Schritte und Spuren

Czech choreographer Kylian in peak form at the Staatsoper Ballet

January has been another flurry of activity within the Staatsoper ballet. The dancers are both euphoric and exhausted from this season’s eight premieres.

The main event in January was a mixed evening of modern works called Schritte und Spuren (Steps and Traces), including works from four contemporary choreographers who came to Vienna to prepare their pieces. For the dancers, the opportunity to work extensively with first-rate living choreographers seemed to make all the difference.

October’s neo-classical evening Jewellen der Neuen Welt (Jewels from the New World) was excellent preparation for this program. With each full evening of twentieth century choreography, the Staatsoper dancers become more limber. Schritte und Spuren is the first time in seven years they seemed really at home with contemporary choreography, bending and swinging a as if they’d trained in this tradition their whole lives. For most, it was a huge step forward.

Nominally, a tribute to Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian (63) who has given seven ballets to Vienna Staatsoper over three decades now, and all of these have some direct connection, either as his ex-dancers or his fellow countrymen. And first up were the Czech brothers Otto and Juri Bubencek via John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet where they were both stars and of late the Dresden Ballet for Juri.

Le Souffle d’Esprit (The Breath of Inspiration) is an arrangement of J.S. Bach, Roman Hofstetter and Pachabel’s Cannon crafted by Otto. The backdrops are projected and continually changing Renaissance masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci. Costumes are simple and the steps sensitive. There is nothing jarring in Le Souffle d’Esprit and considerable charm. Unfortunately, though, amid all that moving emotion there is little motivation, with the same strengths and slightly saccharine defaults of Pachabel.

The interpretation was excellent. Roman Lazik continues his good form, svelte and energetic in the lead. Pretty blonde Anna Shepelyeva was particularly light and airy, closely rivaled by Marta Dratikova. Bubenicek says his focus is on getting the dancers to push for more intensity. This is exactly the kind of coaching the Staatsoper dancers need and it’s great to see them getting it.

The second piece, Glow-Stop, originally created for ABT (American Ballet Theater) in 2006, was first set for Staatsoper’s dancers in 2008 by choreographer Jorma Elo who returned last year to create the full length Midsummer Night’s Dream in Vienna. Putting Glow-Stop back on stage was a fine decision by artistic director Legris. The dancers already knew the work and with more contemporary choreography under their belts, dance it even better than in 2008. Maria Yakovleva, alternating in the lead, was particularly strong, dancing like a ball of joyful energy.

Skew Whiff is a parody of ballet and relationships, an early creation of ex-NDT dancers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon who were also both in Vienna to work with the Staatsoper dancers.  Three men, in white face, are living a manly life. Deprived of women, they fight and even participate in joint masturbation sessions. All against the background of a Rossini opera overture. Mihail Sosnovischi is in his comic element here, cracking awe-inspiring grimaces. Cherevychko hams it up perhaps a touch too much but Masayu Kimoto is right on target.

When the long-limbed Ionna Avraam joins the love-starved men, pandemonium breaks out as she flirts with first one man and then another. The performances here were admirable, and the grotesque brought down the house with roars of pleasure.

There was a lot more, including Kylian’s fascinating Bella Figura (1995), a deep exploration of dreams and dance that is considered one of his greatest pieces. Set in a rehearsal hall, the piece quickly it morphs into rich red costumes and mystic figures drifting through half darkness. It’s a challenging piece for its dancers not least as a consequence of the extended nudity. Here this is not a flash of stockinged bodice but long sequences totally topless, something which I’ve never seen at Staatsoper.

Ketevan Papava carries the heaviest load, opening the piece and first to appear unclothed. The former Marinsky dancer does not blink at all and was totally at home on the stage. Her dancing was sincere and deeply felt, continuing the excellent standard she set this year in Marie Antoinette. Vladmir Shishov too was in peak form, accompanied by Eno Pesci. Roman Lazik were especially good in support. There is admirable depth in the ranks of the Staatsoper men.

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