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Two Farewells at the Semperoper Ballet

“Theme and Variations” (Triple bill: “Theme and Variations”, New Suite”, “She Was Black”)
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
March 30, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. F.Voranger, Semperoper Ballet © I.WhalenSemperoper Ballet bid a double farewell on April 1st. True to his announcement last year, Mats Ek withdrew his works from the stage forever as he heads into retirement. “She Was Black”, originally choreographed in 1995, is among those that will retire with him. It has been part of the repertoire of the Dresden company for six years. When I learned about the 2nd goodbye, I thought it might be a premature April Fools’ joke – but it wasn’t. Fabien Voranger, the 36-year old principal of the company, ended his active dancing career with a final pas de deux in “She Was Black” in the middle of the season.

Born in Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, Voranger was trained at the Opéra National de Paris and the Studio Ballet Colette Armand in Marseille. A Prix de Lausanne scholarship led him to The Royal Ballet School before signing his first contract with Roland Petit’s troupe in Marseille. Engagements at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Vienna State Ballet soon followed. As Voranger stated in an interview in 2015, he tended to move on to another company whenever he felt stuck in his artistic growth: There will be always someone who can do more pirouettes than you, who is technically superior. So the most important thing in a career is to find someone who makes something of you.” (more…)

Boris Akimov – Half a Century for the Bolshoi

Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Akimov, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovDid you watch the Bolshoi Ballet’s live broadcast last October on World Ballet Day? If so, you must remember the lean, white-haired man who taught morning class: Boris Akimov. The motivation he spread was contagious, his vigor stupendous. Akimov demonstrated the exercises, had an eye on everyone and, simply with his charisma, kept everyone’s attention focused. Katerina Novikova, head of the press office, had just revealed in her introductory words that Akimov has been working at the Bolshoi for fifty years, and yet no one could have imagined that he was seventy years old at the time.

Akimov danced with the company, directed it artistically and for decades since has been teaching, rehearsing and coaching not only dancers of the Bolshoi and other companies abroad, but also students of the Russian University of Theatre Arts. He has been honored and recognized for his artwork extensively, including receiving the “People’s Artist of the USSR” in 1989, the highest title Russia can bestow on an artist.

I met Akimov on March 10th at the Bolshoi Theatre to find out more about his career and artistic vision. Novikova kindly interpreted from Russian to English and vice versa.
Akimov’s answers are in italics. (more…)

Room for Improvement

“Onegin”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 11, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova and N.Semizorova, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovConditions were the same overall on the second of the three evening performances of “Onegin” at the Bolshoi. The sky above the garden of the Larina family’s country house was bright blue, domestic bliss was as yet unclouded, the village folk were in an expansively jolly mood. The Bolshoi Orchestra under Pavel Sorokin, reliable as always, ensured a fine rendition of Tchaikovsky’s music. Yet unlike the evening before the story didn’t gain momentum.

“Onegin” needs four dancers of equal or complementary strength in the leading roles. The role of Olga is smaller than the other three, but her part is pivotal for the dramatic turn the story takes. Saturday’s cast had only one consistently strong dancer, Evgenia Obraztsova as Tatiana. (more…)

Bringing “Onegin” Home

“Onegin”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Tikhomirova, S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.Yusupov“John is here” is a well-known saying within the walls of Stuttgart Ballet. People know what they are talking about. Ever since his untimely death more than forty years ago John Cranko’s spirit has energized his Stuttgart company.
Yet last weekend his presence was strongly palpable elsewhere. The Bolshoi performed his “Onegin” on three consecutive evenings at home in Moscow. On first night not only Cranko seemed close but also Reid Anderson, who had supervised the production at the Bolshoi in 2013, and Jürgen Rose, whose costumes and set design are unvaryingly matchless. The Bolshoi Theatre and Stuttgart State Opera merged into one house on this Friday evening uniting their powers in a performance of overwhelming intensity. (more…)

Still Elusive: The Eternal Feminine

“Ondine”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 04, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Tsvirko and E.Krysanova, “Ondine” by V.Samodurov, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovIn 1958 Frederick Ashton choreographed the story of “Ondine” for The Royal Ballet in London. This three-act work is about the water nymph Ondine – a role Ashton made specially for Margot Fonteyn – who becomes the object of a worldly prince’s desire. Upon finding the prince unfaithful, Ondine kills him with a kiss. German composer Hans Werner Henze was commissioned with the “Undine” music. Other choreographers subsequently used Henze’s score for their own productions, the most recent dating from the summer of 2016 by Vyacheslav Samodurov for the Bolshoi Ballet. (more…)

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…)