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Swimming in Swan Lake: Fifth International Dance Gala in Graz

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

Aimless is just one year old, Dimo Milev won the Copenhagen International Choreographic Competition with his short reflection on life: “it’s not important where you go but with whom you go”. Style is Hong Kong cinema with rust coloured pants and flowered shirts. Tango music from Marc Ribot adds a sensual funkiness to slinky synchronous movement. Performer Tamako Akiyama moves like a young dancer in her timeless and trendy swan song.

Dimo Kirilov Milev und Tamako Akiyama in Aimless von Dimo Kirilov Milev Foto Costin Radu
Dimo Kirilov Milev und Tamako Akiyama in Aimless
von Dimo Kirilov Milev Foto Costin Radu

Fortunately the Graz Oper’s speaker system is good enough to mix with live orchestra. Jean Sibelius’s “Ariels Lied” mixes into nature effects in the next duet, another extract from Toulon’s own Swan Trilogy. Anne-Marie Legenstein’s costume for the white swan remains breathtaking, a tightly pulled gauze bodysuit with transparent sections, decorated with silver and jewels. Bruna Diniz Afonso did justice to Toulon’s finely wrought choreography but her partner Keian Langdon persistently let her down. He looks good but his movement was sloppy and neither his head nor heart were in the dance this night.

“Fifth Corner” tries to tell the story of solitary confinement through three dancers. We hear opera arias mixed with some synthetic beats but the mix feels like a posed cool. Three long-haired beardos in Mao suits are the dancers but for me the movement was second rate. Choreography credits are shared by Guido Sarli and Manuel Rodriguez. Perhaps the full Loser King from which “Fifth Corner” was extracted makes more sense: Loser King won prizes in both New York and Madrid.

Toulon takes us back again to Swan Lake with Pascal Touzeau’s two year old reinterpretation of the pas de deux from the second act. The music is original and gorgeously played by the Graz Orchestra but the movement is entirely new, in what is an almost naked Swan Lake. This is great dance from a ballerina in her prime. Anne Jung brings a ferocious German intensity to Tchaikovsky’s elegaic score. A slightly awkward Christian Bauch does his best but he’s not able to keep up with Jung. It would definitely worth the trip to Mainz to see an astonishingly refreshed Swan Lake with parallel love stories (Odette and Odile are twin sisters).

Anne Jung und Christian Bauch in Pascal Touzeaus Schwanensee Act II Pas de Deux
Anne Jung und Christian Bauch in Pascal Touzeaus Schwanensee Act II Pas de Deux

Tarek Assam’s Alter Ego brings two men together on the stage again to the pure industrial sound of Alva Noto’s Argonaut. Michael Bronczkowski is a big black miracle worker of a dancer, his long arms extend forever. His silken movement makes you wonder how there any white male dancers. Manuel Wahlen holds up his end but Bronczkowski absolutely dominates the stage in one of the best performances of the evening.

Stephan Thoss’s Between Midnight and Morning returns us to Swan Lake but in a peculiar parody with the focus on an Odette head over heels in love with Rotbart. Laia Garcia Fernandez has a tutu which goes up to her chin. With short runs and bodychecks, Fernandez bowls Tenald Zace over again and again in fits of jealously. The game is funny at first but we quickly tire of it, repetition of the same joke breaks the funny bone.

Phew. That’s part one done. Back to our seats. After the second half, the orchestra does not return nor does Swan Lake.

Chat Rooms 2 is a sneak preview of Rosana Hribar and Grego Lustek’s contribution to the new Oper Graz dance evening. Bostjan Ivanjsic comes out early with Laura Fischer where he takes over an armchair and squaks about love. Others join them in bright green, red, blue shirts to ask the same question while tumbling. “Do you still love me?” which is always followed up by “I have to be sure which side you are on.” “Your side of course.” Uncertainty in love is universal so the trope of funny voices amuses at first but Michal Zabavik, Thanh Pham, Clara Pascual Marti and the rest wear it to death. The entire audience breathed an audible sigh of relief at the end of the short excerpt.

The simple piano music of Yarosava Ivanenko’s Invisible Grace brought soothing relief to raw nerves. A very beautiful pas de deux between the choreographer himself and Heather Jurgensen offers subtle gestures, great feeling and amazing empathy. There’s only black costumes but fine choreography and emotional performance makes one forget anything except the music and the dancers. If you are anywhere near Kiel, check the Ballet Kiel program to catch Jurgensen.

Heather Jurgensen und Yaroslav Ivanenko in Invisible Grace
Heather Jurgensen und Yaroslav Ivanenko in Invisible Grace

Grey boxes, grey glothes and grey movement are what Kevin O’Day brings to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a work where good choreographers go to die. The sad duet between older men is art with a capital A, important with a capital I and boring with a capital B. Dance is not about death from old age, even if the boomers are getting older, but about passion and fire. Thoughtful and interminable.

Kevin ODay und Robert Glumbek in Four Seasons Photo Christian Kleiner
Kevin ODay und Robert Glumbek in Four Seasons Photo Christian Kleiner

Hung-Wen Chen’s acrobatic dancing in V.V.V. quickly made Oper Graz much livelier. Half way through their leaps and flips, up come the house light. Lester Rene Gonzalez Alvarez asks the audience about games of chance before going back to horizontal and vertical floorwork. Veni Vidi Vici is very entertaining though the black and white costumes and the movement often seem very eighties (not necessarily a bad thing).

Hung Wen Chen und Lester Rene in Veni vidi vici von Hung Wen Chen
Hung Wen Chen und Lester Rene in Veni vidi vici von Hung Wen Chen

David Dawson’s brand new “Opus.11” is a choreographic reflection on the impossibility of truly coupling and life’s temporality. It was written for two retiring dancers. Tonight Courtney Richardson was majestic in the role written for Yumiko Takeshima. Raphael Coumes-Marquet’s movement seemed a bit too distant and self-involved, as though not only was he not interested in this woman, but no women.

Courtney Richardson und Raphael Coumes Marquet in David Dawsons Opus11 Photo Costin Radu
Courtney Richardson und Raphael Coumes Marquet in
David Dawsons Opus11 Photo Costin Radu

Chat Rooms 1, another sneak preview, closed out the evening with a bang. Checkerboards of light and industrial banging grab our attention. Young star James Cousins does not seem to have a clear point yet in this preview. Oper Graz’s company looks good but in a fashion piece like this regal ice princess Sarah Schoch is clearly missing. A dancer like Schoch would add a visual edge to this fashion piece.

Throughout the evening, we had the pleasure of Toulon’s introductions and reflections on dance. Toulon’s mix of intellectual humour and pomp mostly charms. Toulon seems more self-conscious about his age than he needs to be. While dancers careers are short-lived, a choreographer’s need not be.

Toulon came up with a great promotional and fundraising idea: attractive black t-shirts with next season’s program on the back and a quote from Nietzsche on the front for €10: Most sizes sold out.

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

Next year is Toulon’s final season in Graz. There will be a sixth International Tanzgala here next May. Graz is wonderful in May and so are Toulon’s dance galas.

A splendid respite from pas de deux from Don Quixote and La Bayadère.

Further reflections on the future

If I had any wishes for future Graz Tanzgalas they would be to have fewer pieces, but longer excerpts. I’d like to continue to see as many pieces with live music as possible, even if it doesn’t involve the whole orchestra (piano with cello for example live). There is a danger of hitting the same wells each time: it’s important to see dancers from new venues every year rather than the same dancers back with something new each year. Several repeating artists does provide some continuity though and artists in their prime often have five or six stupendous years in a row, so the right mix of repeating and new artists is a fine line to tread.

One Comment

  1. Karla Karla

    Sorry to disappoint fans of Heather Jurgensen’s, who are promised in this article to be able to watch her dance in Kiel. Her active dancing days were mostly as a principal of the Hamburg Ballet (John Neumeier), ending in 2011. In Kiel, she is 1. ballet mistress and deputy artistic director next to her husband, ballet director and chief choreographer Yaroslav Ivanenko. She does not perform as a dancer in Kiel.

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