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Safety and Comfort are Rare

“Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”)
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
March 29, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Martínez, “Winterreise” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015Reviving John Neumeier’s “Winterreise” in early spring seems odd programming. The ballet is based on Franz Schubert’s somber song cycle of 1828 as rendered musically by German conductor and composer Hans Zender. The twenty-four songs’ verses seem simple at first glance, almost folk-like, but plumb deeply into existential states of mind. Center stage are a young wayfarer’s experiences – encounters he has had with others along his life’s passionate path. Even if spring moods must be left aside “Winterreise” was a good opener the week before Easter.
Schubert had based “Winterreise” on poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794 – 1827), and he set them without informing the poet. Some attribute Müller’s death, which was untimely, to complete exhaustion; others speculate that he committed suicide due to unbearable depression. His verses exude gloom. He died in September and Schubert began composing in October. The two never met. Allegedly, Schubert secluded himself while composing. Eventually, when visiting friends he seemed to be unhinged. Zender suspects that the first concert performances of the piece must have caused fright rather than delight. Schubert died only one year later, in 1828. He was just thirty-one years old. (more…)

Re-exploring Stravinsky

“Stravinsky TODAY” (“Le Chant du Rossignol”,”L’Histoire du Soldat”, “The Firebird”)
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
March 21, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Camargo, “Le Chant du Rossignol” by M.Goecke, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 2015Stuttgart Ballet’s new triple bill is an all-Stravinsky evening. Three choreographers – Marco Goecke, Demis Volpi and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui – explored the exceptional composer’s music for their works. Two ballets are world premieres: Volpi’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” to Stravinsky’s suite from 1919 and Cherkaoui’s “The Firebird” to the Firebird-suite for orchestra, while Goecke presented a revision of his “Le Chant du Rossignol” originally created for the Leipzig Ballet in 2009.
Around a century ago Stravinsky’s unfamiliar, bold compositions set the ballet community abuzz. The scandal the Ballets Russes caused in Paris in 1913 with Nijinsky’s choreography of “Le Sacre du Printemps” has no equal. Stravinsky, Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes – an explosive, cross-fertilizing artistic collaboration. What impact has Stravinsky today? A question raised in the program book, which in the same breath mentions that using Stravinsky’s music already has a long tradition in Stuttgart: “The Soldier’s Tale” was Cranko’s first choreography in Cape Town in 1944. Ten additional ballets by Cranko set to Stravinsky followed, among them “The Firebird” (1964, a production for the Deutsche Oper Berlin) and “Le Chant du Rossignol” for Munich (1968). (more…)

A Well Assembled Spectrum

“2. International Ballet Gala”
Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg
State Theater
Nuremberg, Germany
March 20, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Vallejo, “Canon in D Major” by J.Bubeníček, “2.International Ballet Gala”, Ballet of the State Theater Nuremberg © B.Stöß 2015Goyo Montero is in his seventh season as artistic director of the State Theater Nuremberg’s ballet. Since then the Spaniard has established the troupe’s reputation – nationally as well as internationally. Last weekend’s ballet gala – the second since Montero took over the reins – gave ample proof that dance prospers in Middle Franconia’s largest city.
Montero, son of a ballerina and a dancing and choreographing father, studied at the Royal Conservatory for Professional Dance in Madrid and the School of the National Ballet of Cuba. Amongst others he danced with the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Solidly rooted in classical dance, Montero explores contemporary movement vocabulary in his choreography. This season his company, twenty-two dancers, many of them his compatriots, present works by Nacho Duato, Johan Inger, Ohad Naharin in addition to Montero’s own creations. In early July they will guest with “Cinderella” at the Chekhov International Theatre Festival in Moscow. Dance definitely has moved on from its former niche existence in Nuremberg!
This season’s gala wasn’t sparing with highlights: on the guest list were dancers from Stuttgart Ballet, Semperoper Ballet Dresden, English National Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and Stanislavsky Ballet Moscow sharing the program with Nuremberg’s troupe. (more…)

Oh Dear!

“Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness”
State Ballet Berlin
Komische Oper
Berlin, Germany
March 14, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Banzhaf and ensemble, “Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness” by N.Duato, State Ballet Berlin © F.Marcos 2015

In mid-February after taking over the reigns of State Ballet Berlin, Nacho Duato received damning reviews of the first Berlin premiere of his “Sleeping Beauty”, an import that he had done in St. Petersburg, his debut as artistic director going badly. Shortly thereafter, Arte, a reputable television channel, broadcasted a documentary about Duato. But it did not silence the cries of naysayers who predicted the descent of State Ballet Berlin. Arte depicted an uprooted artist still struggling over his dismissal as director of the Spanish Compañía Nacional de Danza. Hired by a banana oligarch he had moved to St. Petersburg, becoming the artistic director of the ballet of the Mikhailovsky Theatre. Yet Duato remained a stranger. The film shows him struggling with communication problems and suffering from sleeplessness. He spent many nights smoking cigarettes, drinking red wine and soliloquizing on his smart phone. Almost twenty-five years ago Berlin had first wanted to hire him. Why was he called to Berlin again? An odd stroke of Berlin’s cultural policy? (more…)

Storytellers

“Drei Streifen:Tanz”, Choreographies by Benjamin Millepied, Demis Volpi and Jiří Bubeníček
Ballet Dortmund
Opernhaus Dortmund
Dortmund, Germany
March 07, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Mehrabyan and E.Nguyen, “The Piano” by J.Bubeníček, Ballet Dortmund © B.Stöß 2015“Drei Streifen: Tanz”, Ballet Dortmund’s new triple bill, allows insight into the work of three different choreographers. The pas de deux “Closer” offers a glance into Benjamin Millepied’s artistic work. Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer Demis Volpi presents himself with three short duos. The evening’s second half was reserved for Jiří Bubeníček’s new creation “The Piano”.

“The Piano” is based on the movie of the same name by the New Zealand film director Jane Campion and has been awarded with – amongst others – the Golden Palm in Cannes in 1993 and an Oscar in 1994. Set in mid-19th century it is about a Scotswoman Ada McGrath, who, for whatever reason, has been mute since her sixth year of age. She expresses her inner life mainly through playing the piano. When Ada and her daughter Flora are forced into a marriage with the Britishman Alistair Stewart, a plantation owner living in New Zealand, the piano is the most important part of the luggage. The to-be-wed couple, however, has never met before. Alistair, at first disenchanted by his future wife’s appearance, doesn’t understand the piano’s importance. Seeming to be an unpractical object, it is left at the beach where Ada and Flora had come ashore.

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Stunning Emotions

“Tristan + Isolde”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
February 17, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Richardson and F.Voranger, “Tristan + Isolde” by D.Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden © I.Whalen 2015Reportedly a few of the audience had expected to see the opera, while others, having had a slightly closer look at Semperoper Dresden’s program, were anticipating hearing Richard Wagner’s famous music. Both parties must have been surprised. “Tristan + Isolde” is a ballet by David Dawson to new music by Szymon Brzóska.
Dawson wisely abstained from using Wagner’s well-known opera music. Instead Brzóska, a Pole, composed a tailor-made score for the Dresden company. Both had already collaborated on Dawson’s ballet “Overture” for Dutch National Ballet in 2013. Generally speaking, his music, Brzóska told in an interview, would range between contemporary avant garde and extended tonality that inclined towards minimalism. The new composition reminds one of film music. It’s emotional music, conveying love’s bliss but also dramatic, fragile and threatening moments. Though expressive, Dawson never left it to the music to bring forth the action but always backed it with choreographic substance. Paul Connelly and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden highly focused playing captivated one from the first tone on. Laurels to them! (more…)

Keep it Up!

“Verklungene Feste/The Legend of Joseph”
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
February 14, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Dato and L.Konovalova, “Verklungene Feste“ by J.Neumeier, Vienna State Ballet © M.Pöhn 2015In June of this year Richard Strauss would have celebrated his 150 birthday. In honor of the occasion the Vienna State Opera, which Strauss directed from 1919 to 1924, staged two works by John Neumeier to Strauss’ music, “Verklungene Feste” and the biblical story “The Legend of Joseph”.
In contrast to “The Legend of Joseph” which has quite some history with the Vienna stage, “Verklungene Feste” was seen for the first time in the Austrian capital. Originally, Neumeier admitted, he had known nothing of the existence of Strauss’ “Verklungene Feste” but in 1978 was made aware of it by August Everding, back then general director of the Bavarian State Opera. Everding deemed “Verklungene Feste” would perfectly complement Neumeier’s already existing “The Legend of Joseph” in a double bill. However, as neither a piano score nor other recorded material of the music was available, the idea was buried in oblivion. In 2008 Neumeier’s “Verklungene Feste” finally premiered in Hamburg – in the meantime recordings of all three Strauss ballets, “The Legend of Joseph (1914), “Schlagobers” (Whipped Cream, 1924) and “Verklungene Feste” (1941) had emerged conducted by a Japanese. (more…)

Missing the Fizz

“KYLWORKS”
“All Ages Dance”
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
February 10, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiří Kylián in 2010 © S.Ligtenberg 2015One of Jiří Kylián’s merits as artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) – a post he held from 1975 to 1999 – was that in 1991 he initiated NDT III. The main company is NDT I, the juniors form NDT II. NDT III gave the seniors a platform to continue presenting their art. In 2006 the project was allowed to die for financial reasons. Kylián remained connected to NDT as a choreographer until 2009. During this time he created 74 works for NTD – nearly three-quarters of his entire body of work. With “KYLWORKS”, subtitled “All Ages Dance” he took up the idea of NDT III again. Kylián carefully selected six dancers, aged between thirty-five and sixty-five, all descending from various large companies, to present morsels of his work. The group does not form a company, Kylián declared in the small program, but rather represents the idea that everyone has absorbed the talent to dance from one’s infancy. Touring Germany, “KYLWORKS” also visited Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart, a sort of homeland for Kylián as his first contract as a dancer in the late 1970s, offered by John Cranko, was with Stuttgart Ballet. Moreover with Stuttgart’s Noverre Society, he took his first steps as choreographer. Also, Kylián’s muse, Sabine Kupferberg, often the main protagonist of many of his works, has strong bonds to Stuttgart. Trained in the John Cranko School she became a member of the company under Cranko’s directorship before joining NDT seven years later. Kylián and Kupferberg shared ways not only artistically but subsequently also privately. (more…)

A Real Man

“Liliom”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
January 31, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Cojocaru and C.Jung, “Liliom” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015“By the way we have to see how Dortmund played” a tall, athletic man said to his female companion when walking into Hamburg State Opera’s auditorium in front of me. Saturdays are usually match days in the German Bundesliga. “Dortmund”, or “Borussia Dortmund” respectively, was obviously the man’s favorite club in the top tier of the German football league system. His companion, slightly annoyed, looked heavenwards. But after all she had made her football addict friend accompany her to a ballet evening. Maybe John Neumeier’s “Liliom” was exactly the right choice to stir his cultural enthusiasm.

At least on first sight, its titular character Liliom fits perfectly into the cliche of a real man. He is a womanizer with plenty of brawn. Talking isn’t his forte. Worse, looking closer, Liliom turns out to be a good for nothing dude. When not knowing how to deal with a situation, when feeling helpless, he can’t stop himself from striking out. He is likewise quick to pull a knife, a macho man with a limited range of action alternatives who avoids at any cost exposing his innermost self. (more…)

Bliss and Grief of Love

“Onegin”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
January 10, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain and F.Vogel, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 2015John Cranko’s “Onegin” is not only in the repertory of companies all over the world but for nearly fifty years has been revived time after time by its company of origin, the Stuttgart Ballet. The piece’s charisma has not faded a bit. Jürgen Rose’s set and the costumes are still drop dead gorgeous. In short, “Onegin” is a pearl of the repertory and a darling of the audience. In Stuttgart ballet connoisseurs flock into the opera to compare various casts or to witness a role debut. Just recently principal dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet guesting in “Onegin” caused a great rush. Some days later the opera house was again packed as Friedemann Vogel, the company’s well-traveled premier dancer, danced for the first time as Onegin on his home stage. He had already made his role debut in Bangkok during the troupe’s tour to Asia last fall. Many times he had portrayed the emotional poet Lenski but, having watched the piece since childhood again and again, Vogel was very familiar with the role of Onegin. This time the other central characters were danced by Alicia Amatriain (Tatiana), Elisa Badenes (Olga), Daniel Camargo (Lenski) and Roland Havlica (Prince Gremin) – truly a dream cast!

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Old Friends

“Hommage à MacMillan”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
January 03, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.J.Kang, “Requiem” by K.MacMillan, Stuttgart Ballet, © U.Beuttenmüller 2015Kenneth MacMillan (1929 -1992) would have celebrated his 85th birthday in December 2014. Stuttgart Ballet used this date as an opportunity to bring its close connection to the choreographer to mind. The double bill “Hommage à MacMillan” comprises “Song of the Earth” and “Requiem”, ballets with a special genesis and both created for the Stuttgart company. I saw the last performance of the first run. A second will take place in April.
In 1963 MacMillan had already created “Las Hermanas” for Stuttgart Ballet. Back then John Cranko had been at the helm of the company for two years. In 1965 the Royal Opera House refused to give MacMillan, who was its resident choreographer, permission to use Gustav Mahler’s “The Song of the Earth” for a new piece. Mahler’s music was considered untouchable, definitely not made for dancing. Besides no one had ever dared airing such an unreasonable idea. Fortunately times have changed. John Neumeier, for example, choreographed pieces to all of Mahler’s symphonies, except the 2nd and 8th symphony. Currently he is preparing a new work to “The Song of the Earth” for the Paris Opera Ballet. In any case MacMillan found the doors opened by Cranko in the mid 60s. Both had met as teenagers when studying at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and became friends. Cranko was the one who encouraged MacMillan to start choreographing because the Scot, who was two years younger, was heavily afflicted by stage fright when performing. (more…)

The Land Where the Lemon Trees Blossom

“Napoli”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 31, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Cazzaniga, A.Riabko, S.Azzoni, K.Tselikov, M.Jubete and ensemble, “Napoli” by A.Bournonville and with new choreography by L.Riggins, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2014Like the Bavarian State Ballet’s recent triumph with “Paquita”, John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet revived an old classic, August Bournonville’s “Napoli”, a buoyant, romantic love story with dramatic sprinklings, transferring the southern Italian joy of life to the Elbe River.
Premiering in 1842 in Copenhagen, “Napoli” is a staple of the Royal Danish Ballet’s repertory, so long as Nikolai Hübbe doesn’t continue replacing Bournonville’s legacy with his own creations, as happened with “La Sylphide” this autumn. Similar to other ballets of the romantic period, the libretto of “Napoli” is lightweight. Bournonville’s source of inspiration was a journey to southern Italy. Drawing on myriad impressions – from the quarreling fish traders to different types of street merchants, flirting youth, ragged beggars and monks strolling around – he wrote the libretto on his way back home, more precisely in the stagecoach between Paris and Dunkirk in northern France. Even an episode during an excursion to the fishing village Baiae was worked in: until 1848 Bournonville, still actively dancing in Copenhagen’s ensemble and also artistic director and senior choreographer, surprised his fellow travelers when he himself suddenly replaced a dancer of a local dance group in a lightning tarantella. (more…)

What Young Girls Dream About

“The Nutcracker”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 23, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Trusch and A.Cojocaru, “The Nutcracker” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © Holger Badekow 2014Shortly before Christmas Eve, Hamburg Ballet had some special candy in store, John Neumeier’s “Nutcracker” with Alina Cojocaru as Marie and Otto Bubeníček as Drosselmeier. Bubeníček is the strongest of Hamburg’s male dancers in this role and having the opportunity to see Cojocaru dance is a Christmas gift all by itself. The appearance of both had already been planned for last season but was cancelled due to Bubeníček being injured. Complemented by a strong cast, this year’s run of “The Nutcracker” hence had a powerful start.

Inspired by John Cranko’s “Nutcracker” Neumeier also separated his version from the Christmas Season. Nevertheless it’s often scheduled at the end of the year. Any mice involved in fighting were eliminated by Neumeier. For him the story’s core topic is the transition from being a child to becoming an adult. His story begins at Marie Stahlbaum’s twelfth birthday party where she is presented with a wooden nutcracker – her companion throughout the ballet – and her first pair of toe shoes. The latter are a gift from Drosselmeier who is the ballet master of Marie’s older sister Louise and Neumeier’s homage to Marius Petipa. (more…)

Petipa’s Vapid Aesthetic?

“Raymonda”
Maryinsky Ballet
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
December 21, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Tereshkina and ensemble, “Raymonda” by M.Petipa in the version of K.Sergeyev and with choreographic fragments by F.Lopuchov, Maryinsky Ballet © N.Razina 2014“Raymonda” in several aspects marks a turning point amidst the classics. Premiering in January 1898 at the Maryinsky Theatre it was Marius Petipa’s last grand ballet before being gradually disempowered at the Imperial Theatre from 1903 on. By comparison, its score was Alexander Glasunov’s first attempt at ballet music. Relatively unknown as composer, he had been chosen to fill the gap caused by Tchaikovsky’s death in 1893. Though not pleased at first when he faced the kind of detailed array Petipa had used to predetermine Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet scores, Glasunov nonetheless produced varied, colorfully romantic music which won him public appreciation. Albeit a pillar of the ballet repertory in Russia, “Raymonda” attracted little attention abroad possibly because of its unconvincing libretto. Set in medieval times in Southern France, it’s about a young noble lady Raymonda who waits for her fiancé Jean de Brienne’s return. Being an Hungarian knight, he’s off crusading in the Holy Land. While preparing for the celebration of Raymonda’s birthday (or, depending on the text source, name day) the Saracen knight Abderakhman appears as one of the well-wishers. (more…)

Sparkling History

“Paquita”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
December 13, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Sukhorukova and C.Pierre, “Paquita” by M.Petipa and A.Ratmansky, Bavarian State Ballet © W.Hösl 2014Blowing the dust off from an aged stage vehicle like “Paquita” and polishing it up for a premiere usually draws very few out of the woodwork. Bavarian State Ballet, however, promoted the project confidently. Quite rightly as no less than Alexei Ratmansky and Doug Fullington had devoted themselves to revive the love story of the orphan girl Paquita. Bavarian State Ballet’s original plans were that Ratmansky would make his German debut as choreographer with “Paquita” but the indefatigable Ratmansky had already staged his “Namouna” in Berlin and the “Tanzsuite” for Semperoper Ballet Dresden. However, this didn’t harm the project because doing justice to a significant piece of art and its creator was the root of the matter. (more…)