14 July 2018
Reid Anderson, whose name is almost synonymous with Stuttgart Ballet, is retiring. After 17 years a dancer and 22 years a director, he casts a long shadow and well deserves a huge leaving party. The week-long celebration included a revival of Christian Spuck’s Lulu that premiered in 2003.
Frank Wedekind’s Lulu becomes a tragedy of epic proportions, unparalleled on the ballet stage. Giselle dies of a broken heart, Odette and Siegfried choose death rather than life apart but the bright spirit that is Lulu suffers a life blighted from the start and dies an appalling death.
Alicia Amatriain has made the role her own. Her skinny body and long loose limbs conjure the dual women/child image enhanced by the blonde bob and simple white slip. One moment she sits on a male lap with bare legs and flex feet her arms clasped round his neck like a needy child, the next she spreads her legs lifted on high by a posse of black suited gentlemen. When she switches on her charm the effect is dazzling: seduction her weapon and her downfall.
The set, by Dirk Becker, a semi-circle of stairs with a high exit centre back and a clear stage down front makes a versatile space that can glam up to become an opulent Paris salon and lower the tone to an East End brothel. Centre stage is occupied by a giant screen and a camera down front covers the corner where Lulu regularly retreats. In a dichotomous situation her moments of privacy are blown up on the big screen as we witness her fleeting moments of anxiety but mostly her strange vacuous smile whose meaning is elusive. True to her femme fatale reputation, death follows in her slipstream. Dr Schöning, danced by Roman Novitzsky, who in a remarkable double act also plays Jack the Ripper, his son, Alwa, David Moore, and artist, Eduard Schwarz, Noan Alves, are all murdered or take their own lives. Countess von Geshwitz, also enthral to Lulu, is a complex character. Anna Osadcenko, plays her with an elegant and sophisticated exterior and an interior of total chaos in a searing performance.
Louis Stiens who plays Schigolch, questionably her father, is also the narrator. From the outset he colours the proceedings with his account of the murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper relating in dry dispassionate tones each gruesome detail. He follows Lulu to the end and gets brief, agitated dance moments along the way.
Spuck’s choreography is a mix of the naïve and the sensual and Amatriain slips effortlessly from one to the other. The first act in Berlin shows her confused origins and her equally confused role in Dr Schöning’s house. Treated by turns with concern, desire and disgust she is passed around like a doll with no agency of her own except when she turns on her sexual charge and instantly becomes the centre of attention.
In the second act, convicted murderer Lulu escapes to Paris accompanied by the Countess and Alwa. Dressed only in a grey overcoat and her white frock she looks oddly incongruous amongst the ensemble dressed elegantly in Emma Ryott’s period costumes. Although the dress is swopped for a silver sequinned slip she retains her child image, a magnet for the men who buzz round her like bees eager to taste her honey.
In the final act, Lulu is a common prostitute working the London streets. If the Ripper, who had such an obvious knowledge of surgery – or butchery – could kill these streetwalkers and then carve up their bodies like an abattoir carcass, this was little different to the manner in which society treated them and regrettably continues to do so. The final screen projection, sensitively filmed by Fabian Spuck, shows in close-up her wispy hair, enigmatic smile and eyes that reveal so little unless you look long and hard to catch a glimpse of a lost and damaged woman. While there is little joy, this is theatre at its finest and for Amatriain, a role that puts her in the ranks of truly great dance performances.