditional Swan Lake, a few names of the characters, Inger included, ring a bell. One of them is Benno, the original Prince Siegfried’s friend. Dresden’s version has no Prince Siegfried, and Benno is the lover of Queen Zoe, the unhappy spouse of King Zeno. Thanks to a magic veil, she’s able to transform into a swan and fly to a faraway lake. There, she takes a rejuvenating bath once a year and lives out her secret love affair with Benno. Zeno, however, finds out about it and, tearing up the veil, puts an end to further escapes for Queen Zoe. Act II features Zoe twenty years later. (more…)

Rekindled

“Shifting Symmetries” (“Concertante”/”Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet”)
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
December 23, 2023, (online: December 27, 2023)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Concertante” by H.van Manen, Vienna State Ballet 2023 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor The Vienna State Ballet’s newest triple bill combines pieces by Hans van Manen, William Forsythe, and George Balanchine. As Forsythe doesn’t allow video streaming of his works, his In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated wasn’t part of the online broadcast on December 27th (which showed a recording of the premiere on December 23rd).
I’ve often been unhappy about the Viennese performances, but what’s to expect when the choreographies given to them are mediocre? This time though, a meaty dance-diet was on the menu, and the company rose splendidly to the occasion.

Concertante (1994) has the punchy elegance that van Manen is known for. It’s sophisticated (but without frills) and so densely energetic that my eyes stayed glued on the dancers. Van Manen doesn’t choreograph pretty steps. His dancers prance cooly and strongly, throw challenging glances, and are forcefully present on stage. (more…)

Homage to Rainier III, Prince of Monaco

“Soirée Maurice Ravel” (“La Valse”/“L’Enfant et les Sortilèges”)
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum
Monte-Carlo, Monaco
December 23, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “La Valse” by G.Balanchine, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo 2023 © A.BlangeroThis year, Monaco celebrated the centenary anniversary of Prince Rainier III (1923–2005), the Principality’s monarch and head of state for almost 56 years. One highlight among the numerous events and exhibitions was a new double bill of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, featuring Balanchine’s La Valse and the company’s artistic director, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Spell). Both pieces are set to music by Maurice Ravel. L’Enfant et les Sortilèges is a one-act opera with a libretto by Colette whose 150th anniversary happens to be celebrated this year. World War I delayed its premiere at the Monte-Carlo Opera until 1925. Back then, Balanchine choreographed the dance sequences. In 1992, Maillot created his adaption. As a tribute to Prince Rainier – who is said to have loved Ravel’s music in general and especially L’Enfant et les Sortilèges – he presented a new version this year. There were only four performances scheduled at the Grimaldi Forum, and I saw the last one on December 23rd. It was attended by Prince Albert II, Princess Caroline, and Princess Stéphanie and opened with Monaco’s anthem. (more…)

Work Ethics

The Australian Ballet
Southbank/Victoria, Australia
December 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

It’s no secret that the country of Germany is in descent. Of the various aspects that add to the misery, one is that work has lost its intrinsic value in many classes of German society. Matters are different in the ballet world though. The Australian Ballet, for example, delivered high quality throughout the year. Earlier this December, the company’s artistic director, David Hallberg, honored the achievements of his dancers. In a sweeping series of promotions, sixteen dancers climbed the ranks. Their joy was infectious. Each promotee knows that a higher rank bestows higher expectations, and each one seemed to wholeheartedly embrace the new challenge.

The newest coryphées are Sara Andrlon, Saranja Crowe, Hugo Dumapit, Adam Elmes, Evie Ferris, Lilla Harvey, Larissa Kiyoto-Ward, and Montana Rubin.

(more…)

Lacking Punch (and more)

“The Nutcracker”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
December 19, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Su (Clara), D.Ionescu (Mrs. Stahlbaum), H.Erikson (Fritz), F.Puthenpurayil (Mr. Stahlbaum), and ensemble; “The Nutcracker” by E.Clug, Stuttgart Ballet 2023 © R.Novitzky/Stuttgart BalletAfter half a century without a family-friendly “Nutcracker”, the Stuttgart Ballet decided last year to fill the vacuum with a new version by Edward Clug. Clug, artistic director of the Maribor Ballet/Slovenia, had already contributed several short pieces to the Stuttgart company’s repertory, but “The Nutcracker” was his first full-evening story ballet for them. Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director, Tamas Detrich, took the set and costume design choices into his own hands and commissioned a longstanding collaborator of the troupe – Jürgen Rose – to team up with Clug.

Rose’s design for the Stahlbaums’ Christmas celebration and their daughter Clara’s dream journey into a magical realm is a medley of old and new styles. The costumes and Clara’s bed are Biedermeier-ish, and the Stahlbaums’ mansion is ultra-modern. Its plain, washy-brown walls create a claustrophobic atmosphere. Walnuts of different sizes connect the scenes like a visual leitmotiv. (more…)