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.

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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 »

Staatsoper Nureyev Gala: Kourlaev and Tsymbal Shine in Mayerling

June 30th, 2013 § 0

Galas are often long affairs. And this one was no exception. Manuel Legris was fortunate to be mentored in his early dance career by Rudolf Nureyev during his reign at the Paris Opera. There is a Nureyev gala in Paris and now there is one in Vienna. I still question whether it makes sense to so honour someone who recklessly infected others with HIV but I do understand Legris’s attachment to the teacher who gave him so much.

The evening opened with a fine excerpt from La Sylphide with full decorations, with Maria Yakovleva in the eponymous title role and Masayu Kimoto as her partner. While La Sylphide is always easier to watch in its entirety both were very good and the corps-de-ballet looked good too. An auspicious start.

Staatsoper Nureyev Gala: Kourlaev and Tsymbal Shine in Mayerling 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.

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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.

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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 »

Choreolab 12 review: Junge Choreographen Des Wiener Staatsballetts

March 2nd, 2012 § 0

So many people put so much into Choreolab to make it happen, to finance it, to create it. Vintner Hvram, every year brings up some of the finest cuvées from Burgenland. From the ambassador’s wives to the professors in the audience, Ingeborg Tichy Luger is a lady very precise in her gratitude. I thought all our grateful hands might fall off when we were done clapping for everyone present and everyone who contributed. Tip: group the people and fire through the names in a group and let us clap louder for four or five names together.

This year under Choreolab under the aegis of Staatsoper and ballet artistic director Manuel Legris was even more ambitious than usual with a full nine pieces in two acts, including two from Fabrizio Coppo.

Choreolab veteran Samuel Colombet opened the evening with a Balanchinesque bit of neoclassicism. The costumes were unusually good, splendidly draped white over four beautiful dancers Ionna Avraam, Iliana Chivarova, Erika Kovacova and Rui Tamai. In particular, Ms. Avraam was in spectacular form. One could also see why Manuel Legris promoted Erika Kovacova to the main stage from Volksopera. In line, she is like the top Paris Opera dancers. Her dancing is very smooth, but a certain absence of snap and a weak jump break the illusion you might be watching a younger Elisabeth Platel.

As accomplished and lovely as Columbet’s distaff contingent, his men were extraordinarily beautiful led by a dramatic Martin Winter. Young Felipe Vieira is like a confection, with almond roasted skin and cherub mouth. Gleb Sheilov did not stand out but supported his comrades well.

The difficulty with Columbet’s Oktett is in the end was the easiniess of some of the choices: a concerto from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy is a certain crowd pleaser. The splendid lifts and accomplished steps and bare torsos of handsome men almost cannot fail to delight a ballet audience. In the end, after Oktett one has enormously enjoyed what one has seen but little remains.

Choreolab 12 review: Junge Choreographen Des Wiener Staatsballetts Continues »

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.

Vienna Staatsoper’s Homage to Jerome Robbins: Broadway meets High Art

May 15th, 2011 § 0

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.

Glass Pieces

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 Vienna Staatsoper Glass Pieces 2
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.

Homage to Jerome Robbins Vienna Staatsoper Glass Pieces 1
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.

Homage to Jerome Robbins Vienna Staatsoper The Concert 2
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.

Homage to Jerome Robbins Vienna Staatsoper The Concert 3
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