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Yesterday, Staatsballett Berlin began its new season with presenting the modern piece "Plateau Effect" by Jefta van Dinther. They performed at "Komische Oper" Berlin, an opera house which used to be home for a so-called "Tantztheater" for many years, long time ago, supported by the founder and first intendant/General manager Walter Felsenstein. So presenting the piece here, which was rather theatre than dancing imo, was somehow a nod to this legacy, but I am not sure if it was intended. If it was, then certainly a nod with a twist. When I left, I was upset, a bit angry, and clueless, so I didn't stay for the premiere party although the audience was invited. This piece is mostly about fighting between 10 dancers and a huge piece of textile and ropes. In the beginning, the textile/curtain hangs behind the dancers, one of them singing (who? The cast sheet didn't say that. Or was it coming from the off, and he was just moving his mouth?). I think it was in English, but I am not sure. Maybe because he sang with an accent, or because my English is bad. The dancers then began to pull/move into/partially disappear in the textile more and more, until they all had been swallowed by it and the "curtain" is going up and now the chaotic fight begins. The textile was for me a symbol for life. It can absorb you, swallow you, spit you out, but also inspire you to build a home and get along with other people/society. A symbol for the need to work together, and for failure when we don't pull on the same/correct rope. When we don't work together, the tent/home cannot be finished. It falls apart. The textile also seemed to be a living being for me, at one point, it was breathing and crawling slowly across the stage (moved by an invisible dancer of course). The people (dancers) desperately tried to tame it, but failed because they didn't communicate or work together. They ran wildly across the stage and created rather chaos than logical purpose. They finally managed to wrestle/pull it down, and wrapped it tightly with the ropes, then it was pulled towards the ceiling and looked again like a (dead) being, e.g. the long neck and small head of a dinosaur. Or an umbilical cord, or a giant snake. Yes I had some weird associations, watching this. 😨 So actually, it was an interesting concept, because the best art always makes you think, contemplate, reflect. What put me off though were a) the stroboscopic effects (I had to close my eyes several times) and b) the "waste" of dancer material for about 45 minutes of the 1 hour piece. Sorry but I think it doesn't take dancers to run across the stage like mad, fummeling wildly with the props (pulling ropes and textile like bloody beginner cadets on a ship who have no idea what they are supposed to do). So, if art has the duty to make you think, I am okay with that. However, it shouldn't take 45 minutes to point that out without actual dance onstage, when dancers are onstage. Less stressful running and pulling, and more dance I say. I am all for dance theatre, as long as the dancers dance. Hats off to the dancers who gave everything they had. I felt they were misused. Last season, Staatsballett danced "Half life" by Sharon Eyal. It was also a contemporary piece, with many monotone movements over a long time, so not easy to "swallow" but it really sucked me in EMOTIONALLY. Compared to "Plateau effect" I would say Half Life touched me deeply, whereas Plateau Effect left me empty. Heart vs Brain?
I was lucky to be able to do a short trip over to Berlin on 21st March to see the opening night of Onegin. Onegin is pretty much a staple for Berlin however this evening's show was to be the debut for 3 of the main characters namely Ksenia Ovsyanick as Tatiana, Daniel Norgren-Jensen as Lensky and Vahe Martirosyan as Gremin. Marian Walter played Onegin and Krasina Pavola was Olga, with Barabra Schroeder as Mme Larina. Ovsyanick played Tatiana very well, although I felt that as the ballet progressed she settled/grew into the role and she really owned the final Act. As the young Tatiana we see the young girl infatuated by the handsome and enigmatic Onegin culminating in the passionate bedroom pdd, only to see her infatuation brutally thrown back in her face when Onegin tears up her love letter later on in the ballroom scene. Earlier in Act 1 though, Olga and Lensky perform the wonderful double run across the stage closely followed by all the peasants with the girls all leaping - it's one of my favourite pieces in a ballet and SBB didn't disappoint. It was quite the spectacle and received huge applause. Moving on to the second Act, Onegin of course cruelly rebuffs Tatiana's attentions returning her letter by tearing it up into her hands leaving her distraught, however despite Tatiana's infatuation for Onegin, Prince Gremin arrives and is introduced to Tatiana. Onegin then proceeds to deliberately wind up Lensky by dancing with a rather willing Olga. Lensky eventually threw down the gauntlet (glove in this case) and the duel is accepted by Onegin. Norgren-Jensen was well partnered by Pavlova and he seemed to suit the role of the rather more gentle character of Lensky. Pavlova was a lovely Olga and played the part very well. In the Duel Scene I did find the actual gun shooting part of the duel a little lacking in drama as it was performed at the rear of the stage behind a scrim - not sure if I remember that in an Onegin before I seem to recall it is usually mid stage? Anyway Ovsyanick and Pavlova played the sisters begging Lensky not to go through with the duel so well and conveyed their desperation very clearly and of course their sorrow after the inevitable happens. Act 3 saw Tatiana happily married to Gremin and this is where I felt Ovsyanick came into her own. I could really feel her love for Gremin and when Onegin turns up you could feel her distress that Gremin was going away. The big pdd with Gremin was lovely and then this was followed by an equally good pdd with Onegin and Tatiana finally giving Onegin his comeuppance was rather satisfying. I liked Martirosyan very much as Gremin he was a good solid dancer and took to the part very well. I am not so sure I liked Walter as Onegin he was good don't get me wrong, I have admired him as a dancer for years, but I think I prefer Kaniskin (or Soares if in London) who has a bit more "bad boy" about him which is always good for Oengin! For a debut I thought Ovsyanick did really well. The corps de ballet were on good form and danced all the ballroom scenes beautifully with all the lovely formations which I could see so well from my lofty position on the 3rd tier. The orchestra and their music were great under the baton of Paul Connolley. I was just sorry I could not see the cast of 5th April as that is with Kaniskin as Onegin and I do have a soft spot for him as Onegin as I mentioned above! Overall a really solid performance and very enjoyable evening at the newly renovated Staatsoper Unter den Linden - do go if you get the chance -it's quality dancing at a very reasonable price in a beautifully renovated, and comfortable, theatre. Cast with Paul Connolley, Conductor Ksenia Ovsyanick and Marian Walter as Tatiana and Onegin Krasina Pavlova and Daniel Norgren-Jensen as Olga and Lensky Vahe Martirosyan as Gremin
La Bayadère Berliner Staatsballett. Ratmanksy - amazing production! Seminova as Nikiya, Virelles as Solor, Correa as Gamzatti. I love the way Ratmansky does Grand Ballet Kitsch with total seriousness and commitment. It was on the one hand watching the 19th. Century come alive, but with Bakst’s spirit hovering throughout, and a witty, knowing but academically informed 21st century approach. His use of mime is perfect - no other does it as well. It was truly a language in itself. The dancing first rate throughout (....although first night wobbles visible amongst the Shades, when they were on solid ground not the slope), Polina and Yolanda totally nailed it. Alejandro’s solo a little underpowered, but still a great performance. Loved the sets - the Himalayas in the background, great palace destruction, and fabulous costumes. Riotous applause!
I’ve had a few too many Nuts in my life but I promised you to be on the lookout for Ksenia Ovsyanick who had her first appearance here and her debut as Clara yesterday so I went there and even splurged for a seat in the stalls. Staatsballett Berlin ditched their opulently furnished and outrageously expensive “Russian” Nutcracker (Medvedev / Burlaka) - which was only two years old - for the rehashed Duato (Michailovsky, 2013). All in all, it looked like a vegan diet after a luscious Christmas feast and I left with very mixed feelings. I like my first act to be very lively, a tad untidy, full of people and with a good portion of childlike excitement – this one looked like an expensive shop window in an art nouveau style, with well-behaved and gorgeously dressed mannequins (think Paul Poiret) posing as “Parents” and “Guests” who deign to dance a few steps now and then, and there were NO CHILDREN AT ALL, just corps members playing cutely with the occasional toy. Drosselmeyer was neither scary nor funny, just a friendly middle-aged uncle who brought some presents – none of your ordinary hocus-pocus here, if you please. A neat box was brought in which contained a few dolls which did a few tricks, and away with them…! Poor Ksenia Ovsyanick as Clara did what she could to fill the meagre choreography with life and emotions but there was never a moment where she and Michael Banzhaf as Drosselmeyer could develop this special magic between them which makes her to love her Nutcracker so much that she dreams about him and makes him her Prince. When night falls over an empty stage, a few mice appear which essentially are big rowdy rats, mangy and mean (think Carabosse’s monsters) with a sleazy king who inexplicably takes a fancy in the Nutcracker doll and carries it here and there, and Clara is carried here and there, too, and then Clara is able to grab the doll and then carries it three times across the stage, each time the doll becomes bigger until it is live-sized Denis Vieira who then leads his small army in a thankfully short fight. Because then - at last! - some actual dancing happens! Not much and not spectacular, but for the very first time we were able to see some real joy and a continuous flow of movement. Strangely the choreography looked as if it was conceived for a much tighter space, it didn’t make much use of the (not too huge) stage. 16 Snowflakes came and went, also very tidily and the first act ended with Clara and Prince sitting on the floor, watching the snow fall. Duato has not tried to connect the first and second act somehow or other – so the second act is entirely a revue with a few, short numbers in a sparse but nevertheless kitschy decoration (yes, that’s possible!), and it’s quite incomprehensible what happens here, and why. The flowers waltz in honour of a giant cupcake, looming in the background. But then our heroes appear again, properly clad in tutu and tights, and FINALLY they get a chance to show what they can do – Vieira looks as if he’s relieved of a burden, he has a nice soft jump and partners Ovsyanick beautifully. The choreography is neither Ivanov nor Petipa (as far as I can judge it) but not bad and Ovsyanick’s solo is just beautiful, she has such a lovely back and arms and is remarkably musical. If I had known she and Vieira are cast for Giselle next month I would have skipped this sad Nutcracker, there’s just not enough to see. I’ll gladly go and see this old “Giselle” for the umpteenth time, just because I’m curious how the newcomers handle the meatier roles. All in all, I feel the Staatsballett has lost much of its lustre and nobody knows what will happen in the future. I’d love to love them more, but it’s difficult…!