Jewels of the New World | Jewelen der Neuen Welt: Vienna Staatsoper Ballet

October 25th, 2010 § 0

When Manuel Legris retired as an étoile at Paris Opera last year, he immediately took up residence in Vienna as the artistic director of the Vienna State Opera ballet. While the Staatsoper Ballet outside the Renato Zanella years has always been a very classical company, the Paris Opera has always danced both modern works and classical works with equal aplomb – and many would argue, the finest mixed repertoire company in the world.

With his first rate credentials there as a dancer, hopes are high that Legris will be as fine a director in Vienna. Until last year, the preceding artistic director Gyula Harangozo had been building a very good classical company with a strong Russian accent in Vienna.

Curiously Legris has kept most of the Harangozo dancers while shuffling around the designations with a new étoile designation to which only two ballerinas have been elevated, Olga Esina and Maria Yakovleva and two dancers, Vladmir Shishov and Roman Lazik. The dance world is dying to know what he has made of them in his first premiere Jewels of the New World.

Quite sensibly, Legris has brought the repertoire of the Paris Opera with him. In Jewels of the New World, we saw Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe and more Balanchine. All of these choreographers and all of these works have been staples of the Paris Opera repertoire since at least the eighties. No brave experimentation here, but it is high time these modern classic names returned to Vienna’s main stage.

The theme of the evening was New World as Twyla Tharp and William Forsythe are both American born, while George Balanchine after stints at the Marinsky Theater and Serghei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes founded the finest and most influential dance company in the United States, New York City Ballet.

With the magic of Legris can the Vienna State Opera compete with the Paris Opera on the same repertoire? The short answer is no. The longer answer is not yet. Despite some exceptional highlights to the evening from Elisabeth Golibina and Kirill Kourlaev, Nina Polakává and Maria Yakovleva, the Vienna company does not yet have the same depth or consistency of schooling as Paris. Comparative inconsistency is not unexpected as Paris has its own school supplying most of the Opera dancers while Vienna’s ballet school has offered just a half dozen dancers good enough to last at the state opera in the last ten years.

Theme and Variations opened the evening on the Tschaikovsky’s Orchentral Suite 3 in G Major and with costumes from Christian Lacroix. The look was ornamental and bombastic, Parisian frippery at its best. To carry off as flamboyant a piece, the corps-de-ballet has to be perfect and the soloists should be spectacular. Alas night they were not. The corps-de-ballet was constantly out of sync, while Vladimir Shishov and Olga Esina sometimes seemed uncertain and on several occasions made flagrant mistakes. With a little bit more rehearsal, both they and the corps should be able to make amends. Apparently Esina and Shishov indeed had little time to rehearse as until another dancer’s illness Shishov was to partner Nina Polakova in the second cast.


Balanchine Thema und Variationen Olga Esina Vladimir Shishov
Balanchine Thema und Variationen Olga Esina Vladimir Shishov



The two do suit Theme and Variations as danseurs nobles. Esina is a classic Marinsky ballerina with long arms and legs and neck. Shishov has grown into manhood in his time in Vienna and appears to be working harder at either the gym or the rehearsal room. Although the women looked quite good, the men of the corps-de-ballet looked more like boys than the jaded rakes of the Paris Opera, to the detriment of Balanchine’s work.

Twyla Tharp’s choreography of Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn

Variations on a Theme by Haydn Vladimir Shishov Elisabeth Golibina
Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Vladimir Shishov Elisabeth Golibina


 was an excellent choice to follow Balanchine. The further development of Balanchine’s art in Tharp’s work is crystal clear in apposition. Brahms’ music is exceptionally moving and a welcome relief from the rather strident Tchaikovsky suite. The dark sand simple costumes and lyric variations of Tharp’s piece allowed the dance to shine through.




The cast was very strong including many of the very best dancers of the State Opera ballet. Long limbed Georgian Ketevan Papava acquitted herself well while Nina Polakova is quietly on her way to becoming an étoile in the firm hands of Kirill Kourlaev. These two were certainly the best pair of the night. Polakova’s movements were fragile and graceful, each infused with that strange tragic intensity that is hers alone. Kourlaev was both strong and suitably discreet, not overwhelming either his partner or the piece. Hopefully we will continue to see them together.

Shishov returned immediately to the stage to partner Elisabeth Golibina who was absolutely brilliant. With all her skills in classic ballet, Golibina showed an astounding flexibility and energy in Tharp’s more modern steps. She looked like she stepped out of the original creation or the Paris Opera. Stunning. Shishov continued to show better form than past years as a manly and certain partner, strong enough to handle Golibina’s tall form.

The normally radiant Maria Yakovleva was uncharacteristically dull in the reliable if prosaic hands of Roman Lazik. He seems both too tall and too diffident to suit Yakovleva as a partner. Happily enough, it turned out Yakoleva was saving herself for later that evening.

Alas, after the intermission the premiere here of Forsythe’s exciting piece The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was not as successful. The Paris Opera performances are many levels above what happened in Vienna. What went wrong?


William Forsythe The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude Ludmila Konovalova Masuyu Kimoto Kiyoka Hashimoto
William Forsythe The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude Ludmila Konovalova Masuyu Kimoto Kiyoka Hashimoto



The angular geometric costumes fit Ludmila Konovalova’s attractive figure badly, while the ballerina had neither the speed nor the sharp angles to carry the role. Konovalova spared no effort to try to entrap Forsythe’s steps but here she was miscast for her major debut on the Staatsoper stage: I anticipate excellent performances from her in other roles. We will see Elisabeth Golibina dance this role next week and wish her more success.

The other two women Franziska Wallner-Hollinek and Kiyoka Hashimoto were unremarkable but adequate. After a slow start Masayu Kimoto and Denys Chervychko caught fire in the men’s solos. Chervychko has an unpleasant tendency to try to draw the audience’s attention to himself and not to the piece or his partner. One day one might hope that he learns that the artist is subservient to the art and not art to the artist.

Legris chose well to save Balanchine’s Rubies for the finale. Karinska’s original costumes from 1967 were magnificent: light gleaming in all directions from the jewels. After seeing Karinska’s spectacular raiment, I don’t understand why so often new costumes are created for Balanchine’s Jewels.

Ketevan Papava was at her best as the first ruby, her long limber legs and arms nearly endless. Despite her Circassian origins in Georgia, Papava is unusually cold on stage. Despite almost perfect steps, she leaves herself too far out of the equation. She is an ice princess: one hopes one day she will warm. With Plissetskaian passion, Papava would be a dancer to reckoned with internationally.


Balanchine Rubies Ketevan Papava
Balanchine Rubies Ketevan Papava



On the other hand Maria Yakovleva hit the stage like a shining hurricane. None of the earlier languour or indifference of her performance in Variations to be seen. She leapt, she smiled, she piroutted as if she were born to be a jewel. At the end of the piece, her appearance brought the most vigorous applause of the night. Her partner Mihail Sosnovichi was a fine pairing but Sosnovichi was simply unable to keep up with Yakovleva. She showed up the entire stage and brought the house down with roaring applause at the end.


Balanchine Rubies Maria Yakovleva Mihail Sosnovschi
Balanchine Rubies Maria Yakovleva Mihail Sosnovschi



All in all, a debut of which Monsieur Legris may be very proud. Many fine performances, a nice shift in the repertoire. Legris carefully chose some of the best teachers of these ballets to bring to Vienna. When William Forsythe couldn’t make it, Legris sent an expedition of the first cast to Frankfurt for a week. Clearly Legris will spare no expense or energy to put first-rate dance on our stage. The talk among the dancers is of a positive and encouraging atmosphere. The rest of the season continues to offer good new works to the Vienna State Opera with an original premiere based on Marie Antoinette’s life choreographed by Patrick de Bana in November. Premieres of works from Béjart, Jerome Robbins, Elo, Kylian still to come in the New Year.

La France: Liberty, Fraternity, Egality or Totalitarianism, Fratricide and Genocide

December 16th, 2009 § 2

French like to make themselves out as the home of liberty, fraternity and egality.

Alas, a short delve into their history indicates more totalitarianism, fratricide and genocide.

Let’s start with the Huguenots. At the wedding of the Huguenot King Henri Navarre (later Henri IV) with the sister of the French king Margaret Valois, the Huguenots were lured into Paris in August 1572. There the queen mother Catherine de Medici set the mob on them after the royal wedding. Several thousands murdered in the streets and drowned in the Seine within days. Twenty thousand protestants murdered in Paris, another fifty thousand in the rest of France within the next two months. Nice way to celebrate a marriage.

Subsequently the Protestantism were outlawed by King Louis XIII in the Edict of Fontaineblue in 1685. Persecution carried on until 1787, by which time there were only 200,000 from an original peak of 2 million Huguenots left in France. In fairness, they weren’t all murdered or forced to convert to Catholicism. Many Huguenots managed to escape into exile.

With hardly a chance to catch their breath, the Parisans organised the French Revolution which resulted in up to 40,000 deaths by guillotine alone. The number of innocents to perish in that number is likely in the range of 90%.

But they weren’t done yet. After the Revolution, the seaboard province of Vendée refused to give up Catholicism and to participate in conscription rose against the Revolution in 1793. (Ironically enough the cities of the Vendée like la Rochelle were Huguenot free cities and strongholds before the Huguenots were all starved and murdered in La Rochelle, a city of 27,000 reduced to 5,000 in 1627 by Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII.)

In the Vendée, the Republican French decided to raze the place. At Nantes, mass drownings took 4000 lives in 1793. Another 200,000 of a population of 800,000 were to die at the hands of the Republicans. General Westermann reported to the National Convention in 1794:

There is no more Vendée, my republican fellow citizens! It died beneath our sabers along with its women and children. I have just buried them in the swamps and woods of Savenay. According to your orders, the children were trampled to death beneath the hoofs of our horses; their women were slaughtered so that they couldn’t bring any more soldiers into the world. The streets are full of corpses; in many places they form entire pyramids. In Savenay we had to make use of massive firing squads because their troops are still surrendering. We take no prisoners. One has to give them the bread of freedom; however, mercy has nothing to do with the spirit of the revolution.

Curiously, the Israelis argue that the measures they are taking against the Palestinians are no different from the French did to one another and the British and Americans and Spanish to the Native Indians.

If the Israelis had gotten back to Jerusalem a hundred years earlier, they would have had a point. But apparently, Israel was created in response to save people from genocide not to advance its cause.

Surely we can do better now. Apartheid in South Africa was dissolved with a minimum of bloodshed.

The Romans were constantly murdering one another’s armies and razing the southern cities of Italy.

Civilisation seems to be another word for mass bloodshed.

It is a blessing to live in decades of relative peace, within secure countries and set borders. We should appreciate it more. It isn’t often this way. Bloody wars, civil and external, appear to make up about half of human history.

Art Channel Paris | Brothers Atanasković

January 23rd, 2006 § 0

Last winter when I was living in Paris, I went regularly to the cultural evenings and exhibitions at the Centre Culturel Irlandais on rue des Irlandais just behind rue Mouffetard.

At one of the exhibitions I was introduced to a pair of tall and imposing Serbians with the incredible project of mounting a for free cultural satellite channel. The two Serbians were the brothers Atanasković and their channel was called Art Channel.

Art Channel is now broadcasting 21h to 05h CET, free to air, via satellites HOT BIRD and W2 (EUTELSAT) over Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa to more than 120 million households.

You can preview the programming on the web. It’s not bad. I particularly liked the simplicity of Laurent Mazar’s Carte Bleue. But there are lots of other more baroque and/or experimental works.

Congratulations Milan and Slobodan!

If you see anything you like feel free to leave a note below. Video artists don’t neglect to visit Art Channel’s submission page to see if it might suit some of your works.

Catholic girls are the best

January 2nd, 2006 § 1

Here’s what Casanova has to say about Catholic girls back in 1768 during his sejour in Madrid.

Rien d’ailleurs n’est plus certain que ceci: une fille dévote ressent, quand elle fait avec son amant l’oeuvre de chair, cent fois plus de plaisir qu’une autre exempte du préjugé. Cette vérité est trop dans la nature pour que je croie nécessaire de la démontrer à mon lecteur. [III, p. 649]

Detailed translation:

There nothing more certain than this: when a religious girl yields to temptations of the flesh, she feels a hundred times more pleasure than one who doesn’t believe in God. This truth is so evident I hope it isn’t necessary to prove it to my readers.

Short translation. Catholic girls are the best. I always knew that.

Russian/Greek/Ukrainian Orthodox girls are pretty hot as well.

Protestants and even atheists are just not in the running.

Without belief in something and without sin, earthly temptations lose their sacred allure.

French Riots – Steyn Stupidity | Level Heads | Rabid LFGers

November 14th, 2005 § 0

As the whole world knows by now, France has been buffeted by nightly riots for the last two weeks.

American mainstream media coverage began with one of the most stupid editorials I have ever seen. Mark Steyn suggests that what was happening in the Parisian suburbs was akin to war and that should be addressed as such with troops.

After four somnolent years, it turns out finally that there really is an explosive ”Arab street,” but it’s in Clichy-sous-Bois…For half a decade, French Arabs have been carrying on a low-level intifada against synagogues, kosher butchers, Jewish schools, etc….Unlike America’s Europhiles, France’s Arab street correctly identified Chirac’s opposition to the Iraq war for what it was: a sign of weakness.

From what I can understand of this preposterous rant, is that Steyn considers that in the best of cases the French should regard these citizens (almost all of these young people are French) as the Israelis regard the Palestinians.

They should deprive them of their rights, terrorise them, attack them in their homes and put them behind checkpoints.

Given the success of Israeli policies in bringing peace and prosperity to Israel, this is a very intelligent suggesion. Then the French too could live under constant threat of suicide bombing in their churches, schools and markets in perpetuity.

As France is the number one tourist destination in the world with 75 million visitors/year representing 34.5€ billion euros, destroying the entire tourist sector with internecine violence would be a great first step to bankrupting the country.

This would set the stage for an Iraq-like situation with widescale ethnic violence and regular military action.

While this may suit the American neocon/PNAC cheerleaders like Steyn, happily the French have a great deal more sense than this.

Indeed, they understand the grievances of these young men. Basically it is next to impossible for them to get decent jobs. First there is a dearth of jobs to be had – in general one has to have connections to get a job (pistonner is the word in French) – whether French or not. As the parents of these young men are for the most part working in menial service jobs, they don’t have a lot of pull to push their children into good careers.

There is another social concept in France – it’s called chasse gardée (the English historical equivalent would be royal forest). What this means is that all good jobs in France belong to the French. And in this context, French means born French and born part of the French elite.

The school system in France is quite unique. While there is a large university system, the universities actually represent a second-tier education. Anyone who aspires to high office in either industry or government must study in something called a grande école. The elite of government, politics and business have almost all studied in one grand école or another. In the case of politics, most of them studied at the Ecole Nationale d’Aministration in Paris.

After the second world war, fifty percent of those admitted into the grandes écoles had to come from a worker or popular background as a matter of state policy. With time that figure has slipped to five per cent of those admitted. All the rest of the students are either children of the elite or of the bourgeoisie. I don’t know if exact figures exist for the division between these two categories.

One’s fate is more or less decided by twenty with one’s admittance into a grande école or not.

And these young men in the Paris suburbs have definitely been left out of the game. But even for normal employment, the unemployment rate for people in their twenties is as high as 25% – a figure in itself kept down by the high number of young people studying for higher degrees.

As the grievances of these young men in the Paris suburbs are real, there are very few in France who would like to see an attempt to crush these youths. Far from being some kind of Islamist terrorists, these are disadvantaged young people legitimately expressing grievance.

Since the police have kept their heads and the French have not shed large quantities of blood, these riots will probably pass without leaving much trace or doing much damage to the economy.

Were Paris to go up in flames as a consequence of punitive and murderous assaults by police and/or military units on these youths, the immediate damage would be enormous.

Moreover, the French have no desire to have an incarceration system like the United States with two million behind bars, half of them from the black underclass. It’s less expensive (and far kinder) to provide state aid and work training programs and welfare than to keep people in penitentiaries.

There is strong evidence that the inflammatory comments of Interior Minister (and would-be presidential candidate) Nikolai Sarkozy made the situation much worse. That had someone else intervened in a more conciliatory way earlier that the rioting would have just stopped, as it seems to be petering out now.

Keeping level heads and the redressing injustice seems to a good plan.

Further commentary on the historical background with emphasis on the Algerian colonisation from Juan Cole.

Over at the moral cesspool of Little Green Footballs, the rhetoric is incredible. Here is a contribution from longtime LGFer savage_nation:

ENOUGH TALK! When are we going to see some ACTION? Every second spent flapping your lips means the Islamists are gaining ground! Crush these cockroaches once and for all. Declare martial law! Fuel up every Mirage and unleash HELL on the rioters. Western Civilization is at stake, you morons!

For more of the same visit –

Claude Lelouche “Le Courage d’Aimer”

October 19th, 2005 § 1

For a long time, I’ve been mildly contemptuous of Claude Lelouche’s films. Eminently français, these tired tales of bourgeois hypocrisy and venality, had lost all optimism, all beauty.

While Lelouche may have the pulse of the French elite and a great facility with camerra and word, blackness alone does not a world make.

In Le courage d’aimer, Lelouche finally puts his cinematic gifts to good use.

The Courage to Love is a bold exploration of the consequences of passion. It is also a picture within a picture within a picture. Truffaut’s Jour de nuit in a mirror funhouse.

We begin with an out of work Italian singer, a pretty shoplifter and identical twins who work as waitress in a jazz bar and maid in a château.

We pass by a ring of jewellery thieves, Comédie Française actors and a pizza magnate in this cardinal work crowned by a suicide.

Many of the moments – the young singer forced to choose between her success and the love of her life – leave hearts in throats. Lelouche is manipulating us, but with the masterly touch of a man whom life has manipulated endlessly throughout his own existence. We are left with a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves.

Pizza magnate Gorkini tells his mistress shortly before she becomes a murderess, “The motto of France should have been libery, equality and infidelity.”

My experience of France would tell me the same thing. Never has the beautiful been more perfidious. Nowhere does one suffer more from the consequences of inconsequence.

On Air France, Le courage d’aimer et la vie du château. A good meal. Good wine. Poire William. The benevolent and dangerous smile of the devil. The devil of pleasure.

Contrast Konsequenz – a bold Germanic intention to take the world to its logical conclusion and construct a reality within which one can live and one’s descendents also. Hopeless Gauls. Happy flight.

Impulstanz 8tension: Skéné – Etienne Guilloteau

August 2nd, 2005 § 0

Bare black stage. A girl stands. A fallen chair. The girl rolls on to her back.

A single overhead light allumes. Girl rises. Dressed in in plain white t-shirt and very blue jeans.


She turns on the chair. A vicious attention. Kicks the chair melodically across the stage.

Intimacy and hatred in an inanimate object.

Strong projection of personality. Not a typical dancer’s body, but beautiful, flexible and powerful. Somehow very true.

Claire Croizé in Skéné

Unfortunately these first five minutes were the high point of the show.

The rest of the mercifully short piece (less than one hour) involved a lot of arm twisting to very loud Mozart.

Only the charisma and physical presence of Clara Croizé kept the audience in the theatre. At some point Etienne Guilloteau wandered out himself. He was wearing the same white t-shirt and plain blue jeans as Croizé. He gave himself mainly the same movements as Croizé to execute. This only highlighted the obvious – that he is not nearly the dancer she is.

Guilloteau’s pointy little beard and sloppy pony tail only added a focal point to our discontent. His head did not seem to be fully in his performance, at least beside the almost otherworldly concentration of Croizé.

Never did we get as lively an interaction between the human pair, as we saw between Croizé and the chair.

Croizé does get one more peculiar and transfixing solo. She wanders the stage in a circle throwing her arms forward violently and repeatedly to the chords of Symphony No. 25 in G-Minor . Eventually Guilloteau joins her, spoiling a promising moment.

Guilloteau’s choreography is simply not at the hauteur of his musical ambitions (Mozart chefs-d’oeuvres).

Nice dancer. Lousy show.

Clare Croizé and Etienne Guilloteau


Twenty-five year old Croizé is a French born, Belgian-trained (P.A.R.T.S.) dancer who is a choreographer in her own right (Give me something that doesn’t die). She has performed for Carlotta Sagna (Public Relation) among others.

Four years Croizé’s senior, Guilloteau is also French and a P.A.R.T.S. alumnus who has performed for for Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker (Kassandra), Charlotte Vanden Eynde (Beginning Endings) and Mar Vanrunxt (Deutsche Angst). Skéné appears to be his first professional work as a choreographer. Let’s hope for the best.

Photos © Raymond Mallentjer


Impulstanz: Ballet de l’Opera de Paris à Vienne – Baroque, Bel, Balanchine, Brown

July 17th, 2005 § 1

After a week of rain and flooding, the sun broke out on Thursday at last to coincide with the opening of the Impulstanz festival. The Opéra de Paris were the opening guest company and brought an extremely diverse programme to the Burgtheater.


O zlotony / O composite – Legris, Dupont, Le Riche

I had seen some of these pieces in Paris when I was there and even reviewed them. But to see them in the Burgtheater was very different. While the Burgtheater is a substantial traditional theater, it is about half the size of the Palais Garnier, the principal residence of the Opéra de Paris. For some of the pieces, they worked much better in the closer quarters. For other pieces the smaller venue didn’t work as well.

Impulstanz: Ballet de l'Opera de Paris à Vienne - Baroque, Bel, Balanchine, Brown Continues »