Volksopera Review: Der Feurvogel | Petruschka | Movements to Stravinsky

April 30th, 2017 § 0

David Dato in a photo by Johannes Ifkovits. A symbolic illustration
in Movements to Stravinsky costume where Dato does not dance

Volkoper has debuted a full evening of choreography dedicated to Igor Stravinsky’s musical work, Petrushka, Pulcinella Suite and Suite Italienne and The Firebird. What’s especially impressive about the evening is all three pieces are choreographed by Staatsoper born and bred talent. Eno Peci, András Lukács and Andrei Kaydanovsky all have enjoyed long careers as dancers and taken their own first steps as choreographers in the Staatsoper, often at Ballettclub’s Choreolab (coming up soon).

Stravinsky’s compositions for ballet were the core of Sergei Diaghelev’s Ballets Russes. The Firebird premiere took place in Paris Opera in 1910, while Petruschka premiere also took place in Paris but in Théâtre du Châtelet. The original choreographer for both ballets was Michal Fokine. Both of these ballets enjoy a rich tradition around the world, with versions in the repertoire of The Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov), National Ballet of Canada, The Bolshoi Theatre, the Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre to name just a few. Ironically enough, the Russian premiere of Fokine’s The Firebird had to wait until perestroika in 1993.

In fairness to Michal Fokine, what we saw this week should probably not bear the name of the original compositions, a while the music is still Stravinsky’s, neither the original choreography or libretto plays any role in Peci or Kaydanovsky’s creations.

The original Petrushka tells the story of the puppet Punch (Petruscha) who loves a Ballerina puppet who in turn loves the Moor puppet who takes the Ballerina away from Petruschka. The loss of his love kills Petrushka. Most of the action takes place in the middle of a bustling Russian street market.

Petrushka is a difficult work to rebuild as a new ballet. The clown, his mistress, the Russian market. How do you replace all of that colour and energy?

Peci choose to open with a birthday party at home where Petrushka is with his beautiful partner celebrating the birthday of their young son. The ongoing motif is a clock installed in the ceiling on which the hands turn and turn.

Suddenly we are in a white schoolroom with wooden desks and very high ceilings. The girls come in white jackets and very short skirts. Céline Janou Weder enthusiastically leads her able fellow classmates including Emilia Barano, Adele Fiochhi, Anna Shepelyova….in the playful dances of schoolgirls. They are joined by an equal contingent of six boys who quickly quarrel and stir up petty rivalries and trouble. On a high trumpet note Petruschka enters as a buttoned down school teacher in brown suit and tie.

David Dato quickly takes control of the hijinks and quarrel between the boys and the classroom settles down. Dato’s Petrushka owes more to Hollywood dance start Fred Astaire than Michel Fokine. He’s convincing in his fifties style persona with a big smile and a cheerful attitude.

A very dangerous Rebekka Horner comes across as a giant wasp in her geometric black latex suit. It’s uncertain for me if Horner should represent the Magician or the Moor. In any case, she’s accompanied by two young street thugs who cause trouble at the school and rape the teacher/Petrushka’s wife. Trevor Hayden and Arne Vancervelde are

Pavol Juras’s decorations, costumes and light are the real highlight. The huge blackboard, the high ceilings, the worn out windows, the faded colour palette are all on the mark. Peci has struggled with story in his past works, often as beautiful as perfume ads but equally shallow. It’s great to see him working in close partnership with a dramaturg. The great Juraj Grigorovich did his best work in close collaboration with stage designer Simon Virsladze.

Less convincing is the relationship between Petrushka and his wife, a very beautiful Nina Tonelli. In the original, one feels Petrushka’s humiliation when the Ballerina prefers the Moor’s ravishment to Petrushka’s true love. This time around the humiliation takes place in front of his students. Any teacher would say that’s almost as bad. It’s quite a distance from unrequited love.

The choreography and movement are solid but not extraordinary. There is no original spark in the movement, instead a pastiche of suitable fragments gathered from here and there.

Peci and Jurás’s collaboration is an original and strange yet viable re-interpretation of Fokine’s work.

Movements to Stravinsky opens in a bare off-white box. The costumes are black and white. Some of the men have neck ruffles, some of the women battery lit horizontal white tutus.

The majestic Stravinksy melodies relentlessly insist on lyric art, as the dancers regally walk in from the sides, extremely elegant. Everything is extremely tasteful.

Between bouts of elegant walking we enjoy duets, solos and triplets.

The first pair is the best. Long limbed Cypriot Ionna Avraam is in another category tonight, bending her body like copper, harmonious, perfectly in sync with the music and very long. James Stephens is an able partner.

The other major duet Nikisha Fogo and Greig Matthews. The choreography is excellent and Fogo’s soft curves are well suited to the sensual lifts. Unfortunately both she and Matthews appeared very uncertain while dancing. They could both use at least a week or two of additional rehearsal before public presentation.

Alice Firenze with Masayu Kimoto fare better against a less challenging duet. Céline Janou Weder dances a trio in pants with an absurd looking Géraud Wielick in some kind of tunic skirt with a Mongolian pony tail on his head. Wielick’s casual hipster look nearly collapsed the entire aesthetic of Lukács’s neo-classical piece.

Movements to Stravinsky is a lot like any Kyllian piece staged in Paris Opera from about 1985. Its roots go even further back to George Balanchine’s structured art like Jewels. Some would call Movements to Stravinsky dated, others might consider it timeless. The conservative Viennese audience adored it, András Lukács has created a real crowd pleaser. Movements of Stravinsky or something very like it will be danced in 2050 as well. There’s probably not enough passion or innovation in this particular version that it will survive much beyond next year. Choreographer András Lukács is capable of much more feeling.

The Firebird is a great story of resurrection and redemption. Unfortunately choreographer Andrei Kaydanovsky has chosen to wrap it in his own dark notions of modern times:

rampant consumerism of our time, our egoism, and the problem of dead centres of personal development.

I don’t disagree with Kaydanovsky about the wasteland of contemporary mainstream life. But the Firebird was never about the mainstream and general despair. It was about rising above the ordinary.

As far off target as he is with the music and the theme, Kaydanovsky’s sense of stagecraft is magnificent right from the parting of the curtains. A group of men gather outside a Russian deparment store goggling at the mannequins. Kaydanovsky creates this atmosphere with just a few wood frames and a Универсал (Department Store) sign in Russian.

A man in a giant chicken costume wanders in and circulates among the men handing out restaurant fliers. After a time the mannequins come to life and the men flee. Chicken-man (the character of Ivan in the original Firebird follows the Firebird mannequin into the store where there is an entire wall of boxes stacked high in three giant shelves with the text above them in Cyrillic characters, straight out of Soylent Green.

Hier bist du Vogelfütter

Shoppers crowd around and riot underneath the boxes until they fall down. At this point the shoppers turn into zombies writhing in the boxes – Kaydanovsky’s rampant consumerism. The movement is very sloppy but exceptionally organic.

Ivan now follows the Firebird deeper into the basement factory of the department store where grey female rag doll princesses move along a conveyor line.

The dolls are dancers who drop into old dirty yellow foam at the end of the conveyor line. This is quite a clever reinterpretation of the twelve princesses of the original. There is still hope the story will take an interesting and parallel path with the original.

The workers are in overalls from the thirties or fifties. The vast empty space of the workshop is created by rows of overhead flourescent lamps. Richard Szabó in particular convincingly offers the rough movement of a factory worker in a trio with Zsolt Török and Géraud Wielick (whose hair once again distracts).

Ivan dances – rather stumbles around – with the mannequins trying to find one he likes. Finally he finds his Vasillisa in a dirty pink costume and a huge orange wig. It’s Rebecca Horner under a thick cake of white zombie makeup.

Their awkward duet finally ends in collapse on the floor. A window appears at the back of the atelier. Dato’s Firebird takes his place in the window when a man in a hotdog costume wanders by. The end. Kaydanovsky offers no redemption, there is no firebird, just a guy in a shiny jacket, luring you into a department store.

Kaydanovsky doesn’t give the dancers much to work with so one cannot talk much about the performances but all of the dancers acquit themselves well enough. While the performance and the stagecraft, Kaydanovksy’s The Firebird remains fairly shameless shocktastic piggybacking on top of a classic with which his work has nothing in common. An approach symptomatic of the same weak ethical qualities and consumerism about which Kaydanovsky complains.

Throughout the evening the orchestra under David Levi offered an excellent classic interpretation of Stravinsky’s splendid scores. The Volksoper orchestra is a bit thin for the Firebird in comparison to the Marinsky or Bolshoi or full Staatsoper orchestra but the three pieces make an excellent musical evening.

According to his granddaughter and trustee of his works, Isabelle Fokine, Michal Fokine was not keen on radical changes to his works:

When Alexander Golovin’s designs were destroyed, Diaghilev commissioned Natalia Goncharova to design a set that would be easier to tour. My grandfather was horrified by the result – “It dealt a death blow to my ballet.” This was due to the fact that dancers were reacting to elements of the staging no longer present. This may not have troubled Diaghilev, but to a choreographer for whom dramatic sense was paramount, Fokine believed it made nonsense of his work….My grandfather greatly resented his ballets being altered. Today nobody would dream of tampering with the work of a living choreographer, so it seems inconceivable that it took place, but it did – often.

It’s good thing Fokine has been dead for 75 years. Let’s hope Peci’s and Kaydanovsky’s revisions don’t bring him back from his grave.

Out of the three works, Eno Peci’s Petrushka is easily the most successful, although if you don’t pass out from boredom, Lukács Movements to Stravinsky is harmless fare. Kaydanovsky’s The Firebird is painful and depressing. Watching it is a suitable and delightfully ironic punishment for those superficial balletomanes who seek only shallow beauty from a trip to the opera. Yet, the Volksoper is often the first place people see dance in Vienna. Kayadanovsky’s The Firebird will do much to ensure many never see another ballet.

Post-Apocalyptic Trump World

April 25th, 2017 § 0


A good friend and colleague of mine is a professional political pundit. He was and is very anti-Trump. I argued a case in favour of Donald Trump. In the end, electing Donald Trump on his message of MAGA seems to have been as futile as electing Barrack Obama on his message of hope and change. Here is my mea culpa to my friend. It appears prudent people should plan for a post-apocalyptic world:

Just to note: you were right about Donald Trump (I argued above you didn’t give him a fair chance). Trump is the same sellout as Barrack Obama was, betraying his MAGA voters as Obama betrayed his hope and change voters. Was George Carlin right about the unseen angle on the Kennedy Assassination?

Whomever the Americans elect, regardless public platform, that politician turns around and pursues a Wall Street/military industrial complex/Big Oil agenda.

Post-Apocalyptic Trump World Continues »

Is the Admiral Grigorovich a threat to USS Porter and USS Cole?

April 8th, 2017 § 0

The Admiral Grigorovich will be shadowed by submarines. Any large warship is a sitting duck at this point to a capable adversary. The displacement of the Admiral Grigorovich is just 4000 tonnes loaded in comparison to almost 9000 loaded for each of the USS Porter and USS Cole, albeit Admiral Grigorovich is a 2013 issue warship while the USS Porter and USS Cole are about fifteen years older. Even without the submarine thread or the menace of an attack by American planes from nearby Mediterranean airbases, the Admiral Grigorovich would be hard pressed to sink both the USS Porter and USS Cole at the same time.

Moreover the Admiral Grigorovich is one of just three such Russian frigates while the US has

62 Arleigh-Burke class destroyers in service. The Russians would not like to trade the Admiral Grigorovich against even three such US destroyers. Is the Admiral Grigorovich a threat to USS Porter and USS Cole? Continues »

Remnants of Hapsburg Pressburg

July 8th, 2015 § 0

One of the great things about having a dog is that he will take you off the beaten track. Sometimes far off the beaten track. In this case on a 37 degree day, Thor insisted on going through the woods. I ended up crawling through bracken in shorts with low rise socks (very cool looking invention until crossing berries and vines in the woods).

Pressburg Pionier Oberleutenant Karl Hoper LPressburg Pionier Oberleutenant Karl Hoper (L)

Remnants of Hapsburg Pressburg Continues »

Presburg Mirror

January 20th, 2015 § 0

So this is how Hans felt
before the war. Hitler’s voice drones
on the radio. A toothbrush in his hands,
his eyes in the mirror. Surely,
he thought, it won’t come to this.
Level heads will prevail. Not twenty years
ago the cannons went silent.

But this time my bleary eyes admit,
it’s been seventy years. Three generations
lived and died with just whispers
in the jungles or Balkan piano clatter.
An inconsequential hundred thousand
Arab children may have starved.

Nothing real, nothing like this. Slow heartbeat,
the distant boom of the end, absolute.
Hans’ wife pooh-poohed the menace then
as mine now. Take Gretta with you my love
while you’re out with the dog. Fresh air
will do you all good.
She smiles, urgently
rubbing cream into her forehead. A furrow
across her brow, dismisses any other care.

Real men do not fret about
what they cannot change.
to be taken to school, cannons to load.
Duties to be discharged equally.
Centuries alter not man’s destiny, woman’s
insouciance. Accept the force. Indispensable
nation. Sieg Heil!

Swimming in Swan Lake: Fifth International Dance Gala in Graz

May 10th, 2014 § 1

In his Fifth TanzGala Graz the director of the Graz Ballet, Darel Toulon decided to finish off dance critics once and for all. At half time, it’s already almost ten o’clock. We’ve seen seven excerpts and one full miniature already. The non-writing public is delighted by this cornocopia of choreography. Animated chat and high spirits reign.

The evening began with a short extract from one of Toulon’s own most ambitious works, Swan Trilogy (Schwanentrilogie). I saw the full piece at its premiere in 2009 and Swan Trilogy has aged well. The giant eggs with cracks in them create impressive atmosphere while Dianne Gray looks fabulous as the Swan princess. Michal Zabavik is in great form. The live orchestra give the performance the feel of one Europe’s great cultural capitals like Moscow or Paris. It’s a pity the excerpt was so short.

The next pas de deux came from Roland Petit’s Proust ou les intermittences du coeur. Two men dance naked to the waist as equal partners. Beautiful shapes, tender movement. Gabriel Faurie’s Elegy for Violoncello and Orchestra provided a deeply moving acoustic background for what Toulon correctly noted as a masterwork. 1974 is like today. Rainer Krenstetter and Marian Walter’s communication via movement will be the best we see tonight. A perfect performance of Petit’s perfect piece.

Marian Walter und Rainer Krenstetter in Roland Petits Duett aus Les intermittences du Coeur
Marian Walter and Rainer Krenstetter in Roland Petits
Duett from Les intermittences du Coeur

Swimming in Swan Lake: Fifth International Dance Gala in Graz Continues »

Ballet Graz: Die Liebe Einer Konigin or A Royal Affair in Dance

March 8th, 2014 § 0

One of the the more peculiar and exciting stories of recent royalty came out of Denmark. In 1766, the quite mad Christian VII ascended the throne at just seventeen years of age. He remained in power for an astonishingly long time, considering his limited facilities. A young and beautiful wife from England was brought to him Caroline.

After the birth of an heir, Christian took a trip abroad and came back in the care of a Danish-German physician Johann Struensee. Struensee became both confidante and friend of King Christian, later the lover of Queen Caroline. Together they ruled in Christian’s place for almost two years, before the Dowager Queen led a palace coup in favour of her own son. Result: Struensee executed, Caroline exiled.

In 2012, the Danes themselves made a majestic film version starring Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Struensee called A Royal Affair. Both sensual and intellectual, idealistic and cynical, Mikkelsen is thorougly compelling in the role. His queen is a fascinating and contradictory Caroline, divided between duty and passion.

Ballet Graz artistic director Darrel Toulon’s instinct to treat this story in ballet is unerring. Dance thrives on passion and emotion, love and death. The Struensee affair has all of it.

How did Toulon do?

Ballet Graz: Die Liebe Einer Konigin or A Royal Affair in Dance Continues »

Review: Ballett-Hommage Forsythe | Horecna | Lander at Vienna Staatsoper

December 15th, 2013 § 0

The evening opens with Forsythe’s The Second Detail. When we see works like this, it’s clear Forsythe is such a great choreographer and his current strange experiments become even less comprehensible and more astonishing. But few people cared for Stravinski’s music in the 1920 so perhaps it’s we who just don’t understand.

Horecna Contra Clockwise Witness 1
Horecna Contra Clockwise Witness 1

The Second Detail opens up with a huge bright grey rehearsal space with just the words THE at the front. Thin white horizontal lines dividge the strange into precise grids. The dancers are in the same grey as the floor. I’m not quite sure why Apple is getting away with suing Samsung for packaging as Forsythe had the iPhone and MacBook Air boxing under control back in 1991 in Frankfurt. This is an early great work.

Vienna State Ballet company looks great dancing Forsythe these days. Under Legris, they’ve acquired both the élan necessary and the discipline necessary to put it all together. Strangely, the men have improved more than the women (who have been excellent as along as I’ve been in Vienna). Particularly notable is strongman Vladimir Shiskov but Mihail Sosnovichi also delivers an imposing performance while Eno Peci and Alexis Forbasco look good too. All of the men have developed powerful lower bodies and are a joy to watch.

Review: Ballett-Hommage Forsythe | Horecna | Lander at Vienna Staatsoper Continues »