As some of you might know, I recently wrote a long front page article about the struggle to be prima among the ballerinas at Vienna's Staatsoper, started by Ludmila Konavlov (print edition for now, will appear under my profile Alec Kinnear). In that article I wrote about Maria Yakovleva and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen Yakovleva in a leading role in a classical ballet since her first years in Vienna. I'd recommended her as an ideal Sylphide and decided to test my recommendation.
Yakovleva is now in her prime as a ballerina at 29 years of age. It's always a joy to see a dancer with all the strength and beauty of youth, but with solid experience. The non-ballet public often makes the mistake of going to see celebrated dancers when they are past their prime. The time to see Yakovleva is now.
Maria Yakovleva and Masayu Kimoto in La Sylphide 7 April 2013, Wiener Staatsoper
Maria Yakoleva, Masayu Kimoto and Andrey Kaydanovsky in the tragic final scene
of La Sylphide at Vienna State Opera 7 April 2013:
Yakoleva's final moments are truly touching
Returning to the young Yakovleva, her early faults were too much attention to her footwork and not enough attention to her emotions, as well as too strong a reliance on what is indeed a charming smile. In modern works, recently she's overcome her urge to charm with strong expressive dancing. Yet in the title role of La Sylphide, Yakovleva continues to charm but without entirely bewitching. There's some secret part of her which she does not give to the stage. This is not to say Yakovleva is not entirely delightful as she effortlessly dances through even the most challenging sequences.
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
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.
Franz West died July 25. West was a conceptual artist who collaborated often with the dance creators at ImPulsTanz. Karl Regensburger moved quickly to put together a tribute by many of the dance makers who had worked with West or were influenced by his work last night.
Franz West by Ludwig Koeln
Moderator and hands on organiser Jennifer Lacey did her best to keep the program on track but at two hours without a formal break and some real trouble moving the performers on and off, momentum was uneven. Had Lacey known how many pauses there would be, she could have passed on the introduction and done that in forced breaks. She told one joke which made me laugh while waiting what seemed like half an hour for Philip Gehmacher to get out of the back and onto the stage. Gehmacher's equipment in the end was moved out onto the stage by force by Intendant Regensburger himself.
"As dancers we learn young to come on time or ahead of time and to be ready. Visual artists don't ever seem to get this message - they are almost always late and badly organised - so collaborating with them is always an adventure for us."
To open there was a beat poetry reading in the upper foyer of Kasino. Then the doors opened and a blonde transvestite in the most amazing electric blue platform heels pranced out.
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.
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.
Another good concert in the fabulous Melt series from Pazit . The Melt series in the Austellungsraum at 23 Gumpfendorferstrasse is the most vibrant concert series in Vienna now for electronic and experimental music. Pazit focuses usually on strong singer/songwriters and doesn't really limit the series too much by genre. In the current series of concerts, there's been real experimental, along with Falco revival Tanz Baby and even almost reggae.
Tanz Baby is a little bit kitsch with David Kleinl going somewhat over the top in his ersatz Falco persona. But like the original Falco, Tanz Baby is playful and fun. Everyone there had a great time.
I've been swimming a lot in the Neue Donau in September. It's the most fabulous outdoor swimming pool you can imagine. As the weather gets colder, the water actually gets cleaner. There's nothing like swimming out in the open air as far as the eye can see.
neue donau worlds largest swimming pool
vienna new city from donauinsel
I purchased a half wetsuit on sale on a lark. It's been great. I've worn it half a dozen times already. You can still swim in the Neue Donau in September but for sport swimming this year (more than 15 minutes) you need a wet suit most days.