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A Revealing Autobiography

Marina Grut:
“My Dancing Life: Spanish and Ballet Across Three Continents”
317 pages, colored and b/w photos
The Book Guild Publishing, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1912083541
February 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

Marina Grut – a South Africa-born dancer, dance mistress, Cover “My Dancing Life: Spanish and Ballet Across Three Continents” by M.Grut © The Book Guild Ltdand choreographer – has already written three historical books: one on the history of ballet in South Africa, one on the history of the Bolero, and a third on the history of the Royal Swedish Ballet. Her fourth book deals with another important history: her own.

Grut (née Keet) was born in 1934 and received her first ballet training in Cape Town. At the young age of sixteen, she took over a local dance studio in Stellenbosch, her family’s hometown, commuting daily to Cape Town to continue her studies at the University Ballet School under Dulcie Howes. In 1956, Grut quit ballet to instead focus on teaching Spanish dance. Three years later, she married a doctor of forestry from Denmark, traveling with him from Sweden to South Africa, Rome, Washington D.C., and London. Wherever she went, Grut indefatigably promoted Spanish dance. She taught, lectured, excavated regional dances, and organized performances. One of her main achievements was the development of the Spanish Dance Syllabus for the Spanish Dance Society in 1965. It became the standard for the training and evaluation of students of Spanish dance. (more…)

Let Heads Roll

“The Last Supper”
DEKKADANCERS
The New Stage
Prague, Czech Republic
January 28, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Š.Pechar, M.Deneux and M.Lanoue, “The Last Supper” by Š.Pechar, O.Vinklát and M.Svobodník, DEKKADANCERS © M.Hančovský  Two French chefs (Morgane Lanoue and Mathias Deneux) were already preparing “The Last Supper” onstage when the audience took its seats. Wearing pristine white chef’s hats and red and blue shoes respectively, they were on the hunt for a bluebottle that hummed obtrusively around the blocky table and marred the cozy bar music played by a little band in the back. But using a kitchen trowel as swatter wasn’t productive. While the guests arrived and gathered around the huge table center stage, the fly buzzed towards a safe place. The table, made of several smaller blocks, was plastered with pages of the international press, which later, when the parts were separated, revealed huge red blood stains splashed across the newspaper. This was certainly not a Christian meal… (more…)

A Fairy Tale Told Too Simply

“The Snow Queen”
Czech National Ballet
The National Theatre
Prague, Czech Republic
January 27, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Nanu and ensemble, “The Snow Queen” by M.Corder, Czech National Ballet © D.WhartonWhile beautifully costumed brass and percussion bands paraded across Prague’s Charles Bridge, vociferously driving out wintertime, icy winter’s cold descended on the National Theatre’s stage as the Snow Queen tried to extend her power over innocent village youth. She fails, securing a happy ending. Over the years a number of choreographers have adapted Hans Christian Andersen’s popular story for the ballet stage. In spring 2016 the Czech National Ballet took Michael Corder’s version into their repertoire, which was created for English National Ballet in 2007. (more…)

Hot Air

“Emergence” (“Speak for Yourself” / “Emergence”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 20, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Mulligan, “Speak for Yourself” by S.León and P.Lightfoot, Ballet Zurich © G.Batardon The program booklet for “Emergence”, Ballet Zurich’s new double bill, raised high expectations. The evening’s title was taken from Crystal Pite’s piece. According to the praise lavished on her, she must be phenomenal and talented beyond belief. “Speak for Yourself”, choreography by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, was dubbed an “alchemistic experiment” in which fire, water, and dance magically merge. Getting in contact with the element water was called a decisive metaphysical moment. Some photos of “Speak for Yourself” were printed with wise sayings quoted from the “Tao Te Ching” by Laozi. Both pieces were danced to recorded music.
Did the program deliver what it promised? (more…)

An Appreciation

Frank-Manuel Peter:
“The Painter Ernst Oppler – The Berlin Secession & The Russian Ballet”
176 pages, 220 colored and 7 b/w photos
Published by Wienand, September 2017
ISBN: 978-3-86832-391-7
January 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Book cover, “The Painter Ernst Oppler – The Berlin Secession & The Russian Ballet” by F.-M.Peter, Wienand Publishing House © Wienand Pubslishing HouseThe Ballets Russes caused an earthquake upon arriving in Paris in 1909. It’s much less well known, however, that Russian dancers – primarily Anna Pavlova – created a stir in Germany (then a ballet diaspora) just days before. Although the first tour of the Imperial Russian Ballet to Berlin in 1908 had been cut short due to limited public interest, Pavlova and her colleagues were enthusiastically celebrated by critics and audience alike one year later. Tickets for their first performance at Berlin’s Royal Opera (today’s Oper unter den Linden) were reserved for those in the cultural elite: authors, critics, actors, and members of the Berlin Secession, a group of artists that opposed the academic art politics of the Wilhelmine era. For painter Ernst Oppler, the performance on May 5th, 1909 was a turning point in his career – a career that would become the focus of “The Painter Ernst Oppler – The Berlin Secession & The Russian Ballet” by Frank-Manuel Peter, head of the German Dance Archive Cologne. (more…)

Progress

“Don Quixote”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
January 13, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Trusch, M.Sugai and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev after M.Petipa, Hamburg Ballet 2018 © K.WestIn an interview in the program booklet for “Don Quixote” Neumeier said that his vision has been to broaden the horizons of his dancers and of the audience. Noble motives that over the years have left much to be desired. Two years ago, Hamburg Ballet’s season involved only one piece by another choreographer in addition to Neumeier, while last season was all his. This season’s schedule was enriched by two foreign choreographers: Rudolf Nureyev and Jerome Robbins. Already in September a double bill by Robbins (“Dances at a Gathering” and “The Concert”) was revived. In December, Nureyev’s version of “Don Quixote” premiered. Manuel Legris had come over from Vienna to lead the rehearsals. But the question is, being primarily limited to Neumeier’s style and short of input from others, how did the company respond to the challenges Nureyev’s piece presents? (more…)

Dance and Music

“b.33” (“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” / “Roses of Shadow” / “Polish Pieces”)
Ballett am Rhein
Opera House Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, Germany
January 07, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Liashenko and E.White, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” by G.Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, Ballett am Rhein 2018 © G.WeigeltJust a few days ago, Ballett am Rhein announced that the contract of its artistic director, Martin Schläpfer, has been extended until the fall of 2024. Schläpfer has helmed the company and its associated ballet school since 2009, but in 2016 handed over his administrative responsibilities to Remus Şucheană so that he might regain some freedom to pursue his artistic work. Şucheană’s contract was similarly extended.

Schläpfer names his ballet programs numerically – and with his latest, which premiered in mid-December, he reached “b.33”. It was a triple bill – a recurring and well-established format in Düsseldorf – with a tried and tested combination of choreographers: Balanchine, Schläpfer, and Hans van Manen. Specifically, Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” and van Manen’s “Polish Pieces” were added to the already considerable repertoire the company dances from both choreographers. The middle piece, “Roses of Shadow”, was a new creation by Schläpfer. (more…)

The Post-Diaghilev Generation

Michael Meylac:
“Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes – Stories from a Silver Age”
288 pages, 78 b/w photos
I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd., October 2017
ISBN: 9781780768595
January 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes” by M.Meylac, book cover © I.B.Tauris & CoLast year in early spring I met Michael Meylac at a performance of Cranko’s “Onegin” at the Bolshoi Theatre. Passionate about dance, Meylac quizzed me about the German companies and told me about the book on the Ballets Russes he was about to finish. He pondered which title to choose. We had no opportunity to continue our conversation, so I didn’t get to know more about the project.

Meanwhile, the book has been published.
Actually, I had expected a monograph on the Ballets Russes similar to Sjeng Scheijen’s biography of Diaghilev. I was wrong. “Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes” is a collection of interviews – thirty-two in total conducted between 1989 and 2007. Only one interviewee was not a dancer, the secretary of the Marquis de Cuevas; all others performed with the Ballet Russes companies.
Meylac, born in Leningrad, today’s St. Petersburg, is a distinguished Russian literature professor and philologist. Yet, the Soviet authorities disapproved of his work on foreign-published dissident writers and sentenced him to seven years imprisonment and five years in exile. In 1987, after four years in the Gulag, he was released and later settled in France. There he worked as a Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Strasbourg, sharing time between Europe and Russia. (more…)

A Disappointing “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
December 25, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain and F.Vogel, “Swan Lake” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletAfter a five-year absence from the stage Stuttgart Ballet revived John Cranko’s “Swan Lake” this December. It premiered in Stuttgart in 1963 as Cranko’s second evening-length piece after “Romeo and Juliet” in 1962. Cranko generally followed Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s traditional version, but shifted the focus towards the prince. While the third act’s festivities celebrating the prince’s coming of age (the introduction of the potential brides, the national dances, the Black Swan Pas de Deux and Rothbart’s deceptive maneuver) remained largely untouched, Cranko replaced the waltz and the Pas de Trois at Siegfried’s pre-birthday party in Act I with a Pas de Six. Of the various endings, Cranko chose to the one in which Siegfried drowns when the sea bursts its banks during a heavy thunderstorm, whereas Odette stays under Rothbart’s curse. (more…)

The Prince Awakens His Beauty

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
December 17, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Makhateli and D.Camargo, “The Sleeping Beauty” by P.Wright after M.Petipa, Dutch National Ballet 2017 © A.KaftiraThis Christmas Season Dutch National Ballet revived Peter Wright’s version of Marius Petipa’s “The Sleeping Beauty”, presenting no less than seven different leading couples in seventeen performances. Actually, one should see each cast. Alas – I could only travel once to Amsterdam and saw the matinée on December 17th led by Maia Makhateli as Princess Aurora alongside Daniel Camargo’s Prince Florimund.

Many young children attended the performance, all of them in festive clothing, and it was a pleasure to watch them hop around and imitate the dance steps during the breaks. One little girl in a golden skirt even turned cartwheels in the foyer. (more…)

It’s Done

“Nureyev”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
December 09, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Lantratov, “Nureyev”, chor.: Y.Possokhov, dir.: K.Serebrennikov, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Ballet / M.LogvinovAfter the Bolshoi Ballet’s July premiere of “Nureyev” was canceled at the last minute, officials doubled down on security efforts for the rescheduled performance on December 9th. Although guards lined the theater’s entrances and the curtain rose behind schedule, the performance was a smooth ride from start to finish.
And yet only those who attended the dress rehearsal this summer can truly asses whether or not the initial version was tweaked to comply with requests from the authorities. One might have noticed, for instance, that Richard Avedon’s photo of the naked Nureyev was not used as a backdrop, but rather was only projected on a screen for a quick second. But given the fact that the work was finally seen by the public – do these minor changes matter?

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov, stage director and set designer Kirill Serebrennikov, and composer Ilya Demutsky are the artistic core team behind “Nureyev”. Interviews with the trio, who had previously collaborated on the Bolshoi’s ballet “A Hero of Our Time”, were printed in the program booklet, which also contains Serebrennikov’s libretto.

(more…)

Weird Matters

“Woke up Blind”, “The Statement”, “The missing door”, “Safe as Houses”
Nederlands Dans Theater / NDT 1
Haus der Berliner Festspiele
Berlin, Germany
December 01, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Woke up Blind” by M.Goecke, Nederlands Dans Theater 2017 © R.RezvaniThe last programs I saw of Nederlands Dans Theater’s main company (NDT I) were rather drab. However, the program they presented during their guest appearance in Berlin turned out to be varied and meaty. Its four pieces were by the Argentinian choreographer Gabriela Carrizo, the company’s associate choreographers, Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke (each of them contributing one piece), and by the inseparable team of Sol León and artistic director Paul Lightfoot.

(more…)

Universal Love

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
November 25, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Lopatin and A.Stashkevich, "Romeo and Juliet" by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.Fetisova Last week the Bolshoi Ballet added a second version of “Romeo and Juliet” to its repertoire. By Alexei Ratmansky, it premiered at the National Ballet of Canada in 2011 and is being performed on the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. As during recent years, Yuri Grigorovich’s adaption will be shown on the Bolshoi’s Historic Stage.
Ratmansky cast three leading couples: Ekaterina Krysanova & Vladislav Lantratov; Anastasia Stashkevich & Vyacheslav Lopatin; and Evgenia Obraztsova & Artemy Belyakov; however the pairings switched in the course of the first run. I saw the fourth performance after the premiere; Stashkevich was Juliet alongside Lopatin’s Romeo. (more…)

Opinions Divide

The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
London, Great Britain
November 19, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

Reading the recent reviews on the Royal Ballet’s triple bill of works by Twyla Tharp, Arthur Pita and Hofesh Shechter makes one smile and wonder at the same time. Smile, because of the totally different opinions of the writers. While Graham Watts, for example, judged Shechter’s “Untouchable” positively on backtrack.com and Mark Monahan declared it the program’s “undisputable highlight” in The Telegraph, Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times, found it “the most preposterously dance-thin ballet I have ever seen.” Jann Parry deemed it a “dated commission that never merited its place in the repertoire” on DanceTabs.

(more…)

On the Plight of Art and Artists in Russia

Focus on: Kirill Serebrennikov – A Panel Discussion
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 22, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.Serebrennikov, Stuttgart State Opera 2017 © A.T. SchaeferThis October, the Stuttgart Opera House premiered an unfinished work: “Hansel and Gretel” by Engelbert Humperdinck. Initially, the opera house chose to have Kirill Serebrennikov stage the piece. However, Serebrennikov was detained on August 22nd, and has remained under house arrest in Moscow since then. Many have speculated that the accusations brought against the artist might be pure invention.

Since early October the Stuttgart State Opera has been running a retrospective on Serebrennikov that encompasses his works for opera, theater, ballet and cinema, presented in an exhibition, a series of lectures, and two rounds of talks. (more…)