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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…)

Grigorovich’s “Giselle”

“Giselle”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 18 / 19, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O.Smirnova and S.Chudin, “Giselle” by Y.Grigorovich after J.Coralli, J.Perrot and M.Petipa, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Theatre / E.Fetisova“Giselle” is in the core repertory of almost every ballet company, whether in a modern interpretation or a traditional one. The Bolshoi even holds two traditional versions, one by Yuri Grigorovich, the other by Vladimir Vasiliev. Vasiliev’s 1997 “Giselle” follows the earlier versions of Leonid Lavrovsky and Alexander Gorsky. Earlier in 1987 Grigorovich had instead traced the choreographic lineage directly via Marius Petipa to Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli’s 1841 original. In honor of the 90th anniversary of Grigorovich’s birth, the Bolshoi presented three performances of his “Giselle” as part of the Grigorovich ballet festival, of which I saw two matinées with different casts. (more…)

First International Ballet Conference at Dutch National Ballet

“Positioning Ballet”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 11-12, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

To discuss fundamental topics concerning the art form of ballet, the Dutch National Ballet assembled a keenly interested, much involved, very international group of guests for a two-day conference last weekend in Amsterdam. At the Saturday session, panel discussions addressed three topics: Heritage, Diversity and Identity. Of the two Sunday morning talks, one focused on networking among companies, and the other advocated inventive entrepreneurship. There was a performance both days, each a mixed bill with works which had been made for the Dutch company (see my reviews of “Made in Amsterdam 1” and “Made in Amsterdam 2”). (more…)

Wheeldon, Ratmansky, Pastor and a New Dawson

“Made in Amsterdam 2”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, Netherlands
February 12, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. N.Yanowsky, R.Wörtmeyer and ensemble, “Concerto Concordia” by C.Wheeldon, Dutch National Ballet 2017 © H.GerritsenThe program “Made in Amsterdam 2” consisted of ballets by four established choreographers. It was the Dutch National Ballet’s second mixed bill of works specifically intended for this company. One piece – a solo by David Dawson – was brand new whereas the other three – Christopher Wheeldon’s “Concerto Concordia”, “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” by Alexei Ratmansky and “Moving Rooms” by Krzysztof Pastor – dated from between 2008 and 2015. (more…)

Well Done Dutch National Ballet!

“Made in Amsterdam 1”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
February 11, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.DePrince and J.Stout, “Homo Ludens” by J.Arqués, Dutch National Ballet 2017 © H.GerritsenLast weekend was a busy one for Dutch National Ballet. The company premiered two mixed bills of four pieces each, one on Saturday evening, the second in a matinee on Sunday. In addition it held a two-day conference titled “Positioning Ballet” to discuss central topics concerning the art form with international guests on the panels. Clearly a huge effort had gone into its organization. It totally paid off. The weekend was a success and the conference will hopefully lead to regular meetings in the future. (more…)

Léon Bakst’s Flights of Fancy

“Bakst – Des Ballets Russes à la Haute Couture”
Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra Palais Garnier
Paris, France
January, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Cover of the program of the Ballets Russes season in Paris 1911: costume for a bacchanal from “Narcisse”, chor.: M.Fokine © BnF, département de la Musique, Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra A waving bright orange veil waves around the bacchanal who boisterously dashes across the poster indicating the entry of the current exhibition at the Palais Garnier. Engrossed in sensual thoughts, she strides out so vigorously that her long black hair wafts behind her. This bacchanal sprang from the painter’s easel of Léon Bakst. A costume design for Michel Fokine’s “Narcisse”, it decorated the official program of the 1911 Ballets Russes season in Paris.

Bakst (1866 – 1924), born as Leyb-Khaim Izrailevich (later: Samoylovich) Rosenberg, a Russian painter, set and costume designer, became famous as a member of the illustrious circle around Sergey Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He worked for theaters all over the world and in all types of theater genres. In 2016 Bakst would have celebrated his 150th birthday. On this occasion the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Opéra national de Paris have been paying tribute to him in an exhibition at the Palais Garnier, which opened last November. 130 objects – paintings, drawings, sketches, photos, costumes, letters either by Bakst or by related artists and a video – are shown in a side wing of around 300 square meters. They are loans from various museums in Paris and Marseille, the Paris Opera, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and private collectors. (more…)

Rural Idyll

“La Fille mal gardée”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
January 24, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Alberton and ensemble, “La Fille mal gardée” by F.Ashton, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2017Given the uncomfortable winter cold in Munich and the even more uncomfortable general political climate, being carried off by “La Fille mal gardée”, a rural late-summer idyll, in the National Theater was a welcome time-out. Frederick Ashton’s work, revived by the Bavarian State Ballet this week, brought us a harvest of good feelings.
The ballet, which premiered with the Royal Ballet London in 1960, is set in a time in which crops were harvested manually and women turned their spinning wheels at home. The tranquil, peaceful farming life “La Fille” depicts and its well-functioning village society with a sweet romance blossoming in secret, remind one of a time gone by. (more…)

A Gala without Glamor

“Gala With Stars of the Bavarian State Ballet”
Bavarian State Ballet
Prinzregententheater / Prince Regent Theatre
Munich, Germany
January 15, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Shirinkina and V.Shklyarov, “Parting“ by Y.Smekalov, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2017Half a year after Igor Zelensky assembled his new company in Munich, a gala seemed like the ideal opportunity to showcase his dancers’ individual talents. The gala was scheduled for three evenings in the city’s Prince Regent Theatre; the third evening, the one I saw, was even streamed live on the internet. Sadly, the Bavarian State Ballet didn’t take advantage of this opportunity. That wasn’t due to the dancers but mainly because of organizational failures. From the outside, it appeared the gala was a necessary ingredient to promote the repertory for this season, but when the time came, resources were inadequate to make the event special. (more…)

Olga Smirnova on “The Sleeping Beauty”

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
January 17, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Alexeyev, O.Smirnova, A.Belyakov and ensemble, “The Sleeping Beauty” by Y.Grigorovich after M.Petipa, Bolshoi Ballet © D.Yusupov 2017This Sunday, on January 22nd, the Bolshoi Ballet will stream “The Sleeping Beauty” live to cinemas all over the world. It is the Petipa-based version that Yuri Grigorovich created in 2011 for the re-opening of the Bolshoi’s historic stage which has lavish set designs by Ezio Frigerio and equally sumptuous costumes by Franca Squarciapino. Sunday’s cast includes Olga Smirnova as Princess Aurora alongside Semyon Chudin as her Prince. As the Lilac Fairy, Yulia Stepanova will counter Alexei Loparevich’s Carabosse.
I skyped with Olga Smirnova a few days prior to the cinema broadcast to talk about the piece and her role. Katerina Novikova, head of the Bolshoi’s press office, kindly interpreted from the Russian. Smirnova’s responses are in italics. (more…)

Can Dance Add to Verdi’s “Requiem”?

“Messa da Requiem”
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 08, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. W.Moore and ensemble, “Messa da Requiem” by C.Spuck, Ballet Zurich © G.Batardon 2017In mounting Giuseppe Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem”, the Zurich Opera House is bold but has set its sights quite high. Bold, because Christian Spuck, the ballet company’s artistic director, in charge of choreography and staging, involved the whole house, the entire ballet company, singers and the orchestra. Yet that the project would have weak points was predictable. Spuck himself declared in the program book, that this music needed no visualization. “Merging dance with singing is always prone to failure”, he moreover stated. So why did he try? (more…)

Spartacus versus Crassus

“Spartacus”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
January 03, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O.Gouneo and ensemble, “Spartacus” by Y.Grigorovich, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2017Yuri Grigorovich’s “Spartacus” has four leading characters: Spartacus, the heroic fighter for freedom, his antipode, the Roman consul Crassus, and the two men’s lovers, Phrygia and Aegina. The dynamics between the four characters varies depending on the dancers. Having already seen the ballet before Christmas, I was curious as to how the dynamics would be re-balanced by another cast. This time Cuban-born Osiel Gouneo danced Spartacus alongside Ivy Amista as Phrygia. Erik Murzagaliyev replaced the injured Matêj Urban in the role of Crassus. Prisca Zeisel was Crassus’s concubine Aegina.

Gouneo’s Spartacus melded feline suppleness with focused power. He is a fine jumper and turns with elegant ease. With confidence and natural pride, his chest cut through the air like a stately ship’s figurehead. His Spartacus was driven by inner visions, by an intense desire which the flash of his eyes also strongly expressed. Gouneo’s acting, be it when protecting Phrygia, uniting his fighters or struggling as a captive, was credible throughout. He made Spartacus a charismatic, likeable leader. (more…)

Maillot Revives His Beauty

“La Belle”
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo
Salle des Princes Grimaldi Forum
Monte Carlo, Monaco
December 30, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “La Belle” by J.-C.Maillot, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo © A.Blangero 2017Shortly after Christmas Les Ballets de Monte Carlo revived “La Belle”, Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of “La belle au bois dormant”, written by Charles Perrault in 1697. Maillot kept his original choreography from 2001 as well as Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s set design, but commissioned Jérôme Kaplan for new costumes most of which comically quote details of 16th century fashion. The music is Tchaikovsky’s but trimmed to around two hours.

Perrault took his inspiration from “Sun, Moon and Talia”, a fairytale written by Giambattista Basile in 1834, to which Maillot included some references. (more…)

Munich’s Heroes

“Spartacus”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
December 23, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Shklyarov and ensemble, “Spartacus” by Y.Grigorovich, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2016Since last Thursday, shortly before Christmas Eve, heroic fighters have commanded the stage of Munich’s National Theater. Hordes of men together with a few women all of them representing characters of either Thracian or Roman lineage, dance “Spartacus”, the epic about a Thracian man who, after having been enslaved by the Roman consul Crassus, engineers a revolt. What will happen, happens: Spartacus dies a hero’s death.

Big doses of fierce fighting and repeated displays of valor need a strong portion of the erotic in order to make them palatable to the audience. That is supplied by two women – Phrygia, Spartacus’s faithful mistress, and Aegina, Crassus’s conniving courtesan. The ballet’s action is based on the novella “Spartaco”, penned in 1874 by Raffaello Giovagnoli, who likely took liberties with historical material from before the Christian era.

There are plenty of “Spartacus” ballets in existence. Budapest, Vienna, Hong Kong and Cape Town have their own productions. Russia has seen four versions: the most recent is Georgy Kovtun’s for the Mikhailovsky Theatre. Aram Khachaturian had composed the music in 1954, and the first staging, by Igor Moiseyev for the Bolshoi in 1956 was short-lived. It was given only two performances, perhaps because it contained much pantomime but too little dancing. (more…)

Fighting for Syria’s Dance Culture

Dutch National Ballet
Amsterdam, Netherlands
December, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Joudeh, National Ballet Academy / Dutch National Ballet © M.Schnater“Every day when I wake up I look around myself, wondering where I am” Ahmad Joudeh tells me. The Syrian dancer grew up and lived in Damascus until in October of this year he had the chance to come to Amsterdam. “The first month I couldn’t accept the situation. Electricity for 24 hours, and water, hot water, every time; there is heat and the house … it’s a very nice house.”

How did things come about? Prompted by a press release from Dutch National Ballet about Joudeh, I skyped with him a few days ago to learn more about his background. (more…)