Bavarian State Ballet – Ballet Extra Series

In our recent Royal Ballet season roundup we touched on the topic of ballet in unusual places. We were amazed at the scale and the buzz generated by Romeo and Juliet at the O2 arena, but smaller venues can be just as effective as a means to lure in new dance audiences. Events like ballet masterclasses are the perfect opportunity for newbies to take a peek at what goes on behind the curtains. Take away the big stage, scenery, lighting, costumes and audiences can appreciate pure movement and artistic intention.

With its Ballet Extra series, The Bavarian State Ballet attempts to give audiences this kind of intimate experience. From Munich, our new guest blogger Wiebke Schuster reports on this special event, held at the company’s rehearsal studio last month:

If only the countless tourists heading to the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl knew what precious artistic gems they pass by on their way to experience Bavarian beer drinking culture (not that there is anything wrong with the latter!). The ladies and gents of the Bavarian State Ballet, much deserving of an evening in the solo spotlight, presented selected variations during a two-night run at the beautiful rehearsal studio space at the Platzl. There is something wonderful about being close to these excellent dancers who seem so untouchable during performances in the 2,100 seat auditorium of the Nationatheater in Munich. The evening impressed not only due to the variety of choreographic styles but also because of the dancers’s dedication and their pleasure at inviting the audience to watch them in their sanctuary.

On Thursday night, the invitation was to all diehard ballet fans to watch the gentlemen and the following night the leading ladies of the company performing material ranging from modern dance classic Chaconne by José Limόn to original repertoire by contemporary choreographer Simone Sandroni, to Fokine’s famous Dying Swan. The central theme, introduced by the artistic staff of the company, was to clearly differentiate between a “variation” and a “great solo work”, i.e. a work that can stand on its own in any context, whereas a “variation”, often performed at galas nowadays, fits into the bigger context of a whole, mainly a storyline ballet.

Javier Amo Gonzalez performs José Limón's Chaconne. Photos: Eva Wackersbauer ©

It was “gentlemen first” on Thursday night, when First Soloist Javier Amo Gonzalez performed José Limón’s early work Chaconne, introduced by dramaturg Wolfgang Oberender as a modern dance classic. From my recent study with the Limón Company in New York, I had the memory of the intricate and detailed choreography still in my body – and of course the image of associate director Roxane D’Orléans Juste dancing it exquisitely. The challenge of performing this piece lies not only in its length but also in the change of pace – some of the quiet and intimate moments are the hardest to find. I had never actually seen it performed by a male dancer. Gonzalez resembled the young José Limón in appearance and in the way he demanded the space and filled the work with his energy and personal style. Only the quality of the music on tape was less than adequate for this masterpiece of modern solo works.

How do we ensure the quality and truth to the original intent of a choreographic work – a question relevant to the Limón legacy – when the creator’s contemporaries have passed away or are hard to find? Luckily, big companies now call in notators to keep a record of new creations (and restagings) but the two-dimensionality of ink on paper does not come close to personal coaching. As examples of how works evolve, audiences were shown videos of Vladimir Malakhov’s 20-years-younger-self performing at a gala and compared notes watching the famous solo from Les Bourgeois first performed by Dimitrij and then by his son Daniil Simkin.

The evening finished with Simone Sandroni’s P.S. Norbert Graf. Schütze. Ascendent Skorpion which exemplified a choreographic work as a portrait: it was not only created on a specific dancer, but also in close cooperation with the dancer. First Soloist Norbert Graf took us through his dancing career from the start to present time, as the narrator and protagonist, referencing the most important roles, injuries and personal life stories.

Isabelle Severs in "P.S. Isabelle Severs". Photo: Eva Wackersbauer ©

We saw the same portrait performed by corps de ballet member Isabelle Sévers the following night – only it was different from start to finish: P.S. Isabelle Severs. Mein Herz brach nur einmal (my heart only broke once) had the audience laughing over the high speed reference to William Forsythe’s Artifact and in tears the next moment, as she revealed that her heart broke only once: at the death of a family member. Her comic timing and captivating presence was outstanding and it is no surprise that the solo has been in great demand in festivals around Europe (next performance at Festival TanZeit-ZeiTanZ in collaboration with Italian dance company Deja Donne).

In addition to Severs, four ladies of the State Ballet took to the studio stage on Friday night, with soloist Sevérine Ferrolier jumping in for injured prima ballerina Lucia Lacarra. She started the evening with a rarely seen piece, Die Nacht (The Night) by Nikolai Legat. The solo was coached by Judith Turos from an old video tape of Anna Pavlova, much resembling Isadora Duncan in her impulsive movement style. The woman on the tape frees herself of the veil and flower garlands that she carries at the beginning of the piece. Her upper body work and sudden changes in movement were breathtaking and it seemed as though the music by Anton Rubinstein, performed on solo piano by Maria Babanina drove her every move. I wondered “wouldn’t it have been interesting to see Ms. Ferrolier in Chaconne?”

Left: Sevérine Ferrolier in Legat's Die Nacht. Photo: Eva Wackersbauer © Right: Daria Sukhorukova as Aurora. Photo: Wiebke Schuster ©

From a rarity to well-known variations: Aurora’s birthday solo was performed by Daria Sukhorukova who danced with the spirit of a 16-year-old – giddiness included – but never illusive of technical precision and a royal aura. The evening also introduced us to a young talent, corps de ballet member Freya Thomas, Young British Dancer of the Year finalist and Royal Ballet School graduate as the fairy of generosity. Her natural, humble presence and pure technique made the variation so wonderfully believable that some of us wished this fairy would have made a cameo appearance at our own Sweet Sixteens.

To contrast the delicacy, Ekaterina Petina’s Mercedes variation from Ray Barra and Marius Petipa’s version of Don Quixote offered a fiery change of pace. But the highlight of the evening for me, was Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan performed by – once again – Miss Ferrolier. After an extended period of concentration on the sides and with the support of  Mr. Woepke, Ferrolier took us into the world of desperation of a woman unhappily in love, traveling between spiritual worlds with ease. No movement lasted for long, but bled into one another seamlessly.

The roaring applause and request for an encore of the solo reinforced the big impression the performers left behind that evening in particular.

Sevérine Ferrolier performs Fokine's The Dying Swan. Photo: Wiebke Schuster ©

About the Author:

Wiebke Schuster currently lives in Munich. She completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Dance Theatre and studied Arts Administration at the Limón Dance Company in New York. She is a regular contributor to the Bavarian State Ballet Blog.