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  1. I'm back from Munich and was lucky to see both Triple Bill performances which opened the Ballet Festival Week. Here are some impressions: The 3 pieces complimented each other. Dawson's "Affairs of the heart" is an essence of " l'art pour l'art" for me. "Pictures at an exhibition" by A. Ratmansky showed a colorful interpretation of life, with a strong political reference to the war in Ukraine, and Marco Goecke's "Sweet bones melody" had a more subtle, very touching message about the need for peace. Affairs of the heart" by David Dawson (world premiere on Saturday) The beautiful and haunting music by Marjan Mozetich (violin concert, same title as choreo) served the breathtaking beauty of the choreography in perfection, and vice versa. Stage setting was just a wall with geometric forms and changing colors from yellow, pink, blue to grey. All dancers were dressed in lightblue/grey leotards (with long legs for the men). 4 couples, three female and 2 male soloists presented this new creation. The program book contains insightful interviews with Dawson and dancers Shale Wagman, Carollina Bastos and Emilio Pavan about the process of creating this piece, that is a wonderful addition to the performance. I felt indeed the heart all dancers put into this piece. They danced it with so much, grace, elegance and dedication (abandon ? I struggle with translation here ), it really made me forget the outside world. Soloist Shale Wagman was a kind of a virtuous and elegant cupido, inspiring and spreading love across the stage and between the couples. He had 2 solos alone onstage as well. His fluidity in dancing and excellent classical technique, e.g. long manege jumps, illuminated the stage, and I am very grateful to David Dawson that he saw and "used" Shale's artistry to the maximum. On the Staatsballett website is also a 7 minutes video with interviews and dance clips about this production. "Pictures at an exhibition" by A. Ratmansky (created in 2014 for NYC ballet). Music: M. Mussorgski, piano: D. Mayboroda Stage setting was also just a wall with video projections of partial Kandinsky paintings. The costumes complimented these projections, for the ladies with featherlight transparent dresses with color patterns, their male partners in sleeveless shirts and long pants w matching color patterns. It was pretty colorful onstage, lol. A highlight was seeing Amar Ramasar, former dancer with NYC ballet. He was only meant to coach in this production but ended up onstage as replacement for Osiel Gouneo who was ill. Prisca Zeisel, principal dancer, danced the solo parts but was obviously already injured (although I noticed it only at curtain call). For the second night, Rebecca Horn from Wiener Staatsballett jumped in for her, which was another blessing to see her very strong, mischevious solo. I should know the paintings/musical parts Amar and Rebecca interpreted but I'm so tired...sorry. I also noticed some choreographic nods to Ballet Russes. My favorite part was the PDD danced by Jinhao Zhang and Kristina Lind (who jumped in for Madison Young, she is injured). Very tender, light and lyrical. In the very end, the Ukrainian flag was projected on stage wall, as final picture. It was a strong signal, and raised of course lots of applause. For curtain call, Ratmansky held the Ukrainian flag above his head, again and again and again. I know that Munich is partner city for Kijev, but I had a hard time accepting that he used this evening as a political statement in such an overwhelming manner. It caused a lot of applause just for this statement and distracted from the piece and the dancers, imo. But well. On second night, the applause was dedicated to the dancers. "Sweet bones' melody" by Marco Goecke (world premiere on Saturday) Sorry I cannot describe what pulls me into Marco Goecke's pieces. It's certainly an "either you love it, or you hate it" stuff he creates. Here, we had a dark foggy stage, dark confetti (like ashes) falling from the "sky", costumes dark long wide trousers and dark top with glitter. I wonder why none of the dancers stumbled because the trousers were far too long. Top solo by Jonah Cook and ehm...yes Shale Wagman😀. I literally searched for the ice skates he must have had on his feet (not, of course). The many many whirlwind turns across the stage were executed with SUCH a speed and precision, it was unbelievable. My neighbors in row gasped. And then he stopped dead where/when he had to and moved on with his solo...boah. Altogether, I applause all dancers who trip, run, bend, cramp etc in the usual speedy, hasty Goecke moves. It's a marathon from A to Z, but I hear the dancers love his pieces. Well me too but I can sit. The magic moment was when all dancers were on stage, standing heads down immobilized, and from the off, Florian Sollfrank's voice whispered a poem by Else Lasker-Schueler, "Weltenende". OMG that was so moving. Could have been the end of the piece, but it wasn't. The piece went on then a bit more, and in the end, a single dancer emerged from the dark back with a white dove in his hands. For premiere night, the bird even flapped the wings a bit but was attached to the dancers hand by a string, so it could not escape. It was the final scene, a far more subtle but very moving and powerful longing for peace and hint what has been lost in so many parts of the world. A very very wonderful new triple bill for Bayerisches Staatsballett, if you can, go see it. Check out the videos on their website, and or instagram/Facebook. The company is in top form (minus the poor injured) and have a great week ahead. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  2. In going through the performance calendar of a number of companies for the current season, I realised that I’d be able to see three works that had been on my wish list within the space of just three days, thus creating a short ballet-related trip, and saving much of the far higher expenses of repeated travelling to Paris where two of the programmes feature at different points of time during this season. First stop Ballet Preljocaj with Winterreise in Metz last Thursday. Winterreise to Schubert’s song cycle was created by Angelin Preljocaj on the Ballet of La Scala in Milan, had its premiere there at the beginning of 2019, and has been performed by Angelin Preljocaj’s own company since summer 2019. A work for twelve dancers, magnificently accompanied live by James Vaughan (pianoforte) and Thomas Tatzl (bass baritone, with a velvety voice). Choreography and scenography are inspired by the music and text of each song rather than following them literally, and I found that they capture the atmosphere of each song magnificently. The 1st song (Goodnight) sees a dancer being pushed away by the rest of the group (there isn’t anyone in particular though who specifically portrays the man who goes on the winter’s journey), and the 2nd song (Weather Vane) has a dancer holding a hand fan into another dancer’s face/ moving it around his head. While the 4th song is called Numbness, the music is energetic, and so the movements are hectic and come with various jumps, portraying the emotions within. Equally, whereas the first few songs had male/ female interaction, this song, while having all 12 dancers on stage, sees male and female dancers in their respective groups. The 5th song (Lime Tree) is back to a PDD, with the female dancer depicting the tree and the male dancer seeking comfort by hugging and carrying the tree. Song no 8 (Looking Back) for 6 female dancers introduces skirts, illustrating the longing look back to the village and the woman that had to be left behind. While the costumes up to this point have all been in black, song no 10 (Rest) introduces autumnal colours for the women on stage. Colours also for song no 11 (Dream of Spring) with its references to spring, birds and flowers. Song no 13 (Post) sees dancers carrying sheets of paper (akin to the letter that the sole man was hoping for in vain), the lighting is much brighter than that for many of the other songs, and the uplifting atmosphere shines through in high lifts and white skirts. Back to a sombre atmosphere in song 14 (Grey Head) with a male dancer wearing a black mask. Song no 15 (Crow) comes with 6 female dancers in long wide black dresses, illustrating the crow. The barking of dogs in song no 17 (Village) is depicted through dancers emitting sounds that reminded me of dogs. Song no 20 (Signpost) sees a dancer carrying two red strobes such as those of an airport traffic warden directing the planes. The final song, no 24 (Hurdy-Gurdy Man), with female dancers in ghostly long white dresses, which I’ve taken as illustration of said hurdy-gurdy man. While the male dancers lie down on the floor, the ghostly figures stand up again and let snow fall on stage. I’ve read this as the man on his winter journey continuing to wander around rather than succumbing to death but I guess this ending allows for a number of other interpretations just as well. Lighting is rather sombre for most songs, and the floor is covered with small black particles, evoking black snow. The choreography switches between parts for a couple/ a few dancers and all 12 of them throughout the 24 songs. When larger groups of dancers are on stage, they are often spread out equally across stage and in two lines, then performing the same movements, or the same movements but some of them towards the front/ towards the back, or to the left/ to the right, or alternatively in a large circle around someone in the middle, creating an exceptionally harmonic and poetic atmosphere in my view. I found Winterreise exquisitely poetic, intensely melancholic, dreamy, elegant, atmospheric and emotional, and I just loved the live accompaniment. I was absolutely spellbound (I guess having listened to the songs a few times before the performance helped preparing for what I saw on stage), and I am much hoping to see this work again in the future. Trailer by the company https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVnEfFm_xD4 Trailer by the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, where the work was performed earlier this season https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_tXhoQUJ3E Followed by Akram Khan’s Xenos in Luxemburg last Friday. An incredibly intense evening. To watch how the former soldier’s trauma is triggered by simple things such stumbling against a chair or table and how the trauma, initialling occasionally, is becoming more and more prevalent, until the 2 musicians leave the stage and all the props on stage are being pulled up the slope. Words on loudspeaker “This is no war. This is the end of the world”. Earplugs had been given out upon entering the auditorium, and there came a part that made it clear why they had been offered to the audience. Very loud dissonant thumping sounds performed by 5 musicians above the slope, evoking the horrors of the trenches and the intensity of the trauma, equally for the audience. Khan rolls down the slope, is covered in earth and climbs back up again with the help of some ropes. A rope is also used to connect a gramophone that then reads out the names of – presumably – fallen fellow soldiers. The trauma is becoming more and more all-encompassing, intense, continuous. Khan relives being shot at/ being injured, and a search light not only scans the stage but also the audience – again extending parts of what the soldier had to live through to those watching the work. Words on loudspeaker along the lines of “alone” … “again” … “alone”. I wish the volume had been turned up a little here but I guess the low voice depicted the extreme solitude/ desperation, and that there was no way out – just as Khan started to turn in fast small circles, illustrating also through his movements that there was just no way out. The piece ends with Lachrymae from Mozart’s Requiem, with Khan cowering on the floor. Standing ovations by most of the audience, cheers, shouts of bravo. As challenging as it was to watch Xenos, this is a magnificent work, haunting, portraying the isolation and the emotions deep within, the suffering, and sucking in the audience along with it. Huge kudos to Akram Kahn for the mental and physical stamina that Xenos requires, performing more than 60 minutes nonstop for such a tough topic and atmosphere. Closing off with Sao Paulo Dance Company in Cologne last Saturday, a mixed programme with works by Uwe Scholz (Suite for Two Pianos), Cassi Abranches (Agora) and Marco Goecke (Supernova). Suite for Two Pianos uses Rachmaninov’s eponymous work in four parts as well as four works by Wassily Kandinsky as backcloths, whereby the shapes of each of Kandinsky’s illustrations influence the choreography on stage. Part 1 (the illustration with a number of crosscutting lines, curves, zigzags) for two groups of two male/ one female dancers with symmetric and geometric lines across stage, some throws, some bourrees. Part 2 (the illustration a series of separate dots in different shapes) with sequential solos by two male dancers until they dance side by side towards the end. Part 3 (the illustration a wave-like line with ups and downs) with two male and one female dancers, including lifts upside down, as if portraying the movements by the female dancer as and when she is lifted and passed on from dancer to dancer. Part 4 (the illustration showing the same curve cut across by a number lines, curves and circles) a combination of geometric patterns and smooth movements. I really enjoyed the way the choreography responded to the music and the four works by Kandinsky. Link to a video by the Brazilian-language service of Radio France International https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yntbV0jJvis for a performance of the work in Paris, and showing all four illustrations. Agora was premiered in summer 2019 and refers to different aspects of time e.g., dynamics and volume, expectations and memories. The music is a combination of percussion, song, rock music, and a clock is ticking at the start and end of the piece. This is very much a group piece, but Yoshi Suzuki stood out for me with a virtuoso solo. Trailer by the company https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uMYBJ0d5us. This work wasn't exactly my cup of tea but received the loudest cheers of the evening. Supernova refers to the light that is briefly emitted when a star explodes. The piece starts with the dancers throwing white particles into the air – a star is exploding. Trademark incredibly fast arm movements, shuffling across stage, dancers appearing and disappearing in the darkness at the back of the stage - stars appearing and then fading out once they've exploded?. Lights are briefly lit, long grey feathers are waved – some more stars exploding? Standout for me this time was Nielson Souza with his shuffling and arm movements at – so it felt – the speed of light. Trailer by the company https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bzNJl6W_a0. A company that I hadn’t seen live previously (Ballet Preljocaj), another work by Akram Khan that I’ve been able to add to my list of works that have deeply touched me, and a company that I hadn’t seen in the past at all, whether live or otherwise (Sao Paulo Dance Company). Short, really good and pretty intense three days (and the longest post that I’ve ever written?). The current weekend is much needed time off.
  3. Male dancers in black pants and with a naked torso, flickering fingers and angular movements, whistling - sort of what I remember from short abstract pieces by Marco Goecke that I’d seen previously (and then there is the marvellous “Ballet 101”). How would this translate into choreography for a narrative piece, in particular about a dancer with a very different movement vocabulary and from a different time? Marco Goecke created his full-length piece “Nijinski” based on the life of Vaslav Nijinsky for Gauthier Dance, a company of about 20 dancers that is based at the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart and led by Eric Gauthier, a former dancer with Stuttgart Ballet. Premiered in June, I saw Friday’s performance. The story is told in a number of scenes that transition seamlessly into each other. Goecke uses flickering fingers, angular movements of the arms, legs moving incredibly fast, and dresses dancers in black pants. So far, what I kind of anticipated. What makes it unique and enthralling is the combination of this base layer that appears throughout the piece with elements that are specific to each scene - through the use of costumes and movements that depict aspects of the story and of the ballets that feature within. The piece starts with a prologue in which art is created as something new and awakened by Terpsichore (black pants, a nude shirt showing a harp), and Diaghilev (black pants, a fur-collared coat) appears. The ensuing scenes relate to Nijinsky’s life, from childhood to death – being encouraged in his endeavours by his mum, his training at the ballet academy (black pants and white shirts; movements and positions from classical ballet e.g., ports de bras, grand plies in the centre, entrechats, ciseaux), the discovery of sexuality with a friend in a marvellous duet (black pants and no shirt), Nijinsky at the height of his fame and performing The Faune (positions of hands and legs such as those in well-known pictures of the ballet; the music for the ballet from Debussy), Petrushka (black pants, a white collar), and The Spectre of the Rose (rose pedals fall from the ceiling, dancers in red pants), his split with Diaghilev, his increasing fits of anger (running across the stage, shouting), Nijinsky seeking help from the medical profession (mirroring the movements of the Consultant), drawing numerous circles on the floor, his death. No whistling, however shouting, a sound such as that created by breathing in through one’s teeth, and from time to time a dancer speaking into a microphone at the back of the stage, providing information about Nijiinsky’s biography (in English) and other comments (in German). 90 minutes non-stop, the time flew by. I was fascinated. A wonderful performance by the whole company. While the dancers in the roles of Diaghilev and Nijinsky stood out as, in their leading roles, they spent a lot more time on stage than others, this was really a tremendous team effort and team performance. Long and loud applause, repeated shouts of “bravo”, foot stamping and rhythmic clapping. The audience loved it. The company has published a trailer of the piece and a brief extract from rehearsals (sorry, I tried to just show the links and however am getting directly the videos) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDhwN-vKgHA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6E6tA43FcY. There will be further performances at the end of October. If you are interested in going, I’d recommend getting your tickets as early as possible. I bought my ticket for Friday’s performance a little more than a month ago as this was when I spotted it, and availability was rather limited already.
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