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 »

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 »

Marchenwelt Ballett at Vienna’s Volksoper: A Fairy Tale Evening

October 19th, 2013 § 2

Volkoper plays an interesting role in the arts life of the Austrian capital. Viennese love both their operetta and their comic ballet and Volksoper must feed this sweet tooth.

Often the works are either historic pieces or imported. This year Volksoper ballet director Vesna Orlic and Staatsoper dancer and choreographer Andrey Kaydanovsky have collaborated on a new program called Marchenwelt or Fairy Tale World. The two parts are unified by dramatic Russian music, first Modest Mussorgski’s Pictures from an Exhibition and then Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scherezade.

1001-Nights-Genie-in-Volksoper-audience-1200
Boris Eder’s brilliant turn as the Genie stuck in a lantern in Orlic’s 1001 Nights

Kaydanovsky has contemporised The Ugly Duckling for his fairy tale. His version includes high fives, industrial agriculture and sport hunting with rifles. And why not? Fairy tales should be timeless.

Marchenwelt Ballett at Vienna's Volksoper: A Fairy Tale Evening Continues »

Celebrating Sacre in Graz

June 2nd, 2013 § 2

In Graz the 2013 season was dedicated to the work of Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes. The crowning achievement is a three piece full evening of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky with full orchestra.

A sumptuous rendition of Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis & Chloe opens the evening. As substantial a stage as is the Oper Graz, the orchestra pit is full to bursting while the female voices take up the the left upper lodge. The male singers are in the wings backstage. The musical performance is worth the price of admission on its own. Combined with ballet director Toulon’s complex visuals, this is an extraordinary work. Majestic dancer Bostjan Ivanjsic takes centre stage as Daphnis. The role is a complex one, exploring a young man’s sexuality – first timid, then more aggressive. He throws himself into a pool on stage and comes out soaking wet and fully nude, challenging the slightly bourgeois Graz Opera audience with full frontal male nudity.

Celebrating Sacre in Graz Continues »

Vienna’s New Nutcracker

January 3rd, 2013 § 1

A new production of Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s classic at the Staatsoper with a fin-de-siècle set, a child army, and fake moustaches; plus: a guide to opera etiquette for kids.

The Nutcracker. Author: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Staatsoper

Nussknacker Konovalova
At the Vienna State Opera, Liudmila Konavlova as Clara holds the
nutcracker, surrounded by the giant heads of the grown-ups

Photo: Wiener Staatsoper

Every child should see The Nutcracker at least once. But if you want her to remember and him to treasure the occasion, best to be very careful which Nutcracker you choose.

Thus the new Nutcracker at Vienna State Opera is not a bad choice. It’s a Russian version, from Rudolf Nureyev, one of his first grand evening ballets in the West. The costumes are very traditional and very Russian: fancy officers’ uniforms, the grand gowns of the 19th century. The soldiers are Napoleonic and numerous, there are Hussars on horses (well, convincing enough). The decorations are as rich as the costumes, with photorealistic drawing rooms and massive grandfather clocks.

Vienna’s New Nutcracker Continues »

Oper Graz: Deal.West.East

April 27th, 2012 § 0

A trip to a Graz dance premiere is always a challenge. Graz Opera ballet director Darrel Toulon has been either dancing or creating dance for a quarter century, ever seeking the grail of the new.

Once again we are in the extraordinary studio theatre Wilder Mann. What makes Wilder Mann different from almost any other space is that there is no depth to the stage and it is enormously wide. Dance works horizontally instead of vertically. Alas neither of tonight’s choreographers took full advantage of the space this time: to take advantage of the space, one needs to program opposing important actions on either end of the stage. The effect in when used properly is almost like Mike Figgis’s Timecode film with four frames of action taking place at the same time.

In Deal.East.West, the something new involved bringing together two young choreographers from the two far extremes of the Eurasian continent: Shanghai native Jie Dong and James Wilton from England. Both are dedicated national artists, working respectively in their native lands, rather than from the European melting pot of choreography (French in Belgium, Spaniards in Paris, Russians in Germany).

I can think and dream about it

To be fair, Dong’s work is very much in the Western tradition of modern dance and has very little to do with Oriental movement: his masters studied in the tradition of Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan and Pina Bausch. Dong is as Chinese (or not) as Hong Kong action films.

Jura Wanga Jana Drgonova Daphne van Dooren Ruo Chen Wang Dianne Gray
Jura Wanga, Jana Drgonova, Daphne van Dooren,
Ruo Chen Wang, Dianne Gray

Dong collaborated with long time Toulon stage designer Vibeke who onced again offered us one her extraordinary minimalist environments in white. On the left there was an enormous three meter high white chair. Later a smaller white chair is passed among the dancers. Small elegant details which worked.

Oper Graz: Deal.West.East Continues »

Volksoper Ballet: Carmina Burana – Afternoon of a Faun – Bolero

March 2nd, 2012 § 1

Afternoon of a Faun, Bolero and Carmina Burana are Volksopera’s dance corps chance to shine outside the shadow of the main ballet.

Afternoon with a Faun immediately brings memories of Nijinski, the famous photograph. It’s a dangerous standard to lance against. Choreographer Boris Nebyla has never lacked courage and plunges straight in. The stage is spare with just four white ceiling to floor breaking the all black stage, light slips through from behind. At the front of the stage, Mihail Sosnovschi poses front foot under him back leg extended. His powerful physique impresses right away. Sosnovschi strikes a series of poses to Debussy’s music, sometimes balletic, sometimes more from a bodybuilder’s show.

Faun2
Faun: Mihail Sosnovschi

At this point, one is optimistic about the duet to come. Lovely Brazilian Tainá Ferreira Luiz creeps across the back of the stage between the columns. Her hair is dyed a flaming red and she is clad in a flesh toned body suit.

The pair now pose together and interact in some sort of flirt. It’s all strangely sexless though. From here Afternoon of a Faun just meanders. There’s a hint of hope for some flames when Luiz with her legs extended backwards and on her stomach with Sosnovoschi above juts her hips into the floor three times, as if making love but it’s just a tiny spark in a very tasteful but too benign Afternoon of a Faun.

Faun1
Faun: Tainá Ferreira Luiz & Mihail Sosnovschi

Bolero is the creation of András Lukács, Hungarian wunderkind of the Harangozo’s regime. Lukács is almost all grown up now and toils no more for choreolab but for the main stage. No excuses now.

In tackling Bolero, once again the choreographer is taking the measure of a musical work greater in the imagination than anything he or she could create.

Volksoper Ballet: Carmina Burana - Afternoon of a Faun - Bolero Continues »

Legris’ Masterworks of the 20th Century at Vienna Staatsoper: Serge Lifar, Nils Christie, Roland Petit

February 17th, 2012 § 1

Rarely has the stage of the Staatsoper appeared so impressive. The curtain opens to reveal on three levels, a full complement of dozens of dancers, the women in gleaming white tutus, the men in black leggings and handsome white shirts. First impressions are often misleading. So it is with Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc.

The audience collectively takes a breath, expecting the full stage to explode in dance. No dice. All but two dancers slowly slink off to the wings. Over the course of the next half hour deserted stage is gradually built back up to full, but never does Suite en Blanc manage to equal the thunder of its opening salvo.

Quickly Suite en Blanc turns into a battle of the ballerinas, the ballerinas parade out one by one to show their dressage qualities.

Highly rated Ludmila Konovalova has finally found some costume designers who understand her figure and for once her kit doesn’t make her powerful body look like a female hockey player. She acquits herself well with Alexis Forabosco and Shane A. Wuerthner providing steady support.

Legris' Masterworks of the 20th Century at Vienna Staatsoper: Serge Lifar, Nils Christie, Roland Petit Continues »

Balet Bratislava: Romeo and Juliet photos

November 28th, 2011 § 0

I went to the second premiere of Romeo and Juliet on the 12 November also. If anything I like the ballet much better the second time.

Perhaps I was just inured to the slightly disappointing loudspeakers of Nova Scena and the strange jumps in the lights didn’t bother me so much.

It probably also has to do with a greater chemistry between Romeo (Arthur Abrams) and Juliet (Natalya Némethová). It’s not to say that Némethová outdanced the always stunning Katarina Kosikova. But she did dance Juliet with as much passion.

See for yourself:

dance of the Patriarchs
dance of the Patriarchs
Tybalt Juliet mother
Paris Juliet mother
mercutio dance
mercutio dance
mercutio surrounded by capulets
mercutio surrounded by capulets
Mercutio vs Tybalt
Mercutio vs Tybalt
mercutio dies by romeo
mercutio dies by romeo
dead mercutio
dead mercutio
paris attacks romeo
paris attacks romeo
duo romeo juliet
duo romeo juliet
lift romeo juliet
lift romeo juliet
Juliet Lady Capulet
Juliet Lady Capulet
juliet ordered to marry paris
juliet ordered to marry paris
romeo juliet second duet 2
romeo juliet second duet 2
romeo juliet second duet
romeo juliet second duet
arthur abrams natalya
arthur abrams natalya
Romeo finds Juliet in comaRomeo finds Juliet in coma
Lady Capulet grieves Juliet
Lady Capulet grieves Juliet
Mario Radacovsky curtain call
Mario Radacovsky curtain call

La Sylphide, Vienna Staastoper 2011: Manuel Legris and Irina Tsymbal

October 26th, 2011 § 3

La Sylphide is one of the easiest ballets to perform and one of the most difficult ballets to get perfect. The dangers of La Sylphide are multiple:

  • the Scottish setting can seem very campy
  • adequate stagecraft to preserve a sense of wonder
  • the music can come across as thin and grating
  • sufficiently large, gifted and beautiful corps-de-ballet
  • the male audience can fail to fall in love with La Sylphide
  • the women in the public fail to identify with Effie
  • the women in the public can wonder what Effie sees in James

Manuel Legris has gotten it all right with Wiener Staatsoper ballet.

Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal as La Sylphide
All photos courtesy & © Max Moser

The decors are very sober, even a little bit drab. You feel inside a Scottish manor somewhere in the Highlands. Yet all the space of the huge Vienna State Opera stage is all there for the variations. In the second act the woods were tremendous and airy.

The small touches of stagecraft were a delight. Sylphides flying across the stage at 15 metres above the stage, Sylphides perched in the branches of the trees, La Sylphide disappearing vertically up the chimney or disappearing instantly into the floor.

The Staatsoper orchestra was in fine form, particularly in the overture which was sufficiently lyrical and touching that one wishes a recording. Through the rest of the ballet the performance was usually very good but the limits of the score were sometimes felt and the music hinted of military marching band. Still I’m far from sure one can do better without reorchestration.

Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide
Staatsoper corps de ballet La Sylphide

Manuel Legris has continued to work wonders with the splendid corps-de-ballet that his predessor Harangoza so paintakingly built. There are no less than 23 additional sylphides on stage in the second act. The whole corps-de-ballet looked great. There are small moments of synchronicity to perfect, but it is the premiere after all. There are few over-rehearsed ballet companies left in the world and Vienna Staatsopera ballet is not one of them.

Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide
Irina Tsymbal tears of La Sylphide

Irina Tsymbal is a perfect Sylphide. Her pallid complexion and somewhat tragic demeanor finds its natural home. Tsymbal can portray imperious roles as well. She is a very versatile ballerina. But La Sylphide is the most natural fit of all for her.

After the performance, Manuel Legris elevated Irina Tsymbal to First Soloist. It is good to see Legris keep an open mind about dancers. Initially, he planned to release Tsymbal before his first season as what he saw in rehearsal hadn’t impressed him. Fortunately a good fairy told him that Tsymbal’s talents flame on stage and not at the bar. If Legris can remain open to talent like this, he has a long and bright career as a director ahead of him.

Effie is a more difficult role. Danced with sufficient flair, James enchantment with La Sylphide would make no sense. Nina Polakova is almost as lyric a ballerina as Irina Tsymbal, with less of Tysmbal’s undercurrents of dangerous passion. As Effie she very deliberately curbs her charms to become a real girl, in love with her man but more cheerful than deep, trusting than passionate.

Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide
Roman Lazik Irina Tsymbal La Sylphide

As James, Roman Lazik is in his element. James is the ordinary guy caught in a remote fantasy. Lazik plays James as a good old boy more than a dreamer. Still, in the second act, he struggles as one feels the the emotion is not in his bones. While Lazik is a very handsome man and a very correct classical dancer and an attentive partner, he lacks a certain passion.

With a truly charismatic and masculine dancer in the role of James – Sergei Filin from the Bolshoi comes to mind – the men identify strongly with James and the women understand and feel both for Effie and La Sylphide. Lazik didn’t fail to move us, but didn’t move us as much as I’d like. This single weakness explains to me why the audience reception was enthusiastic and not ecstastic. I hope we will see Vladimir Shishov in the role of James.

Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge
Andrey Kaydanovskiy as Madge

We did see some great performances in secondary roles: Andrei Kaydonovsky was truly wicked as Madge. The pantomine was writ large but he pushed through it with sufficient abandon that we believed in her evil. His movement remained strong but feminine.

Kamil Pavelka was a resolute and sufficiently antagonistic Gurn. One felt his contempt for his friend who was half heartedly stealing the woman he loved. Pavelka is the kind of dancer who is perfect in the secondary role, although I’m not sure how well he’d carry a prince.

The Scottish kilt complemented Mihail Sosnovichi’s shape and gave him more traditional proportions, which along with a good leap and his usual energy helped both Sosnovichi and his partner Maria Alati to an invigorating pas de deux as the young newlyweds.

Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Mihail Sosnovichi Maria Alatii
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova
Solo Sylphides Alena Klochova Marie Claire d Lyse Andrea Nemethova

The solo Sylphides – Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Alena Klochova, Andrea Némethová – were very good but perhaps a little bit too heroic. Super Sylphides, I would call them. But why must Sylphides always be frail.

Manuel Legris brought in excellent pedagogues: himself and Elisabeth Platel. Gradually he is pulling Vienna up to the level of Opéra de Paris. The danger is too much success and perhaps Paris will be calling him back too soon for Vienna’s good.

On the whole La Sylphide earns a 9 out of 10. If I hadn’t seen Sergei Filin dance James, perhaps I’d give La Sylphide 2011 at Vienna Staatsoper a perfect 10.


Special thanks to Max Moser for his ever excellent dance and theater photos. You can book Max’s services at PhotobyMM.com. His full gallery of La Sylphide.