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Cranko mixed programme “All Cranko” - Stuttgart Ballet

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One of the recent posts in the forum topic "acquisitions" referred to the Cranko mixed programme with Stuttgart Ballet, and this inspired me to write this review.

@ Moderators, I wasn't sure whether to post this in "performances seen" or "news from Germany" and went for "performances seen" - please move the post if it better sits elsewhere in the forum. 



Opus 1 and Initials R.B.M.E. had been on my list of ballets to see for a while so buying a ticket for the run that just finished at Stuttgart Ballet was a given, and the only decision was which date to go for. I settled on Friday 26th June, not least influenced by the fact that the programme was also scheduled for the following evening, thinking that this may give me another opportunity to see it, tickets permitting. And what a performance it was on Friday! The first thing that I did yesterday morning was to buy a return ticket for last night (which was also the final performance). If this review maybe reads too overly positive, the performances were simply, to my amateur eyes, so incredibly good.


The programme consisted of four ballets by John Cranko: Concerto for Flute and Harp, Holberg Pas de Deux, Opus 1, and Initials R.B.M.E.


Concerto for Flute and Harp has two lead couples and a corps of ten men, all dressed in cream and white. The corps often move in pairs of two or ten, so synchronicity is essential in making this ballet work. They also join in dancing with one of the male leads and/ or partnering one of the female leads, and equally the male leads join the corps for some of the choreography. I had seen Concerto for Flute and Harp in my teenage years and didn’t remember much of it other than that I didn’t like it back then as I thought it was too “classical”. With that, I wasn’t sure what to expect before Friday night. How preferences change over time! I believe that my own efforts in taking beginner level ballet classes over the past year helped me appreciate the choreography as I was able to see how some of the movements and steps that I tried in class should be performed.

What hooked me both on Friday and last night was the quality of the dancing of the corps. The corps consisted of dancers from apprentice to soloist level, and the apprentices did just as well as the more experienced dancers – synchronised lines, on count, solid landings after jumps and turns. Adam Russell-Jones in the corps for this ballet had a nice speedy solo of pas de chats. When casting was announced a couple of weeks ago, I was happy at the prospect of seeing Alexander Jones once more before his departure for Zurich at the end of the season. He captivated me with his completely infectious smile throughout his dancing and his incredible stamina; on Friday night, there was no visible breathing after the end of his lengthy solo.


Opus 1 was premiered together with Song of the Earth. The programme describes that there was no exchange between the two ballets during the rehearsals, and yet both the topic and choreography show similarities (the ending in Song of the Earth though is more upbeat than in Opus 1). Opus 1 depicts live, loss and death. It starts with the corps lying in a circle – the female dancers creating the outer ring, the male dancers the inner ring – and the lead male dancer in a foetus position held up by the arms of the male corps, then gently turned, stretched and tumbled to the floor. The female lead appears, the two leads dance together and yet they need to part. The male lead, superbly danced by Jason Reilly both on Friday and Saturday night, is gliding to the floor and is stretching himself, desperately longing to reach the female lead (Anna Osadcenko) who is carried past by another dancer, yet unable to reach her. At the end, he is left lying on the floor alone and moves slowly back into a foetus position where he dies. Opus 1 is only 11 minutes long and yet it is able to show a wealth of emotions in this short period of time. Equally, the choreography for Opus 1 shows some similarities with Song of the Earth. While in Song of the Earth, the Woman jumps sideways into the arms of the Man and the Messenger of Death; in Opus 1, the male lead such a jump into the arms of the corps. In Song of the Earth, a female dancer is progressing through cartwheels on the shoulders of male corps dancers; in Opus 1, both the male and the female leads are tumbled forwards over the shoulders of the male corps.


Initials R.B.M.E. The initials R, B, M and E stand for the first names of the dancers on whom John Cranko created the ballet (Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil, Marcia Haydée, Egon Madsen), and the ballet depicts the friendship between four dancers, supported by a corps of varying size. While each section has one of the initials as lead, the dancers who perform the roles of the other three initials appear in each section to greet the lead.

Daniel Camargo danced in the lead in the R section with incredible virtuosity, and a prolonged series of jumps and variations of pirouettes in quick succession received well-deserved applause on the spot. The choreography for the lead of the M section, danced by Alicia Amatriain on Friday and Saturday, included a slow, dreamlike PDD with Jason Reilly and an astonishing series of quick-footed bourrées both forwards and backwards, exiting the stage as if drawn backwards by an invisible line. Adam Russell-Jones, who only graduated from the Royal Ballet School last year, had his debut as the lead in the E section on Friday night and danced the same role again on Saturday night, and he did really well on both occasions. His solo started with fast footwork of small jumps, and he was then greeted by a series of individual corps members who danced around him, to which he reacted with a visible sensation of positive surprise each time. The other dancers applauded him at the curtain calls for his debut on Friday, and he received huge cheers from the audience. Just as the corps for Concerto for Flute and Harp, Initials R.B.M.E. included some apprentices. The latter, additionally, even featured three students of the John Cranko School, and again, they and the apprentices did well. Hats off to all these young dancers as both ballets would have left no place to hide, and congratulations to them and those who decided on casting on giving the young dancers these opportunities so early in their career. Another aspect that I liked - the pianist played some of the passages of the piano concerto that is used for the ballet during the interval directly in the orchestra pit, and it provided a beautiful, relaxing, poetic atmosphere throughout the ground floor of the building.


As with the performance of Song of the Earth that I saw in April, curtain calls for the four ballets took place as long as the audience continued to applaud, and the final curtain calls for a ballet were with all dancers not just those who danced the principal roles. The joy of receiving the audience’s appreciation was visible in the dancer’s faces. The audience in turn reacted with a huge roar of approval when they were successful in having the curtain opened one final time.


The run of this mixed programme is now finished however the trailer for the programme is still accessible on http://www.stuttgart-ballet.de/schedule/all-cranko/trailer/.



Edited to adjust line breaks

Edited by Duck
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Thank you Duck, I really enjoyed both reading this and watching the trailer for which you supplied the link.  I agree that there is far more to Cranko's choreography than just the demi character, comedy pieces which seem to be the ones we see the most.  I feel that Onegin, when done well, can hold its place in any line up of dramatic and/or romantic ballets.  I think we get the comedy ballets pretty often because for a first time ballet goer they are very good.  People may say that Pineapple Poll looks a bit dated now but it is very well crafted and how many ballets on that kind of level have been created in the last 50 or 60 years that we still get to see?


I have seen both Holberg Suite and the piece I remember best from only one viewing which was Homage a Bolshoi danced by Haydee and Cragun at a gala.  I am so sorry that this utter firecracker is not seen as often as Spring Waters, which seems to me its easiest point of comparison.  


I am looking forward to seeing BRB dance Taming of the Shrew again next season.  I wish we had more Cranko works in the repertory.  I have to agee about the comment that the current designs for Lady and the Fool are not that great, but then neither were the previous set.  A completely fresh approach would be welcome.


If anyone wishes to start a petition for a wider range of Cranko's work to enter the reps of either Royal Ballet company (or both) please add my name to it.  As with a similar discussion we had about Anthony Tudor's work, some choreographers do not seem to get the full respect and performance they deserve.

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Thank you for your kind reply, Two Pigeons.


I like your use of the word "firecracker" and think that this sums it up really well. Watching the complexity and variety of the sequence of jumps and pirouettes for the male leads, the many high lifts in the PDD and the multiple technical challenges for the corps was mesmerising, in particular as it was executed so well.


BRB showed Brouillards on one of their split tours a few years ago and I was hoping that this would be the precursor to performing it in Birmingham or London however sadly this hasn't materialised yet. I am keeping my fingers crossed that one day it will.



Edited for punctuation.

Edited by Duck
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Thank you, Duck, for taking the time to report so fully on this bill - it's always good to get feedback on performances which many of our readers won't be able to get to (me included :().  And yes, "Performances seen" was absolutely the right place to put it :)

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