Tag Archive: Kenneth MacMillan

Heritage-Trashing

“Manon”
English National Ballet
London Coliseum
London, Great Britain
January 19, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Caley and A.Cojocaru, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, English National Ballet 2019 © ENB / L.LiotardoThe English National Ballet (ENB) is a touring company – and that means that its productions have to be fit for traveling. In preparing for the tour, the décor of Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” had to be boiled down to basics – and either the company borrows an existing set or spends a large sum on commissioning a new one.

The ENB opted for borrowing Mia Stensgaard’s set and costumes from the Royal Danish Ballet – and this was ultimately a decision that harmed the piece. Manon and De Grieux’s apartment and the jail guard’s bureau in Act III are fine; it’s hard to go wrong with a four-poster bed and functional desks. (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.

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Society’s Boggy Grounds

“Manon”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
September 04, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. R.Arndt, M.Madar, A.Ol, J.Vallejo and A.Gibson, “Manon” by K.MacMillan, Semperoper Ballet 2017 © I.Whalen Semperoper Ballet opened the season with a final run of Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon.” In most performances since the Dresden premiere in fall 2015 Melissa Hamilton danced the title role. Hamilton returned to her home company, the Royal Ballet London, in May this year. The gap she left was filled by two guest ballerinas familiar with the role – Anna Ol (Principal of Dutch National Ballet) and Dorothée Gilbert (Étoile of Paris Opera Ballet). Both dance twice. The Semperoper Ballet’s Gina Scott is cast for the final two performances in mid-October. I saw the opening night with Ol alongside Julian Amir Lacey as Des Grieux. (more…)

Heightened Drama

“Mayerling”
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
National Theater
Munich, Germany
April 06, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Polunin and A.Pershenkova, “Mayerling” by K.MacMillan, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2017 © W.Hösl Igor Zelensky invited Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, his own former troupe, to perform as a guest company for this month’s Ballet Festival Week in Munich. Last October, after a short period of double directorship in Moscow and Munich, Zelensky decided to concentrate solely on directing the Bavarian State Ballet. Laurent Hilaire, former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile, took over Zelensky’s post at the Stanislavsky in January this year.

The Stanislavsky brought along Kenneth MacMillan’s “Mayerling”, a piece rarely performed on German stages. As a special treat, Sergei Polunin danced the leading role at both performances. I saw the opening night. Although Polunin left the Stanislavsky in summer 2014, he continued to perform with the company on occasion. In Munich, he has been a permanent guest dancer since Zelensky took up the reins.

“Mayerling” isn’t the sort of piece one eagerly watches again and again – for at the root of the catastrophe of the piece is a tragedy that is too sad and a society that is too disgusting to witness repeatedly. The story is based on a dark chapter of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The Emperor’s third child with Elisabeth (“Sisi”), Duchess of the house of Wittelsbach, was Crown Prince Rudolf, who at the age of twenty-three, was forced into a marriage with Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. The ballet begins with the couple’s wedding ball and ends with the double suicide of Rudolf and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge at Mayerling. (more…)

Keeping Cranko’s Heritage Vivid

Georgette Tsinguirides
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart, Germany
December, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Georgette Tsinguirides © Roman Novitzky 2015Reviving a ballet from the repertory or mounting it for another company isn’t just learning the steps. The most crucial part of the work is to make the role speak. In story ballets, the characters’ personalities have to come across authentically. Most of all the choreographer’s intentions must have priority.

Today, when starting rehearsals, ballet masters and dancers usually refer to videos of former performances. They are the perfect tools to convey a piece’s atmosphere, the steps and lifts of a pas de deux or a solo variation. Depending on the perspective of the camera they also depict group patterns. But other details are lost. What exactly is each member of the corps doing from the third line back? What is the posture hidden by the costume? Learning from videos promotes copying. But isn’t the goal to develop one’s own interpretation of the role?

Stuttgart Ballet also draws on videos when reviving old choreography. The ballet masters’ and Reid Anderson’s recollections are trustworthy too. They have danced the ballets many times themselves. But first and foremost the company relies on Georgette Tsinguirides, choreologist, ballet mistress and coach. (more…)

A Sweeping Goodbye

“Manon”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
November 11, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Hamilton and J.Bubeniček, “Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, photo Ian WhalenOne could make things easier when it comes to the end of a dance career. A favorite piece which the audience likes should make for a decent leave-taking. Jiří Bubeníček is of another caliber. After nine years with Semperoper Ballet Dresden he tackled a debut for his farewell, Des Grieux in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon”. Moreover, he asked a ballerina, with whom he had never danced before, to be his Manon: Royal Ballet’s principal Melissa Hamilton, who will stay with the Semperoper company for the whole season.

“Go for it!” is one of Bubeníček’s principles. Exactly this is what he did. In fact, what the whole company did. Aaron S.Watkin, the company’s artistic director, aimed to use “Manon” to explore yet another style with his already versatile company. It was enthusiastically received. No wonder. All ingredients merged splendidly presenting “Manon” as a gripping narrative. (more…)

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…)