Tag Archive: John Neumeier

Losses

“Illusions – like Swan Lake
Bavarian State Ballet
National Theater
Munich, Germany
June 19, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Urban, “Illusions – like Swan Lake” by J.Neumeier, Bavarian State Ballet, Munich © W.Hösl 2016Melancholy pervaded Munich’s National Theater on Sunday. For the last time the company performed John Neumeier’s “Illusions – like Swan Lake”. With Igor Zelensky taking over as the company’s director, this production will be stored in mothballs for the time being. Also, twelve dancers had their last evening on stage. Twenty-nine members — around forty percent of the ensemble – are leaving. Being part of the audience made me sigh deeply, as did looking at the front curtain’s golden embroidery on a blue-white ground decorated with swans and lilies. Then there were Jürgen Rose’s superb decors and marvelous costumes. What a pity that so much of this will disappear from view.

“Illusions – like Swan Lake” is a 1976 collaboration of choreographer Neumeier and designer Rose. Although steeped in Bavarian history, this version of “Swan Lake” premiered in Munich only in 2011. Neumeier linked the swan story and the fate of Bavaria’s King Ludwig II (1845 – 1886), who had become known as the Fairy Tale Monarch or Swan King.

Parallels between Ludwig II and the ballet’s Prince Siegfried and also with composer Tchaikovsky are striking. Ludwig II struggled with being homosexual, as did Tchaikovsky. (more…)

Tracking Eleonora Duse

“Duse”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 11, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alessandra Ferri, “Duse” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015In his latest creation, “Duse”, John Neumeier explores the life of the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse (1858 – 1924). The ballet received its world premiere earlier in December with Hamburg Ballet. Alessandra Ferri, guesting with the company, is dancing the leading role.

Duse rose to international stardom at a time when the reputation of acting had considerably improved in bourgeois society. At the end of the 19th century Henrik Ibsen’s dramas were the first to offer major character roles for women. As a result, more and more actresses left their mark on stage, motivated by a previously unparalleled enthusiasm for the theater. (more…)

True to Himself

True to Himself
Jiří Jelínek
Gelsenkirchen, Germany
November, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiří Jelinek © Stuttgart Ballet Jiří Jelínek’s dance career has been a journey. Born and trained in Prague he literally danced at the other end of the world, that is in Australia. Crisscrossing the world he gained invaluable experience with various companies and diverse repertories. Recently he danced with the Ballett im Revier in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. I took the rare opportunity to meet him the day after his last show in a café in Gelsenkirchen to talk about his career and his life.

Jelínek started to dance at the age of seven. A boy full of energy, he loved to move; he was very often outside, running around, playing and quarreling with his friends. The dance lessons in a children’s group was one hobby of several. “Then, when I was ten years old my mother urged me to audition for the Dance Conservatory in Prague. They took me and in the following four years I learned the basics.” (more…)

Give it Another Shot

“Greyhounds”
Theaterhaus Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
November 04, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Krämer, M.Kruuse, E.Madsen and T.Lempertz, “Greyhounds” by E.Madsen, photo: R.BrockeThe four dancers of Egon Madsen’s “Greyhounds” compare their careers to long-distance journeys with various stopovers. Although this is not quite correct. Only two protagonists are indeed gray-haired veterans of the dance floor, Marianne Kruuse and Madsen himself. Both are in their seventies. The quartet’s other two, Julia Krämer and Thomas Lempertz, bid their farewell to Stuttgart Ballet’s stage only around ten years ago: Krämer was principal, Lempertz first soloist. The current get-together of the four at the Theaterhaus Stuttgart was initiated by Madsen, a formative dancer of Stuttgart Ballet under Cranko’s reign.

From 1981 on, he was director of Frankfurt Ballet followed by directorships in Stockholm, Florence, and at the Nederlands Dans Theater III (NDT III). Madsen’s affinity to dance never stopped. He is closely connected with Stuttgart’s Gauthier Dance Company and a respected figure in the city’s dance scene. (more…)

A Star Enters Another Orbit

Jiří Bubeníček
Dresden, Germany
October, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jiri Bubenicek, photo: Costin RaduIn about one week Semperoper Ballet Dresden will lose one of its mainstays, a formative figure of the company, the idol of the Saxon audience, Principal Jiří Bubeníček, who will bid farewell to the Semperoper stage on November 11th as Des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”. In 2009, already a longtime internationally recognized choreographer, he mentioned in an interview on the occasion of a new creation for New York City Ballet that he would have to decide soon whether to focus on dancing or on choreographing. Since then he has managed the balancing act between giving top-notch performances and creating even more ballets.

Jiří’s twin brother Otto had already bid goodby to Hamburg Ballet’s stage at the end of last season. Both are a perfectly attuned team. Jiří choreographs, Otto is in charge of set and costumes; sometimes he also composes the music. Now, shortly after turning forty-one, the time has also come for Jiří to finally stop dancing full-time. His schedule book is packed with commissions for the next two years. So there won’t be time to put up his feet after the final bow. But that would not suit Bubeníček’s nature anyway. A man of action he loves to be busy. Running several projects at the same time isn’t unusual for him. (more…)

Not Exactly a Happy Love Affair

“A Cinderella Story”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 23, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Heylmann, S.Azzoni, C.Agüero and H.Bouchet, "A Cinderella Story" by J.Neumeier, photo: Holger BadekowIndeed Cinderella gets golden shoes to dance in at the royal ball, but unlike in the Brothers Grimm’s or Charles Perrault’s fairy tale they are not the key element of John Neumeier’s “A Cinderella Story”. The 1992 production has been revived earlier this season. It is a version mainly referring to the Brothers Grimm text but also includes a few details from Perrault. Yet above all it is Neumeier’s own interpretation, his perspective on the story.

Neumeier avoided the bloody cruelties one finds in the written sources. The mean stepsisters neither chop off their toes or heels to fit into Cinderella’s shoes, nor are their eyes picked out as a punishment at the end. Instead Neumeier added a heavy dose of humor and exaggerated most characters with stark cliches, yet also allowed character traits to surface which put another complexion on some figures. (more…)

Grand Finale

“Nijinsky-Gala XLI”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 12, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Collado and A.Robinson, “Clear” by S.Welch, Houston Ballet © H.Badekow 2015Traditionally Hamburg Ballet’s “Ballet Days” end with a Nijinsky-Gala and traditionally John Neumeier presents an extra large format, that is five hours or more. The programs of past galas did not necessarily refer directly to Nijinsky, but this year’s prominently did. Otto Bubeníček bid his farewell as Vaslav Nijinsky in an excerpt from Neumeier’s “’Le Pavillon d’Armide” which was the center piece of the three-part evening. It was in the “Spirit of the Romantic Period”, which was the common theme of the season’s repertory. The first part offered insights into eight different ballets, the final third part was made up of excerpts from five other ballets. Neumeier never presents small snippets, instead he tends to add another pas de deux rather than cutting one. Dancers from the Houston Ballet and the National Ballet of China broadened the spectrum. Other guests were the Bolshoi Ballet’s Svetlana Zakharova and Johan Kobborg who danced with Alina Cojocaru, a permanent guest of Hamburg Ballet. As usual Neumeier in person guided the audience through the program. (more…)

Missed Chances

“Peer Gynt”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
June 30, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Jung, A.Laudere, A.Riabko, K.Azatyan, M.Jubete and A.Martínez, “Peer Gynt” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015John Neumeier’s “Peer Gynt” saw the light of day in 1989. Now, twenty-six years later, he has put it thoroughly to the test with a reworked version opening Hamburg Ballet’s 41. Ballet Days, bringing back for two weeks a kaleidoscope of the season’s repertory culminating in a gala this year on July 12th.

Boiling down Henrik Ibsen’s five act play about Peer Gynt’s life into a ballet evening of tolerable duration is a master stroke per se. Neumeier cut it down to three acts plus an epilogue and managed to tell the Norwegian’s life’s journey within three hours divided by a break. The first half comprised of two acts deals with Peer’s birth and his relationship with his mother Aase, a peasant’s widow. Peer is a blowhard, a prowler and scalawag, one hardly on good terms with the neighboring peasantry. (more…)

“One has to burn”

“Jürgen Rose: Nothing is as life fulfilling as the theater”
Academy of the Fine Arts & Theater Museum Munich

Munich, Germany
June 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Rose with a costume of “Twelfth Night” (Kammerspiele Munich, 1980) © W.Hösl 2015“Whenever the news broke that Rose would make the next piece, I was always happy.” comments longtime actress of the Kammerspiele Munich, Sybille Canonica, about Jürgen Rose, Germany’s most famous set and costume designer. The seventy-seven-year old’s accolades pile up: actors, singers, dancers – all can feel they are at the bosom of Abraham, says theater critic Beate Kayser. Coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova who worked in several opera productions with Rose calls him a genius, full of enthusiasm. His work would be extremely thorough and precise. She entirely trusts his taste and guidance. But Rose is modest. One always has doubts, he says in the exhibition catalog. One never knows if one’s work is sufficient.

Currently Munich’s Theater Museum and the Bavarian Academy of the Fine Arts are showing a corporate exhibition of Rose’s work. His oeuvre encompasses designs for almost three hundred productions, operas, ballets, as well as plays. He has always been in charge of the costumes and only two times not responsible for the sets. In addition, as stage director, he has created “La Traviata” (1994, Opera Bonn), “The Magic Flute” (1996, Opera Bonn), “Don Carlo” (2000, Bavarian State Opera), “The Cunning Little Vixen” (2002, Bavarian State Opera) and “Norma” (2006, Bavarian State Opera). Rose is a universal artist. “Norma” and “Don Carlo” will be staged at the Bavarian State Opera at the end of June and in July, “Werther” will be revived in October with Rolando Villazón singing the title role. As usual, “Don Carlo” was sold out as soon as it was announced. (more…)

Hope is the last to die

“A Streetcar named Desire”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart Schauspielhaus
Stuttgart, Germany
May 30, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Amatriain, “A Streetcar named Desire” by J.Neumeier, Stuttgart Ballet © Stuttgart Ballet 2015John Neumeier’s “A Streetcar named Desire”, based on Tennessee Williams’s drama of the same title, is probably not a piece one would be eager to see several times in a row. Unless one is hard-boiled. Calling it disturbing is too lenient. Its dense, oppressive atmosphere and brutal physicality that finally seals the mental destruction of its main character, Blanche DuBois, devours one. As food for thought, a single dose of this ballet brings along with it more than enough indigestion.
Neumeier has woven a masterful psychological drama, whose intensity might even surpass the stage play. What the dancers’ bodies express is more direct than any spoken word. Stuttgart Ballet has now again revived the two-act piece which Neumeier had created for the Baden-Wuerttemberg company in 1983. Back then the forty-six year old Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun danced the leading characters, Blanche and Stanley.

Neumeier begins the story with its end. When the curtain rises we see Blanche (Alicia Amatriain) sitting on a bed in an asylum. She is elegantly dressed but looks distraught. Flashbacks are tormenting her, making her tremble. What has happened unfolds in cross-fades, not necessarily following the story’s chronological order. Music from Prokofiev’s “Visions fugitives op.22”, fragmented like Blanche’s memories, underscores the first act’s nostalgic, subdued mood. (more…)

Emotions – that’s what it’s all about

“Lady of the Camellias”
Dutch National Ballet
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
Amsterdam, Netherlands
April 10, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Rademaker and I.de Jongh, “Lady of the Camellias” by J.Neumeier, Dutch National Ballet © A.Sterling 2015One feels immediately comfortable at the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam’s principal opera house. Its spacious foyers are flooded with light provided by large windows which allow a panoramic view over the Amstel River. Terraces on various levels are favorite meeting spots of the audience. The house radiates the city’s atmosphere: Amsterdamers are open-minded, easy-going and kind. Special excitement and anticipation was in the air on April 10 at the premiere of John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias”.

After “Sylvia” in 2011, it is the second piece by Neumeier that the company’s director Ted Brandsen has added to the repertory. Ballets by Hans van Manen, established as the company’s associate and resident choreographer for more than five decades, by Krzysztof Pastor and by David Dawson are the backbone of the schedules. Rudi van Dantzig (1933 – 2012), for twenty years at the helm of Dutch National Ballet, also left his mark as a choreographer. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)