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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…)

Fostering Ballet’s Future

Noverre Society Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
December 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Logo of the Noverre Society Stuttgart © Noverre Society 2014The dance critic Horst Koegler once compared him with a F1 World Champion who – second to none – has held his title for more than half a century: Fritz Höver, founder and longstanding chairman of Stuttgart’s Noverre Society. How would the Stuttgart Ballet have developed without Höver? Back in the early 1960s no one knew John Cranko in Stuttgart, not even Stuttgart Opera’s general director Walter Erich Schäfer. It’s hard to believe these days but in the late 1950s Stuttgart’s audience had not yet acquired a taste for ballet. The genre’s main function, since 1957 in the hands of artistic director Nicholas Beriozoff, ex-dancer of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, still was to take part in opera productions. Beriozoff, paving the way for the company’s ascent, put considerable effort in promoting ballet. It was due to the relentless persuasive power of Höver, that the young Cranko was invited to Baden-Wuerttemberg’s capital. In 1960 Cranko staged his first work in Stuttgart, “The Prince of the Pagodas” which had premiered three years earlier atNich The Royal Ballet. One year later he took over the reigns of “The Stuttgart Ballet”. (more…)

An Attempt to Live Up to an Epic Story

“Anna Karenina”
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
November 29, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Kapitonova and D.Vieira, “Anna Karenina” by C.Spuck, Ballet Zurich © M.Rittershaus 2014Adapting a complex novel of remarkable scale for a ballet is a courageous undertaking. Christian Spuck, Ballet Zurich’s artistic director, took up the challenge. “Anna Karenina”, his new work, premiered earlier this season. It is based on Leo Tolstoy’s eponymous novel, more than one-thousand pages of intricate family histories, written within 1873 – 1878. Spuck boiled them down into a two-hour ballet. How did he approach this task and with what success?

Next to the triangle between Anna Karenina (Viktorina Kapitonova), her husband Alexei Karenin (Filipe Portugal) and her lover Count Alexei Vronsky (Denis Vieira), Spuck also portrays the other protagonists’ love affairs as well as other lesser characters: Dolly’s and the unfaithful Stiva’s messed up marriage (Dolly: Galina Mihaylova, Stiva: Arman Grigoryan) as well as Kitty’s and Levin’s tentative approach to each other, their wedding and apparently happy rural life (Kitty: Katja Wünsche, Levin: Tars Vendebeek). Princess Betsy (Giulia Tonelli), a socialite with dubious morals, and her companion (Wei Chen) – a wimp whom she makes look like fool – are featured as is the rigid Countess Lidia Ivanovna (Eva Dewaele), Alexei Karenin’s later life partner. The settings include those of Moscow’s and St. Petersburg’s high society, the Karenin’s home, a farm harvest with hands at work (Levin’s environment), the famous horse race, Anna’s and Vronsky’s sojourn in Italy and, of course, some train journeys to get from A to B plus Anna’s last fatal encounter with a train. (more…)

Lifeworlds

“Forellenquintett” (“A-Life“, “Wings of Wax“, “Forellenquintett“)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
November 28, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Brunner, F.Portugal, T.Gurfein, E.Pérez Samper, M.Ligurgo, C.Alex Assis and M.Borel, “A-Life” by D.Lee, Ballet Zurich © B.Stöß 2014A high-tech artificial world confronting vivacious goings-on of trouts in a streamlet – that is roughly the basic point of Zurich Ballet’s triple bill “Forellenquintett”. The middle piece, a thought-provoking reflection about human hubris, about the shattered dream of commanding nature, is the connecting link between both extremes.

“A-Life“ is Douglas Lee’s first choreography for Zurich Ballet. “A-” stands for “Artificial”. Artificial life is an object of research but also an art movement. In both cases computer simulations, robot technology and biochemical knowledge is used to focus on processes in life systems. Lee was interested in what happens when people, emotional beings, are confronted with the digitalized, abstract world; how, for example, an installation determines the movement of dancers. (more…)

Marzipan and Sweetmeats

“The Nutcracker”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 22, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Simon, “The Nutcracker” by A.S. Watkin and J.Beechey, Semperoper Ballet © C.Radu 2014While Dresden is just starting to build up the numerous stalls for its famous Christmas markets, Semperoper Ballet has already begun to put audiences in a festive mood with the first of a series of sixteen “Nutcrackers”.
Rather restrained in choreographing, Semperoper Ballet’s artistic director Aaron S. Watkin replaced John Neumeier’s version of the “Nutcracker” which had been in the company’s repertory until 2010 by his own new creation in 2011. As with “Coppélia” which also premiered in 2011, Watkin collaborated with Jason Beechey, rector of Dresden’s Palucca School for Dance. Putting aside historical records they created completely new choreography yet firmly grounded on classical movement vocabulary. Both two acts of the ballet involve a great number of students of the Palucca School of Dance giving the Christmasy goings-on and the festivities at the Land of Sweets a natural and vivid atmosphere. Almost the whole school participates, around thirty students of different age per cast complemented by eight little children as Polichinelles. (more…)

A Colorless Mix

“Gala 2014”
Dance Foundation Birgit Keil
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
November 07, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Andrade, Kt. F.Salamanka and ensemble, “Presente” by R.Oliveira, State Ballet Karlsruhe © J.Klenk 2014Birgit Keil, ex-prima ballerina of Stuttgart Ballet, regularly tours nearby Ludwigsburg to present her work to her former home audience. Since 1997 Keil is director and professor of Mannheim’s Academy of Dance, six years later she also took over the helm of the Baden State Ballet Karlsruhe.

The gala presented both troupes, the Karlsruhe company as well as talented dancers of the Academy. A huge part of the program was reserved for the usual array of guest artists. (more…)

The Paragon of Perfection

Sybille Zehle:
“Jürgen Rose”
480 pages, plenty of of color and b/w illustrations
Verlag für Moderne Kunst, August 2014
ISBN: 3869844337

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jürgen Rose, book cover “Of all set and costume designers he’s the only one not merely competent in all fields but ingenious,” Sir Peter Jonas states about Jürgen Rose. Rose would master everything, ballet – classical or modern – conceptual and decorative theater as well as dramatic and popular operas. “That’s one point. The other is much more important for professionals,” Jonas, said, “and like a gift from God: Rose doesn’t grow old fashioned. He has no expiration date.” Jonas, general director of the Bavarian State Opera from 1993 until 2006, highly appreciates Rose’s designs. He was by far not the only one! Rose was very much in demand, everyone wanted to work with him: Hans Lietzau, Rudolf Noelte, John Cranko, John Neumeier, Marcia Haydée, Dieter Dorn, Otto Schenk, August Everding – to name just a selection.
At age seventy-seven, Rose looks back on around 300 set and costume designs for operas, ballets and theater productions. He gained laurels as a stage director and, for a quarter of a century, inspired students of Stuttgart’s Academy of the Fine Arts in finding their own language as future stage designers. Earlier this year stage director Dieter Dorn and Jürgen Rose, a seasoned, longtime duo, welded together by more than twenty years of collaboration at Munich’s Kammerspiele, followed by eleven years at Munich’s Residenztheater, staged Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” at the Grand Théâtre de Genève to acclaim. Professional to the core, Rose’s life was – and presumably still is – the stage. An outstanding figure of German culture! (more…)

Imprints

“b.21” (“Serenade”, “Alltag”, “Johannes Brahms – Symphony No.2”)
Ballett am Rhein
Opera House Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf, Germany
October 25, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, "Serenade" by G.Balanchine, (c) The George Balanchine Trust, photo G.Weigelt Behind the abstract title “b.21” in the program of the Ballett am Rhein is a ballet evening by Martin Schläpfer, the twenty-first one, since Schläpfer took over as artistic director and resident choreographer at the capital city of North Rhine-Westphalia. The triple bill encompasses George Balanchine’s “Serenade”, followed by “Alltag” (meaning “Daily Life”), a new piece by Hans van Manen, and closes with Schläpfer’s “Johannes Brahms – Symphony No. 2”. (more…)

Final Fulfillment

“Death in Venice”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 17, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

“Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen,
ist dem Tode schon anheimgegeben,…”
(August von Platen, “Tristan”, 1824)

1. A.Trusch, L.Riggins, "Death in Venice" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet“Whose eyes saw the beauty is already entrusted to death,…”
August von Platen’s late-romantic song, written in 1825, is grounded on the medieval tale “Tristan and Isolde”. Transgressive love and love-death are core aspects of Richard Wagner’s eponymous opera and Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice”, published in 1913. John Neumeier’s ballet version of Mann’s text pays homage to both monumental figures of the history of art. It wouldn’t be “made by John Neumeier”, however, if he hadn’t included additional historical references to broaden and enrich the total picture of the unique love story. He chose Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Musical Offering” as music to depict the intellectual, well-organized world of Gustav von Aschenbach, alternating with piano pieces by Richard Wagner. The latter evoke the ecstatic, Dionysian counterworld Aschenbach gets into in Venice. Integrating music by Wagner moreover takes into account that many aspects of his autobiography, published in 1911, recur in Mann’s “Death in Venice”. Just as for Aschenbach, Venice was Wagner’s city of refuge. In 1848 he intended to finish his “Tristan” in the lagoon city where he also wanted respite from his broken marriage with Minna and his desperate love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. (more…)

A Big Yawn

“Leonce & Lena”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 11, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Camargo and E.Badenes, "Leonce and Lena" by C.Spuck, Stuttgart Ballet Stuttgart Ballet opened its season with a revival of the comedy “Leonce & Lena”, a ballet that Stuttgart’s former resident choreographer Christian Spuck originally created for the Aalto Ballet Essen in 2008. The piece is based on a short, eponymous comedy written by the German author George Büchner in 1836. It’s about the goofy King Peter of the Kingdom Popo aiming to marry his son Leonce, heir to the throne, to Princess Lena of the Kingdom Pipi. “Popo” and “Pipi” are German children’s language and mean “Buttock” and “Urine”. Leonce, being absolutely uninterested in reigning affairs, is unwilling to marry the unknown bride. Stricken by overwhelming boredom he buries his love for his mistress Rosetta, who departs sadly. On the brink of his bride’s arrival, Leonce absconds with his friend Valerio towards beautiful Italy. After half a day’s walk through “a dozen Principalities, half a dozen Grand Duchies and several Kingdoms” they rest at an inn. Princess Lena, for her part, likewise deeply disinclined to the marriage, runs up and away with her governess. As chance would have it, they also turn up at the inn. There, Leonce and Lena naturally fall in love not knowing each other’s real identity. Disguised as automatons the couple returns to King Peter’s court. Monarch Peter, despite lacking his son, is determined to strictly adhere to the original planned wedding. He marries the two automatons as a substitute. Finally Leonce and Lena reveal themselves and become aware of whom they got married to. Deceit, coincidence or providence? Meanwhile Valerio envisions paradise-like conditions in Popo and, above all, a lazy life in the future. (more…)

Trouble Backstage

“Shakespeare Dances”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 04, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.West, K.Tselikov, "As You Like It" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier’s “Shakespeare Dances” is a triple bill that he assembled in 2013 to celebrate his forty-year jubilee in Hamburg. It consists of short versions of “As You Like It”, “Hamlet” and “VIVALDI or What you will”, and aims to capture the essences of the respective full versions choreographed in previous years.

Not surprisingly, each piece’s unique qualities fade due to strong compression. While some characters could be omitted without much harm, Neumeier has tried to give the two Shakespeare comedies and the tragedy a degree of consistency. Does he tell the stories clearly? (more…)

Neumeier Commenting on his Work

“Workshop”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 03, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Agüero and O.Bubenicek, "Vivaldi or What you will" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet Workshops have been a regular feature of Hamburg Ballet since John Neumeier’s first season there in 1974. Successful from the start, they are so in demand that one can call oneself lucky to get a single seat for just one Workshop per season. One watches the company do barre exercises before Neumeier picks up the microphone. The atmosphere is relaxed and the dancers are in practice clothes, with a bit of costuming showing only here and there.
This autumn Baden-Baden’s audience hit the jackpot with a Ballet Workshop that introduced Hamburg Ballet’s annual visit to the Black Forest where the stage of the Festpielhaus serves almost as a second home for the ensemble of dancers. The first Workshop there took place in 1998. The topics this time were “Shakespeare Dances” and “Giselle”, both of which were shown in their entirety during the company’s stay.

(more…)

Taste, like all else, can be disputed

“Giselle”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
September 26, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alina Cojocaru, Alexandr Trusch and ensemble, Giselle by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet, photo H.BadekowAfter returning home from performances in Copenhagen, Hamburg Ballet opened its season with John Neumeier’s “Giselle”. This paragon dance work of the Romantic period exists in quite a few versions, modern ones as well as those that try to be traditional. How did Neumeier, aiming to “provide this jewel of a classical-romantic ballet with a new, modern setting,” approach the tragic tale?

Neumeier first tackled “Giselle” in 1983. The current production dates back to a revision from the year 2000, a collaboration with Greek set designer Yannis Kokkos. The décor by Kokkos avoids stereotypes of 19th Century style. The first act is transferred to a timeless yard. Giselle’s crooked cottage on the left and the little shed on the right are cardboard-like facades, all in white. The contour of a distant castle is sketched roughly onto the backcloth. Plain, broad brushstrokes in brown, yellow and green color suggest autumn. The costumes of the villagers – grape pickers and peasants – are in the same range of colors: simple dresses in yellow, light blue, green and olive for the women; brown cord pants with suspenders or plain dark suits and white shirts for the men. Those in the Prince of Courland’s hunting party wear classic riding outfits: white pants, red jackets plus black riding boots and hats. (more…)

Still in the Warming Phase

“Bella Figura”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
September 05, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Albouy, Weiss, Cangialosi, Bella Figura by Jiri Kylián, Semperoper Ballet Semperoper Ballet Dresden heralded the new season with the triple bill “Bella Figura”, titled after Jiří Kylián’s eponymous “Bella Figura” and complemented by David Dawson’s “The Grey Area” and “Minus 16” by Ohad Naharin.
(The photos show a different cast of an earlier performance.)

Where is the borderline between art and artificiality? Between fantasy and reality? Truth and falsehood? Such are Kyliàn’s questions behind “Bella Figura”. Also: at which point does a performance actually start? “Bella Figura” has no formal beginning. While the auditorium fills, the dancers warm up. They wear practice clothing and repeat step combinations. When the lights dim, the curtain shuts. With the start of the music – a collage of various Baroque composers plus a Renaissance-based suite by the contemporary American composer Lukas Foss – two dancers are in the spotlight: a section of the curtain, as large as a door, is left open on the right. It leaves room for a man in skin-colored undershorts (Maximilian Genov). Lying on the floor with bent legs up in the air, he reminds of an insect that accidentally has fallen on its back. To the left, Jenni Schäferhoff, bare-breasted and likewise in skin-colored undies, is wrapped into the curtain’s folds by invisible arms from behind. Repeatedly she walks, gesticulating to the forestage but – perhaps confronted with something daunting – backs away and again seeks shelter in the curtain’s embrace. (more…)

Formative Figures Bid Their Farewell

“Romeo and Juliet”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
July 19, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain, F.Barankiewicz, "Romeo and Juliet" by John Cranko, Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet closed its season with a set of performances of John Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Five different couples danced the star-crossed lovers. A remarkable number of these renditions were first rate. Again, the Stuttgart company upheld its high standard. For one of the lead pairs, more precisely for one Romeo, Shakespeare’s tragedy was a special event. Filip Barankiewicz bid his farewell to the stage last Saturday.

After studying at the State Ballet School of his home country Poland and, later, with Marika Besobrasova in Monte Carlo, Barankiewicz joined Stuttgart Ballet in 1996. It was at the time when Reid Anderson had assumed the directorship and was assembling a rejuvenated company. Barankiewicz quickly rose through the ranks. In 2002 he was promoted to first soloist. Blessed with irrepressible high spirits, a captivating stage presence and especially a virtuoso talent for jumps – Japanese fans call him ‘Mr Jump’ – the charming Pole brought down the house on many an occasion. One connoisseur thought he was unforgettable in the “The Flames of Paris” duo. No question but that Barankiewicz was world-class! One of his most striking characteristics, however, is his courtesy. A gentleman, he has been highly regarded by his colleagues and – after eighteen years with Stuttgart Ballet – is a shining example for the ensemble’s younger generation. Barankiewicz will certainly be missed. (more…)