November 28th, 2011 §
October 26th, 2011 §
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
June 20th, 2011 §
For the final Oper Graz dance work in June, ballet director Darell Toulon brought two promising choreographers to Graz to create new works.
The lucky pair: Vienna's budding star Nikolaus Adler lately of Homunculus and Villach born Guido Markowitsch, best known for his choreography for musicals and his work in Darmstadt Staatstheater.
While both pieces were part of a coherent evening, as separate and nearly full length works, I have divided this review into two sections.
Resurrection or the Alienation of Humanity - Nikolaus Adler
At first glance Resurrection appears to be a reprise of Törte für Alle, which premiered at Choreolab in 2006. Adler has brough back the cakes, the clowns, the brutal music from the Tiger lillies, a statue of the Virgin Mary next to a dead man and even a little girl singing a beautiful song at the end.
But in fact Resurrection is more a complete remake of the original with a little more time and a dedicated cast. The last piece was created at Choreolab where the dancers are just borrowed from Staatsoper between rehearsals for the main stage. Very happily Adler has made some of the explicity intellectual pretensions of Torte fur Alle (billboard style references to Sartre and Fox news) implicit and reinvested the returns in the dancing.
Nikolaus Adler - Resurrection oder die Befremdlichkeit
der Zwischen Menschlikeit: Cakes and Clowns again
Resurrection opens very strongly with high speed deep bending dancing with grinding rhythms. The opposite of what one could expect from the usually austere Adler. What is remarkable about his choreography are the contrasts. Even during a powerful energetic duet, Adler will stop to show delicate work with fingers. Without being afraid of movement, Adler has always shown an unusual fineness of gesture.
I've always wondered how and why Toulon chooses his performers for Oper Graz. His auditions go on for weeks and in the end, he usually chooses not particularly tall nor superficially attractive dancers in what is frankly a buyer's market. Now I've found out:
Opera Graz dancers can really move. Particularly astonishing are Laura Fischer, Michael Munoz and Bostjan Ivanjsic.
Bostjan Ivanjsic Laura Fischer duet Resurrection:
wonderful movement and powerful duets based on contact
After the opening burst of energy, Resurrection quickly slows down to Adler's usual ironic sadness: Adler's macabre clowns stand in a line and push a cake in one another's faces.
Adler takes us through a sinister pantomime of funeral by a group of clowns, complete with statue of Virgin Mary by the head of the deceased. Adler's clown-faced brutes kick the poor corpse in the head. Wtih all the cellars in contemporary Austria filled with the corpses of unwanted lovers and incest's children, Adler's wanton brutality seems part of daily life here in Austria.
The pace doesn't relent with a spectacular duet between Ivanjsic and Fischer without music: swinging arms writ large, difficult lifts and kinetic gyration. Stunning dancing: mesmerising enough to only notice the absence of music when sound reappears in the next duet.
Adler was able to go to complex, dangerous movement with these dancers experienced with one another and with enough rehearsal time. Much of the movement seemed polished versions of very good contact improv. Contact improv is about communication with the partner so refining it for the stage is to choose communication through movement.
All good things must come to an end and they do with a little girl on stage with another dancer. Tatjana Wiesenhofer sang extremely beautifully:
My papa was a wonderful clown. My father was a beautiful man.
All children are charming on stage. Wiesenhofer has a great voice and seems a natural.
Sometimes it is not nice to be me - Guido Markowitz
The simple narrow black stage was divided into three with two ten metre silk like transparent black curtains. Two men begin the action with an extended duet. Neither Mathias Strahm nor Gyorgy Baán much impress. Their movements are exaggerated and false, parodic. Not nearly so fine as the work Adler just showed us. The tall Strahm reminds one of typically world weary Nicolas Cage.
Happily enough the next duet between Michael Munoz and Shaohui Yi brought some real intensity back to the stage. Munoz seems to woo Yi to no avail. Yi's persistent rejection is relentless. Munoz's grimace of fury sears us.
On the curtains, water drops are cleverly projected. I'm as tired of projection as the next contemporary theatre-goer: most projection is mainly a worn out trope but here the moving drops felt real and right. Sounds of rain and water justified the visual. Stagecraft which works and is not expensive: you can see that Markowitz worked hard to bring light, sound and texture together to support the water theme.
Occasionally the antics to extend the water metaphor consume art, leaving only device: the dance with a full glass of water trying not to spill it was either pretentious or something from reality TV.
But then suddenly an astonishing solo from Dianne Gray stroking her own body with handfulls of ice offers a breathtaking visual and moves us with its strong emotional text.
Dianne Gray's exceptional solo with ice cubes in her hands
Action now takes place in all three stages, with two sets of action on the left. The drama in the center, solos and duets on the sides while Munoz still weeps as the Japanese ex-girlfriend slaps him around. The effect is symphonic.
On both sides, there are ice solos while in the middle a trio dance: Michal Zabavik and Ivansjic with Fischer between them. The two men beat each other senseless for Fischer's favours. The scene ends with Michal Zabavik drowning Ivansjic. Ivansjic's head is held under water several times for up to as long as a minute. Even two of the girls come in to help hold a struggling Ivansjic upside down. When Ivansjic's comes out of the water wet and gasping, it is not play acting.
The music splinters between klang effects, the crash of ice against metal (live) and vocal lullabies. The contrast makes each more effective in turn. The two men fighting on a wet floor means real danger, a sort of Ultima Vez light (Wim Vandekeybus's company will likely hold the record for the highest career threatening injury per dancer forever).
Now six of the girls lie on stage and gargle together, extending the water metaphor to undreamt extremes. Ivansjic is strapped by the men into a trapeze on the left. As he hanges there helpless, Fischer comes and dances the most astonishing passion with him.
At times she climbs up onto Ivansjic to embrace him. At times Fischer is on the floor and Ivansjic pulls her limbs up to him as she somersaults or hangs upside down in his arms. Fischer's long tresses cascade in the light, shiny and feminine and beautiful. They kiss kisses of passion. Finally Fischer rides Ivansjic like a broken horse.
Bostjan Ivanjsic & Laura Fischer on and off the trapeze together
one of the best duets I've ever seen: perfect conception
with touching performances from both dancers
For the last ten minutes into the golden age of Rosas and Ultima Vez. We don't often see dancing or choreography as raw and passionate as what Ivansjic and Fischer have just shown us. The duet is like all of Romeo and Juliet distilled to seven minutes.
Michael Munoz is still to go mad, spat on from all sides by seven comrades or ex-lovers. The ice crashes louder and louder. In the end, he slaps his own leg out from under himself in an amazing acrobatic and symbolic fall. Like Munoz, sooner or later we all slap a leg out from under ourselves. It is only human.
Still, Sometimes it is not nice to be me piece slowly disintegrates after the trapeze duet. There is nothing Markowitz or frankly nearly any other choreographer can offer to maintain the intensity after such a moment. Perhaps the piece should have gone out on a high. Perhaps it's better that it winds down with a slow thud. The last performers are not nearly as interesting as Munoz, Ivansjic, Fischer, Yi and Dianne Gray.
A spectacularly successful evening on a very small and narrow stage. Markowitz, Adler and Toulon demonstrate you need neither large stage nor large budget to mount ambitious work. A will to create, strong dancers and the time to do it (rehearsals were spaced out over months and the premier date was moved a month later) are all it takes.
If you are tired of the Vienna silent non-movement conceptual scene, if you still love dance, if you'd like to see passionate movement, get thee hence to Graz while you still can. Jump Start is not an evening to be missed.
There are Jump Start performances on Tuesday 21 June, Wednesday 22 June, Saturday 25 June, Sunday 26 June. Keep in mind the performances are not in Oper Graz but StudioBuhne Wilder Mann Jakomimistraße 3-5 about ten minutes walk from the Opera. Photos © Werner Kmetisch/Oper Graz: frankly both shows are much more exciting than the photos show.
May 15th, 2011 §
In his latest dance confection for Vienna, Staatsoper ballet director has brought us three hiterto never danced in Vienna pieces from master showman Jerome Robbins (née Rabinowitz). Robbins has the most eclectic collection of awards of any of the great choreographers, from an Oscar for film direction (West Side Story) to Tonys for Broadway musicals (Fancy Free, The King & I, West Side Story, The Pajame Game) through a French Legion of Honour.
Robbins likely does not deserve the last one, as the most active namer of names in his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953, leading to the blacklisting of dozens of colleagues and acquaintances (effective professional death).
Fundamentally a showman, first as a performer and then as a creator, Robbins felt that there should not be a divide between commercial artists and high art, i.e. a successful Broadway choreographer should be allowed to set ballet. The three works chosen by Legris showcase Robbins' work as an avant-garde choreographer, a Romantic ballet master and a Broadway showman in turn.
Who has one time heard the trombone of Glass Pieces from Philip Glass will never hear the trombone the same again. Each puff resonates through twenty beautiful figures moving at speed, changing the world with a precise gesture.
Homage to Jerome Robbins at Vienna Staatsoper. Glass Pieces.
Glass Pieces drives the viewer into a profoundly meditative state. Colours, some light, sound, we are children again staring into a xylescope.
The piece opens casually enough with an army of colourfully dressed pedestrians crossing back and forth across the stage. Periodicaly the crowd are interrupted by pairs, pink, emerald, blue. Each pair tunes its affection in a different way.
Natalie Kush and Shane A. Wuerthner were particularly touching in pink. She so small and fragile and optimistic, Wuerthner taller and cool. The last times I've seen him dance he's been paired with dancers like Olga Esina who overwhelm him. His own talents shine brighter with a more petite dancer.
Kiyoka Hashimoto and Masayu Kimoto dance well together, in what has been a season of revelation for Kimoto.
Olga Esina makes her own appearance late in the lead role opposite Roman Lazik. Glass Pieces is written just for her kind of awesome ballerina. Esina's endless limbs, noble carriage and schooled movements bring grace to the piece and she glildes across its surface as if on wings. Glass Pieces demands of a dancer to be one with the music and this Esina masters. She is the perfect muse, here no emotional demands to distract her from herself.
In darkest shiniest bordeaux Roman Lazik partners Olga Esina. Once again, Lazik shows himself a perfect partner attentive to her every step but one wishes that one day he himself would dance his own steps for himself.
Glass Pieces: Olga Esina and Roman Lazik
In the corps-de-ballet, Andrey Teterin is easily the most impressive of the men when in the middle or the back of the pack. He is let down only by his uncertainty when front and center, a strange lingering stage inhibition. If he ever overcomes it, Teterin will be a force with which to reckoned, with his strong lines and forceful jump.
In The Night
In the Night is guided by a piano solo, a rather limpid Chopin Nocturne. This is art of the simpering kind. Across a starlit stage, Robbins reveals three couples, in purple, in brown and in pink. Each dances a tender pas, with the occasional ethereal lift. The piece never really took off, as none of the pairs grabbed any hearts.
Andrej Teterin returns to adequately partner Natalie Kush who is radiant at her second leading role of the evening. Teterin is again let down by the uncertainty of his steps at the most important moments.
Olga Esina and Roman Lazik take the stage second. Again, Lazik is attentive. Again he fails to participate in the piece himself, a cipher for his ballerina. Esina struggled with the trite emotions, ending up as in the first piece, like glass. The long flowing gown from In The Night hides her natural attributes and Esina is a dancer like another.
The final couple Irina Tsymbal and Vladimir Shishov match one another perfectly, Tsymbal's gentle curves fold into Shisov's powerful arms. Shishov lifts Tsymbal like a feather. Always a passionate performer, Tsymbal shines with a strong emotion to communicate.
It appears Vienna Staastoper still does not have the right partner for Esina, one who would push her to the next level. The closest physical match would appear to be ex-husband Shishov but both are dancing better since separated. Perhaps Eno Peci could do Esina justice.
The Concert, or the Perils of Everybody
In the final piece, The Concert or the Perils of Everybody we see a lot of Peci.
He delights the audience as the murderous and adulterous husband. Behind a false nose, Peci is unrecognisable. He wears the role of an unhappy husband like his own dressing gown.
The Concert: Franziska Wallner-Hollinek and Eno Peci
He is well-paired with Irina Tsymbal as the ballerina, object of love. Franziska Wallner-Hollinek incarnates his grande dame wife perfectly, her native Vienna upbringing and aristocratic profile serving her well.
Denys Cherevychko plays against character for once as the shy young man. Ludmila Trayan inspires no end of laughter as the energetic young woman, whether sitting next to the pianist or pushing people off their chairs
Igor Milos, Gabor Oberegger, the lovely Maria Alati and Marta Drastiková round off an excellent comic ensemble performance.
The Concert: Marta Drastiková, Dumitru Taran, Irina Tsymbal, Gabor Oberegger
The Concert is a very strange piece oscillating from straight parody to Prufrock-like dark reflections on existence. The funny moments seem rather silly at first until the unhappy husband kicks his would-be lover the ballerina, shortly after pantomiming the murder of his wife. The women are moved around like inanimate furniture.
There seems to be some curious underlying mysogeny in the piece bubbling just under the surface. Women are beautiful but annoying. Probably true. But then men are annoying too and don't even have beauty to redeem them.
Parody of dance fills The Concert: whether in the Hungarian dance of the men or the extended ballet episode where the energetic girl can't hold her place in the corps-de-ballet.
Dancers get so tired of Swan Lake, Giselle and Sylphides that there is nothing they love more than a good bout of dance parody, whether in Don Quixote or Robbins's The Concert. They were all delighted to perform here and in the end, Robbins does have a point.
It's damn hard to live and wherever you look, whether at a concert or a ballet or even in your own home, everything and everybody is annoying. Even your own mistress.
Hopefully we can see another side of life but in this dance version of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock there is much to enjoy. Tart like the fizz on champagne but like champagne best consumed in moderation.
All Photos Copyright: Wiener Staatsballett/Dimo Dimov
Staatsoper will be performing Jerome Robbins's work throughout September 2011 and March 2012. For specific performances, see The Staastoper website