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Pipe Dreams

“La Fille du Pharaon”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 08, 2019 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Obraztsova, “La Fille du Pharaon” by P. Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. Yusupov Aspicia, the heroine in Petipa’s “La Fille du Pharaon”, was a highly coveted role among ballerinas. Carolina Rosati, an Italian ballerina whose insistence propelled the ballet to creation, danced Aspicia at the world premiere in St. Petersburg in 1862. Mathilde Kschessinska, the unofficial queen of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theatres, claimed the role as hers at the 1898 revival – meaning that it was like a revolution when the role was given to Anna Pavlova in 1906. “La Fille du Pharaon” was Petipa’s first significant choreographic success. Pierre Lacotte’s take on the ballet for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000 was a tribute to Petipa and to the famous ballerinas who had shared their knowledge about Aspicia with Lacotte: Lyubov Egorova, Mathilde Kschessinska, and Olga Spesivtseva.

The ballet’s rambling narrative is loosely based on Théophile Gautier’s 1857 novel “The Romance of a Mummy”. Fueled by opium, an English explorer imagines a slew of adventures with Aspicia, the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh. Aspicia, a mummy, resurrected from her sarcophagus, goes hunting and is saved from a lion’s wrath by the heroic Egyptian Taor (the Englishman), with whom she naturally falls in love. The duo, contending with Aspicia’s forced marriage to the King of Nubia, elopes to an idyllic fishing village. There, they are met by further hazards: suicide attempts, a detour to the underwater realm of the God of the river Nile, and more. Finally, Aspicia and Taor are reunited and happily married – until at the height of the rejoicing, the Englishman awakes from his dream. (more…)

Topical

“La Esmeralda”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 07, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O. Kardash, “La Esmeralda” by V. Burmeister, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2019 © A. Klyushkina Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” – which features Notre-Dame’s deformed bellringer Quasimodo and the compassionate, kind Esmeralda – has long been popular material for stage and film adaptions. The first ballet adaption premiered in London in 1844, with choreography by Jules Perrot and music by Cesare Pugni. In 1950, Vasiliy Tikhomirov and Vladimir Burmeister produced a new libretto for their version with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre. As in the novel, their production is set in the 15th century and has a frame narrative that explores Esmeralda’s childhood background. For this iteration of the tale, Tikhomirov and Burmeister brought back Esmeralda’s tragic death while eschewing several secondary characters. In addition, Pugni’s score was newly orchestrated and supplemented with music by Reinhold Glière and Sergei Vasilenko. The three-acter is still in the company’s repertory and – more than 500 years later it is (regrettably) still highly topical. “La Esmeralda” exposes the Catholic church’s sickening hypocrisy and rotten ethics, which have made and continue to make international headlines to this day.

At the heart of the story is Esmeralda, who was picked up and raised by the Romani after they (wrongly) deemed her mother Gudule to be dead. (more…)

Second International Ballet Conference at Dutch National Ballet

“Positioning Ballet 2019”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

February 16/17, 2019
by Ilona Landgraf

Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

This February, the Dutch National Ballet welcomed international dance professionals for a two-day working meeting at the second “Positioning Ballet” conference. In 2017, at the first iteration of the event, the key topics were heritage, diversity, and identity. The 2019 meeting dealt with the relevance of ballet in the 21st century, the work culture ballet aims to embody, and the types of leadership required from artistic directors. Unlike in 2017, this year’s conference was closed for the press on the first day. As such, I missed the two keynote speeches – one by Jennifer Homans, the author of “Apollo’s Angels”, and the other by Theresa Ruth Howard, the founder and curator of MoBBallet (Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet) – and the discussions that followed. Homans spoke about internal and external threats to the arts and ballet in particular, while Howard’s speech was titled “The Deconstruction of the Anatomy of Culture and Leadership in Ballet”. (more…)

The Doyen

“Ode to the Master” (“On the Move” / “Symphonieën Der Nederlanden” / “Sarcasmen” / “5 Tango’s”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 17, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. H.van Manen and D.Camargo, rehearsal of “5 Tango's” by H.van Manen, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © A.Kaftira“If it was up to me, all I’d be doing was cooking for friends and watching snooker on TV”

These are the words, taken from a 2018 interview, of a choreographer heralded by the Dutch National Ballet as a master. The company dedicated an ode in the form of a ballet program in September 2017, to celebrate the 85th birthday of this nonpareil: Hans van Manen.

This February, the company revived “Ode to the Master”, and it happened that a matinee performance was shown at the closing of the international “Positioning Ballet”-conference held at the Dutch National Opera (a report on the conference will follow). It was a good chance to see the all-van Manen bill again. (more…)

Superficies

“Requiem” (“Citizen Nowhere” / “Requiem”)
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 16, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Wijnen, “Citizen Nowhere” by D.Dawson, Dutch National Ballet 2019 © H.GerritsenDavid Dawson’s “Requiem” premiered in early February as the second half of an all-Dawson bill from the Dutch National Ballet. The first half was “Citizen Nowhere”, a twenty-or-so minute solo, also created for the Dutch company and first performed in the “Made in Amsterdam 2”-program in 2017.

That “Citizen Nowhere” was inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella “The Little Prince” only becomes clear when a selection of signaling words and quotations are projected onto the gray backdrop: “Fox: anything essential is invisible to the eyes; one can only see clearly with the heart”; and “SNAKE: The Tears” (Tears is subsequently replaced with EYE and HEART). Instead, Dawson’s reading of the novella is a political one that tackles nationalism, displacement, and – highly topical – the building of walls. (more…)

Galloping Fate

“Carmen”
Ballet of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

Rome, Italy
February 09, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Salvi and A.Ramasar, “Carmen” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma 2019 © Y.Kageyama It is said that Czechs are good storytellers. Such generalizations are prone to rebuttal but that’s not the case for Jiří Bubeníček. He has delivered an array of fine pieces over the last years: “Faun”, “The Piano”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Anita Berber – Goddess of the Night” – to name just a few. His new narrative ballet, “Carmen”, which premiered at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in early February, is convincing too. It’s intense, coherent, and fresh.

When we talk about “Carmen”, it’s easy to think immediately of Bizet’s opera, which failed at its premiere in 1875 and still won international acclaim after the composer’s premature death. Dance aficionados might also know Roland Petit’s 1949 ”Carmen”-ballet and Alberto Alonos’s 1967 “Carmen- Suite”, which both condense the source plot to around forty minutes. The pieces’ literature source – a novella penned in 1847 by Prosper Mérimée (1803 – 1870) is less popular. This is where Bubeníček dug deep. (more…)

Scratch the Varnish

“Bella Figura” (“Bella Figura” / “Stepping Stones” / “Sweet Dreams” / “Sechs Tänze”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
February 02, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Y.Han and K.Wünsche, “Bella Figura” by J.Kylán, Ballet Zurich 2019 © G.BartadonIn September 2017, the Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián was awarded the “Positano Premia La Danza Léonide Massine” for life achievement. Last year, The Hague (his chosen home) celebrated his seventieth birthday by bestowing him with honorary citizenship at a festival in his honor. This March, Kylían will become a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts and will preside over the newly established choreography section of the Académie Française.
In mid-January, a Kylán-homage premiered at Ballet Zurich, created from four pieces that had been developed between 1986-1995. In an interview in the program booklet, Kylían described the pieces as having very different choreographic handwriting and therefore as unrelated. (more…)

Simply Wonderful

Wonderful Circus”
Laterna magika

The New Stage
Prague, Czech Republic
January 26, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. P.Knolle and A.Volný, “Wonderful Circus” by K.Vrtiška, J.Hrabal, V.Jílek, J.Koníček and F.Pokorný, Laterna magika 2019 © P.NašicThirty-six years after its construction, Prague’s New Stage is no longer a spring chicken. Many of the auditorium’s dark-green leather seats are patched up, and the seating in the foyer is dated. But maybe that’s precisely the reason this theater is so cozy and welcoming. It’s the home stage of Laterna magika, the cross-genre theater founded in 1958 to represent Czechoslovakia at the Brussels EXPO. “Wonderful Circus”, the troupe’s signature piece, has been around for over forty years too. Its old-school theater magic might not appeal to today’s young audiences, but I found it simply wonderful. It’s creators, an all-Czech artistic team, worked from their fabulous instincts to captivate and entertain the audience. What’s more: they built the piece with love.

The circus-theme is by film director Evald Schorm. He directed the piece together with Jiří Srnec and Jan Švankmajer; the sets are by Josef Svoboda and Zdenek Seydl designed the costumes. Emil Sirotek, a cameraman, filmed the videos; script, choreography and music were generated by a team of five. (more…)

Regional

“The Little Mermaid”
Czech National Ballet
The Estates Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
January 26, 2019 (2:00 pm)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Podařilová and M.Matějková, “The Little Mermaid” by J.Kodet, Czech National Ballet 2019 © M.Divíšek This week’s Economist features the title “Slowbalisation” – an invented term combining the notion that globalization is slowing down with the idea that regional relations are becoming weightier than ever. Prague’s Czech National Ballet is a prime example of how slowbalisation can be seen in the dance sector as well. The artistic team behind its “Little Mermaid”, a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, is almost entirely Czech, complemented only by two Slovakians and one German. (more…)

Heritage-Trashing

“Manon”
English National Ballet
London Coliseum
London, Great Britain
January 19, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Caley and A.Cojocaru, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, English National Ballet 2019 © ENB / L.LiotardoThe English National Ballet (ENB) is a touring company – and that means that its productions have to be fit for traveling. In preparing for the tour, the décor of Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” had to be boiled down to basics – and either the company borrows an existing set or spends a large sum on commissioning a new one.

The ENB opted for borrowing Mia Stensgaard’s set and costumes from the Royal Danish Ballet – and this was ultimately a decision that harmed the piece. Manon and De Grieux’s apartment and the jail guard’s bureau in Act III are fine; it’s hard to go wrong with a four-poster bed and functional desks. (more…)

The Past and the Present

Asphodel Meadows” / “The Two Pigeons”
The Royal Ballet

Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
January 19, 2019 (12:00 am)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Magri and T.Dyer, “Asphodel Meadows” by L.Scarlett, The Royal Ballet 2019 © ROH / B.CooperKnowing that the Brexit mess might soon become a restrictive reality, I grabbed at the chance to fly to London for some ballet. The Royal Ballet lured me in with a double bill that can’t be seen in continental Europe: “Asphodel Meadows” by Liam Scarlett (the company’s artist-in-residence since 2012) and Frederick Ashton’s “The Two Pigeons”.

I am unfamiliar with Scarlett’s work, and “Asphodel Meadows” seemed an apt introduction. The piece was not only Scarlett’s debut choreography with the main company in 2010, but also his international breakthrough as a choreographer. The meadows named in the title are those of the ancient Greek underworld, covered in white asphodel (an herb). Ordinary souls dwell there in the afterlife – and although they’re not the luxurious Elysian Fields, they are described by the poets as a fertile and flowery paradise of sorts. (more…)

The Power of Imagination?

“La Fresque”
Ballet Preljocaj
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
January 11, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “La Fresque” by A.Preljocaj, Ballet Preljocaj 2019 © J.-C.CarbonneBallet Preljocaj, Angelin Preljocaj’s Aix-en-Provence-based company, toured Germany in early January with “Le Fresque”. The piece, which features choreography by Preljocaj from 2016, depicts and interprets “The Mural”, a narrative from the collection “Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio” by Chinese author Pu Songling (1640 – 1715). Two male wayfarers, Chu and Meng, are forced by inclement weather to stop at a dilapidated temple. There, a temple fresco showing a group of young women attracts Chu’s attention. He falls in love with one of the women and, while watching her, suddenly finds himself inside the painting. The painting comes surreally to life, and a romance blossoms between Chu and the woman, climaxing in a consummation of the marriage. (more…)

Sweet Hope

“Cinderella”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 29, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Tsyganova, W.Tietze, S.Kaic, E.Merdjanova and A.Tsygankova, “Cinderella” by C.Wheeldon, Dutch National Ballet 2018 © M.HaegemanGripping storytelling is a gift – and Christopher Wheeldon has it. His “Cinderella”, revived by the Dutch National Ballet this Christmas season, warms the heart. It’s the right ballet at the right time. As I strolled through the foyer during the breaks, I saw the enthusiastic faces of the many children who attended the matinee with their parents, including a few youngsters imitating dance steps and one girl turning cartwheels – which are not in Wheeldon’s choreography – in the entrance hall. (more…)

Some Thoughts on Ratmansky’s Reconstruction of Petipa’s “Bayadère”

La Bayadère”
State Ballet Berlin

Staatsoper unter den Linden
Berlin, Germany
December 28, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Martirosyan and corps de ballet, “La Bayadère” by M.Petipa reconstructed by A.Ratmansky, State Ballet Berlin 2018 © Y.Revazov“My Bayadère?…I can’t describe it. It’s the same, but completely different. On one hand it’s less; on the other, it has more details – but these are different details.”
That’s what Alexei Ratmansky said in an interview conducted by Margaret Willis for the January issue of Dancing Times about his recent reconstruction of Marius Petipa’s “La Bayadère” for the State Ballet Berlin. If he can’t describe it, then who?

Nevertheless, much has already been written about this “Bayadère”: Marina Harss posted an extensive review on DanceTabs and Alastair Macaulay covered the piece for the New York Times. All that I can do is add my thoughts and observations. (more…)

A Conversation With Guillaume Côté

Moscow, Russia
December 16, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Côté rehearsing “Frame by Frame” by R.Lepage and G.Côté, The National Ballet of Canada 2018 © The National Ballet of Canada / A.AntonijevicGuillaume Côté, principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada, had just made his debut as a guest dancer with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet the previous evening, dancing Romeo in Alexei Ratmansky’s version of “Romeo and Juliet” alongside Evgenia Obraztsova. The role was originally created on Côté in 2011. We met early in the morning – a couple of hours before Côté would return to Toronto – to talk about Romeo, love, his career, and Russia. The first topic we touched upon was dance critique.
Côté’s answers are in italics. (more…)