Happy new year everyone!
Yesterday we tweeted about this great blog post from TenduTV citing globalization as one of ten dance buzzwords for 2012. In our first post of the year, guest blogger Wiebke Schuster proves she’s right on the trend line, with a report from a very British season in Munich:
What is â€œvery Britishâ€ – besides the signature sense of humour, the Royal Family, five oâ€™clock tea and Marks & Spencer? – or more specifically, what is very British in terms of dance? The current perception from mainland Europe is that the British dance scene is thriving, past and present, ballet and contemporary. So how can we learn from our colleagues?Â This year – or â€œHeuerâ€ as the Bavarians say – the entire season of the Bavarian State Ballet is dedicated to the dance traditions of Great Britain. From the two big â€œSirsâ€, Ashton and MacMillan, to a leading visionary of contemporary dance, Russell Maliphant, culminating in a guest appearance by Birmingham Royal Ballet in the spring.
Looking at it from a â€œgrass is always greener on the other sideâ€ perspective, even though German funding for the arts may not be as sparse as in some other countries, here the general interest in dance, and especially quality media coverage of it, is lagging behind significantly. And so the artistic staff at Bavarian State Ballet decided to throw the ball to the sophisticated Munich audience with the aptly named “Very British?!” 2011/2012 season.
The question mark asks us to consider “what exactly IS the British style” and invites audiences to discover repertory which is rarely seen in GermanyÂ (naturally, another side of the question is how this will be received by critics and audiences) while that exclamation point stands for the great influence that the British scene has on the rest of the dance world. Its â€œartistic importsâ€ are in high demand all over the globe, with names like Christopher Wheeldon, Alina Cojocaru (who just guested in Hamburg for Neumeier’s Liliom) or Russell Maliphant.
The very first premiere of the season, a mixed bill program that might be familiar to regulars at the Royal Ballet, included some of the most precious gems of British ballet:Â Frederick Ashton’s sparkler ScÃ¨nes de Ballet, his homage to a modern dance icon Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan and the (literally) breathtaking Voices of Spring pas de deux. By contrast Kenneth MacMillanâ€™s Song of the Earth poses a dramatic and emotional end of the evening.
This was preceded by an important event to prepare the ballet fans of Munich, the Ballett Extra Masterclass, which took place on 14 December.Â Christopher Carr, Principal Guest Ballet Master of the Royal Ballet, who had been in charge of staging ScÃ¨nes de Ballet (a Germany premiere) led the eveningsâ€™ open rehearsal. He walked into a room filled with about 120 balletomanes with his Royal Ballet notation score under his arms, seeming to be in a jolly good mood â€œI never go anywhere without it these days!â€ he joked.
During the hour-long open rehearsal, he worked with the first cast on the section of ScÃ¨nes simply known as â€œTreesâ€. â€œLuckily,â€ he said, â€œStravinsky wrote this section in counts of seven.â€ noting that the rest of the piece is set to irregular counts which makes it extremely hard for the dancers to memorize.Â As Mr. Carr went along, he kept giving corrections specific to the â€œAshtonianâ€ repertoire: round arms, deep twists of the spine in Ã©paulement, grounded chassÃ©s (as opposed to stepping ahead), and of course the words â€œglamourâ€ and â€œsparkleâ€ were frequently used.
The next day on stage, the full cast of ScÃ¨nes practically oozed glamour in their brand new costumes and accessories created by the opera house’s costume department in cooperation with the Royal Ballet. The dancers adapted rather quickly to the particular style demanded by Carr, replacing what he called the â€œMunich-runâ€ with an elegant sweeping, skimming the floor-type run. Notwithstanding,Â audiences were a little reserved in their applause, as noted by the press after the premiere. Although the â€œart decoâ€ appeal of the costumes was right on trend if you ask the fashion police, the cool and unaffected air of ScÃ¨nes two days prior to Christmas evening was â€“ to use strong words – unpopular. One critic even noted that the piece itself lacked any sort of â€œwarmness of heartâ€ and the dancers resembled â€œanimated marionettesâ€.
Katharina Markowkaja and LukÃ¡Å¡ SlavickÃ½ danced the Voices of Spring pas de deux. As breathtaking and demanding the choreography is for the dancers, the couple made it look effortless and vivacious.Â Yet again, the premiere press seemed to be underwhelmed (â€œone Ashton too manyâ€), labelling the piece â€œcharming but redundantâ€.
A very familiar face in Munich (she served as Artistic Director of the ensemble from 1978 to 1980); Lynn Seymour staged Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan. Stephanie Hancox filled the subtle, quiet moments with great depth and thoughtfulness while going all out during the moments of pure abandon, exquisitely accompanied by company pianist Maria Babanova who showed a great understanding of Ms. Hancox’s timing.Â In between the waltzes, there were moments of silence. One could clearly see the memory of Isadora that Hancox had just embodied fade away, making way for quiet reflection – only to then start anew with another mood, another short story. The audience was finally enraptured by Ms. Hancoxâ€™s compassionate and honest interpretation and the first â€œBravosâ€ were heard in the auditorium.
To finish the evening, MacMillanâ€™s Song of the Earth. The work showcased the company’s principals, with prima ballerina Lucia Lacarra as the “woman”, her partner Marlon Dino as the “man” and Tigran Mikayelyan as the “messenger of death”.Â It seems as though, familiarity is trump. Song has been in the repertory since 2006 and was celebrated then, as it is now: Mahlerâ€™s music directed with great attention to detail by Ryusuke Numajiri together with the Bavarian State Orchestra and Opera ensemble members Heike GrÃ¶tzinger and Bernhard Berchtold, paired with dancing that just does not get any better, culminating in several curtain calls and thunderous applause.
Even though the overall reception of this British ballet â€œsamplerâ€ evening might have been a little aprehensive, it certainly made people engaged in discussions about the style, its distinction and perhaps the differences in taste. I cannot help but notice that the German need for constant explanation and analytical reasoning is problematic when meeting abstract, plotless or original works. It remains to be seen how contemporary Britain, represented by Mr. Maliphant’s work, is going to be seen and how the rest of the season will pan out.Â Ashton’s lovable comedy ballet La Fille Mal GardÃ©e will no doubt test the acting abilities of the ensemble as much as the ongoing understanding of the style, while BRB’s guest appearance will afford the audience an opportunity to take a look at the “real deal” and to familiarise with such works as De Valois’sÂ Checkmate and Ashton’s The Dream.
So long and an excited â€œCheers!â€ from Munich,
All photos by Wiebke SchusterÂ Â©
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 LimÃ³n Dance Company in New York. She is a regular contributor to theÂ Bavarian State Ballet Blog.