Articles from Ballet2000

Back to stage! Nine companies

In the course of these months of crisis, restrictions and distancing, lockdowns and re-openings, announcements and postponements, almost all companies have continued to work – either on their repertoires or on creations – offering live or streamed performances. On these pages we report on some of the top companies’ stage comebacks between the first and second lockdowns. And much more news.


Paris at the proscenium
Quite a bit of creativity was needed when the renovation works started at the Palais Garnier (the old Paris Opéra theatre) and at Opéra Bastille (the new theatre), on top of the new health emergency regulations, in practice making the two big stages unusable. Considering how difficult the moment in time was, the ballet company’s director Aurélie Dupont chose to open the 2020/2021 season on the Opéra Garnier’s stage, adapting it as necessary. Given the limited space and the fact that contact between dancers had to be reduced to minimum, two alternating programmes were proposed with a flurry of solos and duets danced by company étoiles and premiers danseurs; each piece was accompanied by live music.
Thus, the reopening show, Étoiles de Paris, was held on 5 October, minus the usual défilé featuring the entire company and school (a tradition introduced in his day by Serge Lifar). The programme was made up of excerpts from various works mostly taken from the troupe’s repertoire: they ranged from Michel Fokine, Hans van Manen and John Neumeier, to contemporary choreographers (Alastair Marriott, his piece was a new repertoire entry), and also included modern dance (Martha Graham).
The solo by English choreographer Alastair Marriott, languidly danced by Matthieu Ganio, was entitled Clair de lune and was a male version of The Dying Swan, though set to music by Claude Debussy. The same programme later featured the original Dying Swan, created over a century ago by Michel Fokine for Anna Pavlova, to music by Camille Saint-Saëns; it was danced by Sae Eun Park who gave it a highly personal touch: her swan exudes an unusual serenity in the face of death. By contrast, the same dancer showed her temperament as a tragedienne in Martha Graham’s famous Lamentation solo.
We admired Hugo Marchand’s exquisite technique in an extract from Suite of Dances; he danced with a breeziness that choreographer Jerome Robbins would definitely have appreciated. The love pas de deux from the second act of John Neumeier’s Dame aux camélias (“The Lady of the Camellias”) also made an impact thanks to the youthful vigour and ‘sprezzatura’ (or nonchalance) of dancers Laura Hecquet and Mathieu Ganio.
The second show that kicked off the season was the Rudolf Nureyev Gala, a tribute to the dancer who led the Paris Opéra Ballet from 1983 until his death in 1989. And, once again, étoiles and premiers danseurs were featured in excerpts from ballets that were either created or restaged by Nureyev. The first pas de deux, the Balcony Scene from his Romeo and Juliet, danced by Myriam Ould Braham and Germain Louvet, could have done with a bit more excitement – at least Louvet tried – but his partner was too concentrated on her sequence of steps, which she executed somewhat mechanically, and seemed listless.
Instead, after a long absence following an injury, Matthias Heymann danced the solo from Manfred with brilliance and oomph.
We watched Louvet again in the Sleeping Beauty pas de deux alongside Léonore Baulac; having tested positive to the virus, Baulac had been compelled to isolate, but for the occasion was once again able to dance Aurora.
But the most convincing couple on this second evening were Valentine Colasante, with her perfect balances, and the charismatic Francesco Mura: the two dance with speed and precision which make them very suited for the Nureyev Don Quixote.
On certain evenings some of the excerpts had to be cut out of the programme as this or that dancer had tested positive to the virus. The health regulations have however been very strict: during lessons and rehearsals, the dancers were split into six working ‘bubbles’ to reduce contacts to minimum.
On the whole, the dancers’ performances revealed above all their keenness and pleasure at being on stage and in front of an audience once again. In order to fully understand their enthusiasm, one has to bear in mind that in-between the strikes that paralysed the troupe for two months (December 2019 – January 2020) and the beginning of the total lockdown (March 2020), only the “Balanchine Programme” was shown – and for a few performances only – before the lights went out again.
When the new lockdown was announced and the Paris Opéra’s two theatres closed down again, the show entitled Chorégraphes contemporains, créer aujourd’hui (“Contemporary Choreographers, Creating Today”), which was supposed to open on 4 November, was rescheduled in December. Nevertheless, rehearsals of the forthcoming scheduled ballets are going ahead insofar as this is the dancers’ daily routine and therefore permitted. These also include rehearsals for La Bayadère which was scheduled for the end of November. The company is exploring ways of keeping the planned shows on course, either by streaming them or postponing them.
Sonia Schoonejans

Teatro alla Scala, Milan
In the interlude between the opening-up (following the first lockdown) and the closing-down for the second lockdown, from September to October the ballet company of La Scala Milan presented a “Gala of Stars” which finally brought the company back on stage after a break that had lasted many months.
Naturally the conditions under which the performances were presented were, perforce, subject to the health safety regulations which took priority over artistic considerations: the orchestra was placed at the back of the stage while the dancers performed at the proscenium, on an extension of the stage built over the orchestra pit, in front of spectators wearing masks in the stalls, with socially-distanced ‘chessboard’ seating. Although this might seem an ordinary review of a show during the Covid era, it precedes a short consideration on the impression made on those of us who were present at this event; it had been keenly and eagerly-awaited both by the artists and the public who are used to experiencing the magic of the theatre through the energy unleashed during the physical sharing of a special event, to being present, to seeing it live and applauding (or booing, as the case may be). All these conditions have nowadays suddenly become rare. Consequently, the premiere of what, in normal times, would have been a glittering gala galvanised by the presence of four international box-office champions – the stars being Roberto Bolle and Alessandra Ferri, Federico Bonelli and Svetlana Zakharova – turned out to be an evening filled with same combination (which now characterises all of our lives) of sadness and frustration caused by the limitations.
That said, all and sundry did their best to do what was required of them and the programme did have points of interest and appeal, from popular favourites such as The Dying Swan interpreted by Zakharova on top form and the ‘flying kiss’ from Preljocaj’s Le Parc with Ferri and Bonelli dizzyingly clasped together, to Béjart’s Boléro, now confidently danced by Bolle on a red table surrounded by a corolla of male dancers.
The troupe juggled in the space at its disposal in front of the orchestra, amidst the virtuoso feats of the Holmes/Petipa/Sergeyev Corsaire (the pas de trois from the second act, danced by Martina Arduino, Marco Agostino and Mattia Semperboni), the lyricism of the Nureyev Sleeping Beauty (the Prince’s solo from the second act danced by Claudio Coviello), the tribute to Zizi Jeanmaire with Roland Petit’s Carmen danced by the ‘real-life’ couple of the house, Nicoletta Manni and Timofej Andrijashenko, and Mauro Bigonzetti’s new pas de deux Do a Duet danced by a socially-distanced female duo, Antonella Albano and Maria Celeste Losa (not exactly thrilling). At any rate, the show must go on. Maybe. Who knows. In the meantime Giselle, which was scheduled for the end of October, had to be cancelled.
Valeria Crippa

The Royal Ballet, London
A pity that The Royal Ballet did not revive an old ballet by its founder Ninette de Valois for its first performance on stage at Covent Garden since the coronavirus lockdown in March shut the nation’s theatres. The Prospect Before Us (or Pity the Poor Dancers) was a wartime comic ballet, premièred in 1940 as the threat of national catastrophe hung heavy over the country. It was designed to lift the spirits of those who saw it; it could not have been better named or indeed more ripe for revival as now. Whereas in many countries, every effort seems to have been made to reopen the theatres and, in dance terms, get ballet companies back on stage, Covent Garden has dragged its feet, firstly in reimbursing ticket holders for the rest of the 2019/20 season but then in leading the way in getting 2020/21 on stage. However, finally, after nearly seven months of locked doors and a dark auditorium, The Royal Ballet took once again to its legendary stage.
Director Kevin O’Hare created a three hour programme to get every one of his dancers (pregnancy and injury apart) back on stage. Let it be said that his company looked in fine form despite their enforced absence and months of class in the living rooms and hallways of their flats and houses across the capital and beyond. Social distancing rules meant that the dancers were split into performing ‘bubbles’ and when the company came together at the end for a full performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s zany Elite Syncopations, some danced apart from the others.
As a gesture indicating the company’s determination to survive, it could not be faulted; as a statement of artistic intent by the management, it raised questions. Why include sections from two of the worst ballets created by the company in recent years: Hofesh Shechter’s dark, dull and lazy Untouchable and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s laughable Medusa? A solo from the latter did at least feature Natalia Osipova who made it almost watchable, but should she be wasting her considerable talents on such rubbish when the company has arguably the finest repertoire from which to choose? At least Wayne McGregor was represented not by one of his chiropractor’s nightmare ballets, but a touching section from Woolf Works which showcased the considerable talents of Edward Watson in one of his last stage appearances before joining the company staff. Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov in the Don Quixote pas de deux gave a Rolls Royce performance – smooth and immaculate – but did not raise the temperature by one degree; they and several other couples in duets from the repertoire were characterised by a cool elegance but also a lack of punch, studies in dancing but not living performances.
There were exceptions: two Ashton works lit up the stage. Laura Morera’s appearance as Titania in The Dream was cause to celebrate – her dancing was a lesson in musicality, detail and style – while Marcelino Sambé and Anna Rose O’ Sullivan were the sunniest of lovers in the Fanny Elssler pas de deux from La Fille mal gardée, making light of the technical challenges and brimming with character and life. A work new to Covent Garden also hit the artistic spot: a sweeping duet from Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography for the musical Carousel which was his last creation before his death in 1992. Performed with vibrant stage presence and no little accomplishment, by the handsome couple of principal Matthew Ball and promising First Soloist Mayara Magri.
Elite Syncopations is a company piece, a collective letting-down of hair. It shocked the audiences and critics back in 1974 who found their favourite swans and cavaliers in party mode difficult to accept. But goodness is it fun to watch! Today’s Royal Ballet dancers are strong and accomplished but for Elite to work, it needs characters above all, and that side of their artistry is perhaps sometimes sacrificed in favour of the pursuit of physical perfection. Nevertheless, O’Hare did assemble some of his most characterful dancers to bring off this ballet and to set the right playful tone. Yasmine Naghdi, who has confirmed the wisdom of her promotion to the rank of principal with performance after performance of the highest artistry, led the company as a sassy, sexy, baton-twirling queen of the dance floor, while James Hay, one of the company’s most elegant and intelligent dancers combined technique and character in the full tradition of the company. It is now time to build upon this programme and to bring The Royal Ballet back to its audience – that is what Ninette de Valois would do.
Gerald Dowler

Rome Opera Ballet

Already, during rehearsals at the Rome Opera House just a few days before the March lockdown, there were signs of intense activity (similar to the hustle and bustle that sometimes goes on behind the curtain before Le Corsaire) and of a determination to carry on, come rain or shine.
Such dogged stubbornness might have seemed hopeless and futile given how grave the situation in Italy was at the time. But as soon as things started improving, despite the announcement that the summer season at the Baths of Caracalla was being cancelled, many wondered if there might be hope that things could kick off again in the short term.
The answer came with the announcement of a new ‘safe’ summer season to be held in an extremely spacious venue. It seemed to be an impossible challenge. After their initial bewilderment during the first months of lockdown, and despite being confined and in isolation at home, the dancers had continued to work out.
Finally, they were able to return to the stage –the first dancers in Italy to do so. In the new venue set up at the Circus Maximus, a stone’s throw from the theatre’s large carpentry and scenography workshops, and before an audience scattered over a vast, galactic space – single seats, here and there placed in pairs – choreographer Giuliano Peparini proposed his new creation, a subject he had had on his mind for a long time, now adapted to the new circumstances: Le quattro stagioni (“The Four Seasons”).
The protagonists were four couples, each of which representative of a different ‘season’ of love. The work was set to a soundtrack curated by Peparini which ranged from extracts from the homonymous cycle of Vivaldi concerts and a Scarlatti sonata, to a selection of songs, sandwiched between readings of poems by Alda Merini, John Donne, Cesare Pavese, Vincenzo Cardarelli and Jacques Prévert (Les feuilles mortes, in the famous sung version by Yves Montand). The scenery was simple, dominated by interesting and audacious lights and videos. Anna Biagiotti designed the imaginative costumes.
What immediately struck one was the oddness of the situation which applied to dancers and public, both categories being constrained by the same stringent regulations. Cautiously but deeply engaging, the evening was a hit: artists and spectators found themselves connected, truly sharing in the event despite the physical distance separating everybody from everybody else.
In adapting his original idea of representing the different phases of love, from the initial advances (spring), to the bursting of passion (summer), to the cooling-down (autumn), to the frostiness of feelings (winter), Peparini followed a rather clear path and the four pairs of dancers competed to express themselves at their best: Claudio Cocino was exemplary in his mastery of the classical technique and vocabulary, commanding alongside the petite and elegant Rebecca Bianchi. The pair in red, dominated by the extrovert and brilliant sensuality of Marianna Suriano, well supported by Giacomo Castellana, was superb.
Best of all – indeed a gem of a couple – were Susanna Salvi and Michele Satriano: a close-knit duo of consummate interpreters, technically firm and endowed with exquisite expressiveness. Even the couple in grey – constituted by two attuned dancers like Sara Loro and Alessio Rezza – was able to bring human and empathically comprehensible accents to the most ‘ungrateful’ of the seasons.
Peparini’s idiom, which ranges from classical to ‘modern’, in this case rose well to the challenge, keeping the dancers not only distanced, as required, but also having them don gloves and masks. Truly innovative ingenuity was missing: given the restrictions imposed by the circumstances, concentration focussed on dodging the obstacles, resulting in a feat that boosted the morale of many, spectators and fans alike, and consolidating the cohesion between the ballet troupe and their director Eleonora Abbagnato who had been the object of some controversy before the summer.
Donatella Bertozzi

Compañía Nacional de Danza, Madrid
The Spanish national dance company, which since last year has had Joaquín de Luz as its new director, is trying to recover from years of darkness and confusion of artistic criteria. Although the anti-pandemic measures have certainly not helped, in November the troupe did manage to return to the stage live, at the Teatro Real in Madrid, with a programme consisting of George Balanchine’s Apollo (Stravinsky), Alexei Ratmansky’s DSCH Concert (music by Dmitri Shostakovich) and White Darkness by Nacho Duato, the Spanish choreographer who used to be director of the CND.
The protagonist of Apollo was Italian dancer Alessandro Riga who gave a correct and energetic interpretation of the role, but whose musicality was sometimes out of tune and who lacked the total command over space and geometric precision that the role requires. In spite of his harmonious physique, one senses a sort of shyness in him which diminishes a little that majesty and supreme control that we expect from Balanchine’s Apollo – and one could expect that Riga, who was born in Crotone, Italy (the ancient Kroton), might have preserved something of the mythical city of Magna Graecia as part of his an ancestral legacy... His three Muses (Ana Calderón, Haruhi Otani and Giada Rossi) executed their task with discipline, but without any stylistic splendour worthy of notice. At the end of the short run of shows, Apollo was danced by Gonzalo García (of New York City Ballet), a de-luxe guest of quality.
Ratmansky’s DSCH Concerto is a good ballet, coherent, clear and with a certain theatrical clout. It is Soviet in its roots, but it is from America (where he has worked) that the Russian choreographer draws his symphonic abstractionism, even though he undoubtedly owes his “ethic of honesty in choreographic construction” to his master in Moscow, Piotr Pestov. It is a successful work, which for years has been in the repertoire of five or six major companies around the world, from the Mariinsky Ballet to La Scala.
In Madrid, it was danced, among others, by Joaquín de Luz and Gonzalo García, the original interpreters of the creation in New York in 2008.
The final piece, White Darkness by Nacho Duato, visibly shows its age (it was created almost twenty years ago) and remains a very obscure work in every sense; in fact, its lighting designer was merciless and allowed little or nothing of what was going on on stage to be seen...
At the beginning of December the CND presented its director Joaquín de Luz’s version of Giselle. It is one of the few classics this troupe has in its repertoire (and which include its previous director José Carlos Martínez’s Don Quixote and The Nutcracker).
De Luz has set his ballet in the 19th century and relocated the action to the wine region of Spain (Rioja and Soria), an iconic Spanish Romanticism setting, immortalised by the poet Adolfo Bécquer who lived there. Additions have been integrated into various parts of Adolphe Adam’s original music from 1841, as in the so-called “Peasant Pas de deux” in the First Act.
Two guests dancers, Russian María Kochetkova (currently principal of the Finnish National Ballet, after being with ABT and San Francisco Ballet) and Spaniard Gonzalo García, from New York, have been announced in the leading roles.
It should be noted that this Giselle also commemorates the centenary of María de Ávila’s birth; she was Spain’s most important ballet teacher of the last century and for a long time was also director of what are now the Compañía Nacional and the Ballet Nacional de España.
Roger Salas

Béjart Ballet Lausanne
Béjart Ballet Lausanne’s aura, which depends on the Maurice Béjart repertory rather than on Gil Roman’s creations, doesn’t exempt the troupe from the inconveniences that all other companies are facing too. Tours have been cancelled or, in the best of cases, postponed to better days. Times are tough. At least, however, Gil Roman did manage to premiere in Lausanne a show he conceived in close collaboration with Richard Dubugnon.
Internationally renowned, Swiss composer Dubugnon has worked with the most prestigious orchestras, from the New York Philharmonic to the Gewandhaus of Leipzig. But those capable of using up a lot can also make do with little. For his first collaboration with dance, Dubugnon chose to dust off the instrument of his beginnings: the double bass. He plays it himself live on stage in Basso Continuum, on a remote-controlled platform that moves in relation to the dancers’ movements. The result is about forty minutes of unusual and wild movements, skilfully combined and magnificently interpreted by eight extremely energetic dancers.
Gil Roman fully shows his taste for shadow and mystery. A fascinating “work in black” that the programme pairs up with the light of Béjart’s sublime Danses grecques (music by Hadjidakis), a genuine masterpiece.
Instead of allowing the progressive cancellation of performances (including a tribute to Pierre Henry which was supposed to take place in Lausanne in November) to get them down, the BBL are making the most of the new equipment in their large hall, which now has tiered seating. The public have been taking their seats there in compliance with the health regulations. This “Plan B” has allowed Gil Roman to present rehearsals and extracts from performances to schools and universities. An educational initiative that seeks to compensate, at least partially, for the lockdown and isolation.
Another noteworthy initiative was a live streaming for Japanese fans organised in mid-November. By connecting to, Japanese audiences were able to follow a revival of Tous les hommes presque toujours s’imaginent (music by John Zorn).
As we go to print, the BBL remains confined to Lausanne for the winter. But some tours are looming on the horizon, starting with Tokyo at the end of April 2021. Two months later, dancers from the BBL and Tokyo Ballet will meet on the large skating rink in Lausanne to revive the monumental Ninth Symphony by Béjart (...and Beethoven) which was supposed to be performed last spring.
Jean Pierre Pastori

Ballet Nice Méditerranée
One of the first important French companies to resume its activity on stage was the Ballet Nice Méditerranée (the name of the Nice Opera ballet company) directed by Éric Vu An, one of the most famous French dancers of his generation who since 2009 has been successfully leading one of the few classically-based French companies. After a few open-air performances in late summer, the troupe returned in October to its beautiful theatre, built in 1885 by architect François Aune (born in Nice when it was still part of Italy, but later a pupil in France of Gustave Eiffel and appreciated by Charles Garnier who built the Paris Opéra).
The triptych of their rentrée opened with Cantate 51, a piece by a young – and surprisingly academic – Béjart, constructed with harmonious solemnity on Bach’s music. Théodore Nelson danced the main role which was originally created in 1966 for Paolo Bortoluzzi.
Alba Cazorla and Alessio Passaquindici danced the Belong duet by choreographer Norbert Vesak convincingly, and the whole company, led by Veronica Colombo and Luis Valle, ended the evening in the brilliant Ballet de Faust (Gounod), with its deliberately sulphurous wafts, choreographed by Éric Vu An.
As we go to print, the revival of Don Quixote in Vu An’s choreographic version scheduled at the end of the year remains on the billboards.
Alfio Agostini

Vienna Opera Ballet
After the inauguration of the 2020/2021 Season with a repertoire ballet, Peter Pan, at the beginning of September the troupe of the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Ballet) was able to squeeze in two shows before the general lockdown closed down all public venues in Austria.
In September and October we were therefore able to admire alternating shows on the Volksoper stage: the George Balanchine triptych Jewels (which was also already in the repertoire) and a “Dutch programme”, Hollands Meister. The latter was made up of the following three works by three choreographers who have worked principally in The Netherlands: Skew-Whiff by the Sol León/Paul Lightfoot duo, lively, light, witty just like the Rossini music to which it is set; Hans van Manen’s Beethoven Adagio Hammerklavier whose stylistic precision makes one think of a Brancusi sculpture; and the powerful Symphony of Psalms, with the spirituality of Jirí Kylián’s choreography glorifying that of Stravinsky’s music. With these three works by different choreographers, the company demonstrated both its versatility and excellent level. Thus it really does seem that the long tenure of Manuel Legris (newly-appointed at the helm of La Scala’s ballet company, Milan) has been a fruitful one.
It follows that Martin Schläpfer, the new director of the Vienna State Ballet at the Wiener Staatsoper, inherits a company capable of addressing very different styles and artistic streams. At least that seems to be what Schläpfer’s first season at the helm of the Viennese company has aimed to emphasise.
At his press conference, the Swiss choreographer stated that he wanted to cultivate the great tradition of classical ballet while also giving space to contemporary creation. Alongside ballets Coppélia and La Fille mal gardée in January, followed by Giselle in March 2021, we find the names of Paul Taylor, Mark Morris and Alexei Ratmansky entering the company’s repertoire for the first time. The season was to continue with Mahler, live, a creation by Schläpfer, whose premiere was scheduled for November; it has been postponed to December.
Shows cannot be performed in front of an audience, however rehearsals and lessons are carrying on: daily work isn’t prohibited.
Sonia Schoonejans

Stuttgart Ballet
One can say that the Stuttgart Ballet is the most important company in Germany thanks to the prestige it derives not so much from its history as from English choreographer John Cranko and his creative work from 1961 until his premature death in 1973. Cranko’s works are still the bedrock of the troupe’s choreographic repertoire, enriched by a continuous flow of creations by leading modern choreographers, some of whom actually get ‘discovered’ right here in Stuttgart. The dancers’ quality, multiple nationalities, dedication and sense of pride in belonging to the company have become a living legend of ballet of our time.
The anti-pandemic measures, which have perhaps been milder in Germany than elsewhere, have nevertheless not spared the Stuttgart company or its audience. Let’s not dwell here on the list of shows – in the company’s unfailingly crammed schedule – that have been cancelled from last March to date, and let’s instead momentarily take comfort by observing the lively resumption of stage activities, in the period from mid-October into November, with two series of “Mixed Repertory Evenings” entitled Response I and Response II. These were made up of short pieces for a few dancers, extracted from choreographies by Fokine, John Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan, Hans Van Manen or Marcia Haydée, but above all – and in keeping with Stuttgart’s vocation for creation – by the following new young authors: Louis Stiens, Alessandro Giaquinto, Aurora de Mori, Roman Novitzky, Fabio Adorisio, Vittoria Girelli, Agnes Su, Shaker Heller.
Taking into account a given degree of uncertainty, several performances have been announced. A show entitled “Angels and Demons” which will include Falling Angels and Petite Mort by Jíri Kilián, Le Jeune homme et la Mort by Roland Petit and Boléro by Maurice Béjart, was scheduled to run until December 31. Then, starting from mid-January, a resumption of the Response I programme and then a revival of Kameliendame (“The Lady of the Camellias”) by John Neumeier, who created this highly successful ballet in Stuttgart in 1978.

BALLET2000 n° 285 - dicembre 2020