Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; November 18, 2013
Diversity and versatility were definitely the order of Stuttgart Ballet’s first London programme, with classical, contemporary, humorous and downright quirky works all making an appearance. Everything was danced with vitality and quality. Clean lines and wonderful technique were everywhere. Sense of purpose, meaning and intent were writ large through every piece.
“Made in Germany” featured thirteen works or excerpts including seven UK premieres with a mixture of pieces by founder John Cranko featuring alongside offerings from other European dance makers of today. As the evening’s title suggested, each and every piece was created for the company, all by in-house or Germany-based choreographers. Most of the dancers were at least part “Made in Germany” too, the majority of the company having trained at some point at the city’s prestigious John Cranko School.
The evening got off to a more than promising start with Cranko’s “Hommage à Bolshoi”, a pastiche of the Bolshoi style that includes lots of impressive one-handed lifts, danced with great precision by Maria Eichwald and Filip Barankiewicz. Following that, and perhaps not surprisingly, the most satisfying works were those that were complete or at least self-contained excerpts from abstract ballets.
Of the classical selection, the best was the dreamy adagio that forms the third movement from Cranko’s enigmatic “Initials R.B.M.E.”. Against a backdrop that resembled a Chinese watercolour and to Brahms’ “Piano Concerto No.2”, Eichwald and Evan McKie glided beautifully through the subtle section that while plotless, does seem to reference deep, yet maybe lost companionship. Six other couples in pastel blue act as a sort of chorus, sometimes echoing, sometimes reprising, sometimes painting the background. The title, incidentally, comes from the initials of the four dancers who, with Cranko, were instrumental in the Stuttgart Ballet’s meteoric rise to world fame in the 1960’s and 1970’s: Richard Cragun (‘R’), Birgit Keil (‘B’), Marcia Haydée (‘M’) and Egon Madsen (‘E’).
Pas de deux from story ballets often seem a little lost out of context, and if Cranko’s story ballets are about anything, it’s character. Even so, the balcony scene from Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet” had much to commend it. Alexander Jones and Hyo-Jung Kang in particular really looked like a young couple in love, so rarely the case in the better-known MacMillan version, where Juliet in particular so often seems so much more a grown woman. Kang was the epitome of a girl experiencing first love. You could imagine her heart thumping away, she desperately wanting to laugh, leap and express her joy but not quite knowing how to do it. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
Rather more adult love was on show in the pas de deux from John Neumeier’s “The Lady of the Camellias with the sombre yet stunning Sue Jin Kang and the outstanding Marjin Rademaker. Why Neumeier’s work is almost never seen in Britain is beyond me.
Best of the contemporary ballet pieces, was Itzik Galili’s outstanding “Mono Lisa”. Alicia Amantrian and Jason Reilly created sharp line after sharp line as they danced under the long-hanging rows of stage lights. The Forsythe-influenced battle between man and woman is demanding, especially for the latter, who is often in extravagant extensions. Split second timing is essential as legs sweep and arc at speed over heads and bodies. .
There was more Forsythe influence in Douglas Lee’s “Fanfare LX”. Against a pulsing score, Anna Osadcenko and Evan McKie’s bodies shaped into strange angle after strange angle, and again, hyperextension after hyper extension. With both dancers in stark red leotards on a bare stage it was visually stunning. There was more angularity and the pas de deux from “Kazimir’s Colours” by Mauro Bigonzetti, danced by Osadcenko and Friedemann Vogel.
A rather more easy-going relationship was on show in company Resident Choreographer Demis Volpi’s “Little Monsters”, danced to three of Elvis Presley’s better-known numbers. The first has the woman (Elisa Badenes) standing unseen apart from her arms behind the man (Daniel Camargo), sensuously manipulating his arms and body. The dance later becomes quite perky, with everyday looks and gesture. All in all, it was most enjoyable.
A solo from Edward Clug’s “Ssss” was equally a pleasure. Pablo von Sternenfels looked a bit like a man fighting with his thoughts or inner self. The dance itself is all angles and sharpness, yet juxtaposes nicely with Chopin’s “Nocturnes”.
It wasn’t all good. Two pieces from company resident choreographer Marco Goecke both made an impact, but of the wrong sort. “Fancy Goods”, performed by Vogel, and “Äffi”, by Rademaker, include bare torsos, and lots of fairly pointless jiggling around and trembling, rippling muscles. That’s about it, though, and although one couldn’t help but admire the dancers, the dance quickly became tedious.
Humour came in the form of Christian Spuck’s “Le Grand Pas de Deux”, featuring a red handbag wielding and bespectacled Amantrian alongside Jason Reilly. It’s a send up of the sacred cows in ballet. There’s even a huge stuffed cow on stage. A fair proportion of the audience lapped up the slapstick humour, but this sort of thing should be left to the Trocks who do it so much better. Spuck is a class choreographer, though, and entirely more satisfying was the lively finale from his “The Seventh Blue” that brought the evening to a very upbeat close. It’s packed with footwork that calls for speed and precision, which the ensemble delivered in spades, and that showed just how deep the talent runs in this very impressive company.