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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…)

Looking Back

“Ballet Talk” (with Jürgen Rose, Marcia Haydée and Reid Anderson)
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Rose, Stuttgart Ballet © R.NovitzkyThe jubilees pile up for Stuttgart Ballet this season. John Cranko, the company’s founder, would have been ninety years this August. His “Onegin” – its second, revised version to be precise – received its first performance half a century ago on October 27, 1967. Its stage and set designer – the internationally renowned and much admired Jürgen Rose – just celebrated his 80th birthday this August. His career is closely connected with Cranko and Stuttgart Ballet. Moreover, this season is artistic director Reid Anderson’s twenty-second and last one. In short, one special events follows the other. (more…)

A Conversation with Krzysztof Pastor

Polish National Ballet / Ballet Company of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa
Warsaw, Poland
October 07, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.Pastor, Polish National Ballet © E.KrasuckaKrzysztof Pastor attended the International Ballet Conference in Amsterdam in February. Back then he was still a resident choreographer of Dutch National Ballet, while simultaneously directing the biggest ballet companies in Poland and Lithuania. We hadn’t talked during the conference but on our way home we exchanged a few words at Schiphol Airport. Time was short though, so I decided to ask him for an interview at a later date. It finally happened this October. Pastor mainly talked about his company in Warsaw and the cultural scene of Poland.
His answers are in italics. (more…)

Something New?

“Nussknacker und Mausekönig” (“Nutcracker and Mouse King”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
October 20, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Knight and Y.Han, “Nutcracker and Mouse King” by C.Spuck, Ballet Zurich 2017 © G.BatardonThis season the Opera House Zurich launched a new website, new large black and white portraits of dancers of the company decorate the opera’s corridors and side rooms and it also has a new “Nutcracker”. More precisely, its “Nutcracker and Mouse King”, as choreographer and artistic director Christian Spuck based the story on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original fairy tale of the same title rather than on the sweetened and simplified adaption of Hoffmann’s text Alexandre Dumas père wrote in 1844. The latter served as a libretto for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s famous ballet to music by Tchaikovsky. Having already created ballets on “The Sandman” and “Mademoiselle de Scuderi”, “Nutcracker and Mouse King” is Spuck’s third ballet on a text by E.T.A. Hoffmann. (more…)

Fighting Back

“Darkness”
Polish National Ballet
Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa
Warsaw, Poland
October 07, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Nowak, M.Esposito, G.Melfi, L.Alberti, D.Ozeri and V.Kezik, “Darkness” by I.Weiss, Polish National Ballet 2017 © Polish National Ballet / E.KrasuckaDance critic Graham Watts called Izadora Weiss “a tempest on the Baltic shore.” Weiss has been creating a stir in the Polish dance scene from her home base of Gdansk ever since Jiří Kylián spotted her choreographic talent in 1989 during his tenure as artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater. She became his protégé, and would later use Kylián’s company as a model on which to base the Baltic Dance Theatr (BDT), a troupe she founded in 2010 in Gdansk that she continues to direct today. Formerly affiliated with the Baltic Opera, the BDT became an independent company in 2006 and was renamed Biały Teatr Tańca (White Dance Theatr) – BTT for short. Weiss still leads the company, serving as its main choreographer. Pieces by Kylián complement BTT’s repertoire. (more…)

Timeless

“Pure Cranko” (“L’Estro Armonico” / “Brouillards” / “Jeu de Cartes”)
Stuttgart Ballet

Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
October 03, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Moore, M.F.Paixà and ensemble, “L'Estro Armonico” by J.Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet 2017 © Stuttgart BalletThis season is an especially special one for Stuttgart Ballet. John Cranko, who took over the ballet company of the Wuerttemberg State Theater in 1961 and turned it into the “Stuttgart Ballet Miracle”, would have celebrated his 90th birthday this August. In October, the premiere of his “Onegin” will have its 50th anniversary. Moreover, it’s Reid Anderson’s twenty-second – and last – season as artistic director. He’ll pass the torch to Tamas Detrich next summer.

As a result, there are quite a number of events slated for the season – but, with everything being interconnected in Stuttgart, the first program already brought the company full circle. (more…)

A Patchy Beginning

“The Taming of the Shrew”
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
September 30, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Amo and E.Kruteleva, “The Taming of the Shrew” by J.Cranko, Bavarian State Ballet 2017 © W.Hösl This August John Cranko would have celebrated his 90th birthday. Stuttgart Ballet honors its founder with several programs, beginning with the triple bill “Cranko Pur” that premiers on October 3rd. The Bavarian State Ballet, which Cranko directed in addition to his Stuttgart company from 1968 – 1972, revives his three big narratives. “The Taming of the Shrew” opened the season. “Onegin” and “Romeo and Juliet” are scheduled for February and April 2018. During the Ballet Festival Weeks next April all three ballets will be danced on three consecutive evenings.
I saw the second performance of “Shrew” led by Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin, both guest dancers of the Munich company.

Cranko’s characterization of the figures follows Shakespeare’s comedy closely. We are in Padua in the 17th century. Poor Baptista is kept in suspense by his two daughters. No less than three suitors buzz around the pretty Bianca like bees around the honey pot, but her older sister, the strident Katherina, fights getting married tooth and nail. Bianca is not allowed to marry until Katherina is wed, declares Baptista unceremoniously. But how to marry her off? By accident, Bianca’s suitors – Lucentio, Hortensio and Gremio – run into the young Petruchio and recruit him to court Katherina. (more…)

A Small Retrospective Exhibit of Jiří Kylián’s Work

“Celebrating Kylián!
Nederlands Dans Theater
Zuiderstrandtheater
The Hague, The Netherlands
September 22, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. “Celebrating Kylián!” © A.CorbijnJiří Kylian turned 70 years this March. “Celebrating
Kylián!”, a festival initiated by Kylián Productions, Holland Dance, Nederlands Dans Theater, Zuiderstrandtheater and Korzo Theater has been honoring him throughout the year. Part of the events and programs is a multimedia exhibition at the Zuiderstrandtheater, the home of Nederlands Dans Theater, the company considerably shaped by Kylián. The exhibition opened on September 22nd.

For twenty-four years, beginning in 1975, Kylián headed NDT as artistic director and, after handing the reins over to Marian Sarstädt in 1999, remained the company’s house choreographer for an additional decade. Of the two affiliated troupes he founded – NDT 2, the junior company in 1978 and, for older dancers, NDT 3 in 1991 – the latter was dissolved in 2006 due to financial reasons.

Kylián is best known as choreographer, but has also photographed and made films such as “Zugvögel” and “Car-Men.” The list of choreographies on his website ends with the number 99. The main part, 75 ballets to be exact, were created for NDT. Video excerpts of some of those works – both performances and rehearsals – are now shown on several screens in the foyer and on the first floor. The large video hologram of “Gods and Dogs” attracted the most spectators. Diagonally opposite a black and white picture wall with various portraits of Kylián hangs next to the bar. A few costumes, among them the well known red skirts from “Bella Figura,” greet the visitors opposite the cloakroom.
The exhibition is only open when performances take place. To watch the four documentaries shown in a side room one should arrive early. “The Road to Stamping Ground,” for example, which traces the creation of “Stamping Ground,” a 1983 piece that was inspired by Aboriginal culture and dance, lasts for almost one hour. But it is also on YouTube.
(more…)