Roland Petit’s Die Fledermaus (La Chauve-Souris) at Vienna Staatsoper

January 30th, 2009 § 1

In what seems to be an endless tour at Wiener Staatsoper of masterworks from great choreographers of the 1970’s, the latest premiere brings us Die Fledermaus, a.k.a. La Chauve-souris from maestro Roland Petit.

Roland Petite Chauvre Souris Staatsoper
Roland Petit brings his Chauvre Souris to Staatsoper:
85 years old and hard at work and happy
Early retirement is heavily overrated

La Chauve-souris is a particularly amusing example of how cultural cross-pollination can go full circle.

Mr. Petit’s inspiration for La Chauve-souris was an operetta by Johann Straus (Jr.), the famous waltz king. Die Fledermaus is part of Austrian folklore, televised every year at New Year’s on the national television station. Mr. Petit transposed Die Fledermaus’s scenes at the ball to Paris’s own Maxim’s. This production is the first visit of the ballet version of Die Fledermaus to Vienna.

At the heart, the story remains the same. A man with a beautiful wife has grown too accustomed to her, as men do, even bored. Johann’s wife Bella solicits her husband’s attention to no avail. He prefers even the newspaper to her company. In evening however Johann has other plans. He likes to slip out to Maxim’s to dance, flirt and even seduce.

Kirill Kourlaev Olga Esenina
Kirill Kourlaev Olga Esenina

While Johann is ignoring her, Bella – as attractive women, married or not, always do – has an admirer. In this case, the admirer is their children’s tutor Ulrich.

Rafaella Sant Anna Olga Esina
Rafaella Sant Anna Olga Esina

When Johann has disappeared to Maxim’s, Bella calls Ulrich to the house. Ulrich sees his chance and goes in for the kill, hoping to seduce Bella the same evening. But for the moment, Bella cannot bring herself to betray her husband. Ulrich has a backup plan – to disguise Bella and take her out to Maxim’s where she can see Johann’s womanizing for herself.

Eno Peci Olga Esina Chauvre Souris
Eno Peci Olga Esina Chauvre Souris
Eno Peci Olga Esina fledermaus
Eno Peci Olga Esina fledermaus
Eno Peci Olga Esina faints
Eno Peci Olga Esina faints
Eno Peci Olga Esina
Eno Peci Olga Esina
Olga Esina Odile
Olga Esina Odile

Ulrich’s hidden agenda is that when Bella has seen Johann’s infidelity, she will be easy prey for Ulrich himself.

Roland Petit's Die Fledermaus (La Chauve-Souris) at Vienna Staatsoper Continues »

Meet Manuel Legris – Vienna Staatsoper’s new ballet director

January 8th, 2009 § 3

The Vienna State Opera ballet has a new Artistic Director.

He is a familiar name to connaisseurs of European ballet, Manuel Legris. Manuel Legris has been one of the top men at the Paris Opéra since the 1980’s.

Manuel Legris Shinoyama
Manuel Legris at the Opéra de Paris by Shinoyama
The Paris Opéra is sending us on of her best

He has danced everything from all the classics, through George Balanchine, John Cranko (Onegin), Sir Kenneth MacMillan (Manon’s Story), Twyla Tharp, John Neumeier (La Dame aux Camélias), William Forsythe Juri Kylian (Il ne faut q’une porte), Trisha Brown (O zlozony / O composite: Legris came to Vienna’s ImPulsTanz with this), Angelin Preljocaj (Le Parc) even to Vienna Statsoper’s own Renato Zanella (Angel, Alles Waltz).

I cite all these choreographers names – most of them worked with Manuel Legris at the Paris Opéra – as this amazing cross-section of dance makers is exactly what Monsieur Legris brings to the Staatsoper: a first hand familiarity with the best choreographers of the last forty years.

As a classically trained dancer in a classical company, Monsieur Legris knows how to integrate contemporary choreography into the heart of a classical company. The Paris Opéra should be the model for all classical companies today: a vibrant classical repertoire combined with the very pinnacle of contemporary choreographry.

Meet Manuel Legris - Vienna Staatsoper's new ballet director Continues »

Salutary effect of well written descriptive prose: Breach Candy by Luke Jennings

January 8th, 2009 § 0

There’s something marvelous about well written descriptive prose.

I’ve just finished Luke Jenning’s Breach Candy in a single sitting by noon. I woke up early and had the urge to furnish my mind with travel instead of poisoning it with the usual news and internet marketing gunk which clogs my inbox.

As the Israelis give it to the Palestinians again for no particularly good reason apart from intrinsic viciousness and selfishness – and we the Western world stand by and watch (kudos to Sarkozy for actually standing up and seeking to do the right thing just once, tomatoes to Blair for blame and bullying the victim yet again for his American masters), it’s difficult to read the news.

Anyway back to Breach Candy, it’s the story of a film producer in search of a story and love and a ballet dancer in search of herself and love, both lost in Bombay. But the book is far more than the sum of the two stories, between which Jennings jumps back and forth. It is a slightly gritty look at the world of Bombay.

Mumbai Nepean Sea Road
Mumbai Nepean Sea Road


Of course, the view is from the top down, but that seems to be the only vantage point in Bombay from which anything is visible apart from filth and scrabbling. When our protagonists intersect with the real world in short sordid episodes it highlights the hypocrisy of the social caste system in far brighter bursts.

While credibility is stretched when the hero ends up in the arms of a fifteen year old prostitute while the heroine ends up in the arms of the Indian actress it doesn’t crack. The Lesbian affair doesn’t have a particularly genuine edge or truth to it. But it is not unusual with romantic comedies that the ending cannot match the pace.

Legendary actress Smita Patil, inspiration for the character of Jennings’s Indian actress

Another shortfall might be in differentiation of narrative voice. At first it is very difficult to tell the difference between June Webster’s voice and that of Stanley Collinson between the chapters all written in the first person in the voice of one or the other. It surprises me that both June and Stanley write and describe scenes so similarly.

Some of the most powerful stories happen in flashback, often cunningly narrated to new acquaintances in present time. How Stanley left his live-in girlfriend after seeing her in the arms of a film director. Why did he leave without a fight or without clarification?

June asks Stanley the same question. But is there any point to fighting or struggling after that point of betrayal. Still the reader wonders, was there any betrayal before Stanley just disappears. Perhaps had he put his foot down about the issue faster, what he perceived as betrayal was a harmless flirtation.

When I eventually got around there, about two o’clock, I found a note from Emilia. They’d finished shooting very late, she hadn’t got in until the early morning, where had I been, another night edit? The good news, the note went on, was that her contract had been extended, she now had a featured part, there was some location shooting, she’d had to leave early, it would probably be another late night, she would ring me, she missed me.

‘Another late night, I thought, sure. She missed me. Again, sure. The worst part was the whole thing corresponded to the edge-of-consciousness nightmares I had had ever since I met her. The only course of action open to me was to cut myself away. Cauterise. Leave no trace.’ 

If you won’t stand and fight there, when will you stand and fight?

Never is the answer. Stanley ends up starting a film about the wrong actress, as he is put off the trail by others manipulating circumstances around him.

Stanley persists on hopelessly romanticising and idealising the rest of the women, all busy leading their lives around him.

In good fiction, one is forced to examine others lives in close up for at least a few hours. Seeing others’ lives should be enough to remind us how much remains to be done within our own.