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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…)

Customized

“Jane Eyre”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 09, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Sugai (Jane Eyre), “Jane Eyre” by C.Marston, Hamburg Ballet 2023 © K.WestLast December, John Neumeier announced that his then-new “Dona Nobis Pacem” would be his last choreography for the Hamburg Ballet. I was rightfully doubtful because the eighty-four-year-old did indeed schedule the premiere of yet another new creation – Epilogue” – for July 2024. With very few exceptions, the Hamburg Ballet’s purpose has been to present its artistic director’s oeuvre. In his farewell season, he at least allocated the other premiere to a foreign choreographer, the Zurich Ballet’s new artistic director, Cathy Marston. Her “Jane Eyre” received its Hamburg debut earlier this December. It’s an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous 1847 novel and was created for Northern Ballet in 2016 and later developed into a big-scale production for American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.

In an interview printed in the program booklet, Marston reports having been surprised about the unexpected assignment by Neumeier and also hints as to why Neumeier might have chosen “Jane Eyre”. (more…)

The Full Package

“Marguerite and Armand”/“The Dream”
The Australian Ballet
Sydney Opera House/Joan Sutherland Theatre
Sydney, Australia
November 21, 2023 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Brook (Armand), “Marguerite and Armand” by F.Ashton, The Australian Ballet 2023 © D.Boud The last new program of the Australian Ballet’s 60th anniversary season was an all-in-one package. Its two Ashton ballets – “Marguerite and Armand” (1963) and “The Dream” (1964) – showcased the dancers’ prowess and satisfied the audience’s appetite for both the tragic and the comic while at the same time celebrating the company’s historic connection to the Royal Ballet. This connection has been of the most pleasant nature as became evident in the interview that the livestream’s presenter, Catherine Murphy, and the artistic director, David Hallberg, conducted with Berry Wordsworth. Wordsworth, the Royal Ballet’s former music director, joined the Opera Australia Orchestra to conduct the Ashton program. As he recalled Ashton’s creative passion and the friendship between Peggy van Praagh, the Australian Ballet’s founder, and her London counterpart, the Royal Ballet’s Dame Ninette de Valois, one could sense that the buoyant spirit of the good old days is still vibrant. Furthermore, warmth and good humor dominated the add-on program and included additional backstage interviews and videos. (more…)

The Messenger

“Nicholas Roerich”
New Tretyakov Gallery
Moscow, Russia
November 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Nicholas Roerich” exhibition, right: “The Messenger: Tribe Has Risen Against Tribe”, New Tretyakov Gallery 2023 © I.Novikov-Dvinsky / Tretyakov Gallery “Have you ever crossed a rapidly flowing river in a boat? It is always necessary to steer higher than the spot towards which you are headed, otherwise you will be taken downstream. So, too, in the sphere of moral demands it is always necessary to steer higher – life takes everything downstream. Let your messenger hold the helm high, then he’ll reach his destination.”

Such was Tolstoy’s comment regarding the painting The Messenger: Tribe Has Risen Against Tribe (1897), a graduation work at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Academy of Arts submitted by twenty-three-year-old Nicholas Roerich (1874 – 1947). It depicts an old messenger sitting in a wooden boat next to an oarsman. The messenger’s stooped shoulders and downcast gaze suggest that he’s delivering bad news. In the distance, a Slavic settlement is outlined against the night sky. Sergei Diaghilev, in his review of the graduation works for the newspaper Novosti, called The Messenger one of the most interesting works in the exhibition, and it was one of three in total the collector Pavel Tretyakov chose for his Moscow gallery. The Messenger is one of the highlights of the Tretyakov Gallery’s current “Nicholas Roerich” exhibition, which celebrates the artist’s 150th anniversary. (more…)

Style Over Substance

Modanse”
Svetlana Zakharova Evening

Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
October 31, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Zakharova, “Come un respiro” by M.Bigonzetti; Svetlana Zakharova Evening, MuzArts 2023 © A.Stepanov The title “Modanse” sounds like an à la mode ballet – classy, extravagant, and fashionable. It belongs to a double bill featuring the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova. The external production includes dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet’s roster, and since 2019 has guested regularly on the Bolshoi Theatre’s stage and abroad.

As a seasoned artist, Zakharova must have an instinct about what suits her on stage. Hence I’m flabbergasted that she has kept Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Come un respiro” (“Like a Breath”) in the program. The 2009 creation, of which Zakharova acquired a reworked version, is ill-suited to make her and her co-dancers (among them Anastasia Stashkevich, Ana Turazashvili, Mikhail Lobukhin, Vyacheslav Lopatin, and Denis Savin) look good. Moreover, its succession of bland solos, pas de deux, and group dances fails to excite. (more…)

Trickling

Through the Looking-Glass”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia

October 29, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Mukhanova (adult Alice), G.Bosai (Black Queen), and ensemble; “Through the Looking-Glass” by K.Semenov, Stanislavsky Ballet 2023 © MAMT This April, the Stanislavsky Ballet premiered a new piece by one of Russia’s up-and-coming choreographers – Konstantin Semenov, who happens to be a dancer from within their own ranks. Semenov, winner of the 2015 competition for young choreographers of the festival for contemporary dance Context. Diana Vishneva, so far mainly created dance miniatures. His recent work “Through the Looking-Glass” is his first full-fledged, seventy-minute one-acter. Still a small-scale production, it was shown on the theater’s small stage, where the audience sits in intimate proximity to the dancers.
“Through the Looking-Glass” is based on Lewis Carroll’s 1871 eponymous novel, the sequel of his “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865). Again, young Alice enters a rhyme-ridden fantasy world, but this time through a mirror rather than a rabbit hole. Everything in this world is reversed, including written text, the meaning of words, and time (which runs counter-clockwise). (more…)

Fiendishly Fine

“Master and Margarita”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage)
Moscow, Russia
October 29, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Ovcharenko (Master) and E.Krysanova (Margarita), “Master and Margarita” by E.Clug, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / Batyr Anadurdiev I was skeptical whether Edward Clug was the right choice to tackle Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita”. A Russian choreographer seemed better equipped to adapt this landmark of Soviet literature for the ballet stage than a Romanian-born working in Maribor, Slovenia. Two years after its premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre, I was able to watch Clug’s “Master and Margarita” – and my reservations were proven thoroughly wrong. It’s a fabulous blend of entertainment and food for thought, brimful of metaphors and allusions. Yuri Possokhov, Clug’s Russian colleague, currently preparing a new piece for the Bolshoi, is full of appreciation for “Master and Margarita” as well. I met him at another performance where he told me that Clug understands the Russian soul perfectly well.

Interestingly, Clug, together with Christian Spuck (then artistic director of Zurich Ballet) intended to stage “Master and Margarita” in Zurich in 2015, but their plan was thwarted when the theater’s research revealed that ticket sales would be uncertain because the Zurich audience wasn’t familiar with Bulgakov’s novel. Destiny brought the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director Makhar Vaziev to the scene who decided to stage the piece in Moscow.

A lifetime could be spent exploring Bulgakov’s political and social satire and the biblical questions raised by the novel. In short “The Master and Margarita” (published only after Bulgakov’s death in 1940, first in an edited serial form in 1966/67 and uncensored in 1973) intertwines two plots: (1) the mayhem caused by the Satan (alias Professor Woland) and his entourage when visiting Moscow in the 1930s, and (2) the trial of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem during Pontius Pilate’s governance. The connecting link is the Master, a Muscovite author (and Bulgakov’s alter ego) whose latest manuscript tells the Jerusalem plot. Margarita is the woman who loves him and – unlike Moscow’s critics – his work. (more…)

An Own Goal

Wiebke Hüster / Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Some days ago, an article by Wiebke Hüster, leading dance critic of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, caught my attention (FAZ, October 07, 2023). Hüster wrote on the upcoming premiere of “Last Work” at the Hessian State Ballet. “Last Work” is by the Israeli Ohad Naharin – and he was the one Hüster objected. (more…)

Sorting Out

“Catharsis Dante”
Russian State Ballet of Siberia
Hvorostovsky Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre
Krasnoyarsk, Russia
June 30, 2023 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Botenkov (Sisyphus) and ensemble, “Catharsis Dante” by N.Dmitrievsky, Hvorostovsky Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre 2023 © Y.Raskova This April, the Krasnoyarsk Opera and Ballet Theatre scored a double victory at Russia’s Golden Mask Awards. Their reconstruction of “Catherine ou la fille du bandit” won the prize for the best ballet production and the best female part. I was curious about the company’s repertoire, but failed because of the distance. Krasnoyarsk is in Siberia, around 2400 miles east of Moscow. Luckily, Nikita Dmitrievsky helped me out. His ballet “Catharsis Dante” received its world premiere at the Krasnoyarsk Ballet this June and Dmitrievsky sent me a recording without much ado.

His name is well-known in Russia, where he realizes the majority of his dance projects, but he also worked in the Netherlands, UK, Israel, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Finland. An allrounder, Dmitrievsky is choreographer, artistic director, producer, filmmaker, lighting designer, and teacher in one. Costume design doesn’t seem to be on his spectrum and in the case of “Catharsis Dante” is by Inna Zaitseva. (more…)