featured photo

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review, 1-15: What Talent and Support Can Do-ooh-ooh
Stuttgart Tour Shows what International Talent
and Local Support Can Do

By Tara Zahra
Copyright 2000 Tara Zahra

DETROIT--I first saw Germany's Stuttgart Ballet last summer at the company's home in the Stuttgart State Theater, a palatial opera house which stands at the end of "John Cranko Way." I was also invited to watch company class. I was learning German, and eagerly anticipated seeing a dance class given 'auf Deutsch,' as well as the chance to see the dancers up close. The dancers certainly did not disappoint, even in the last warm-up class before the last performance of the season, but I was let down in one respect: The company includes 68 dancers from 22 countries, and the class was given in English, with a hodge-podge of Russian and German thrown in. During that visit I also had the opportunity to learn firsthand about some of the legendary differences between dance in Europe and in the US. When I asked if Stuttgart did outreach programs in the community, like most American companies which struggle to build their audience, I was assured it wasn't really necessary. Performances were typically sold out through the season, and audience members would drive up to two hours for an evening at the ballet. The press director also informed me that her hardest job is not convincing the press to cover the company, but rather fending off the torrent of inquiries every time a dancer twists an angle or catches a cold. And if that's not enough, the dancers are of course all state employees, with corresponding salaries and benefits (including a yearly bonus of one month's salary, and a generous pension plan).

Detroit is the hometown of choreographer Kevin O'Day, who's "Delta Inserts" was the first work on Friday's program at the Detroit Opera House(I stood behind O'Day's mother to pick up my tickets before the show). "Delta Inserts" is O'Day's first work for a European company, and it highlights Stuttgart's versatility and speed. The piece begins behind a scrim, creating an atmosphere of sultry Southern heat and humidity. 'Inserts' feature four intense and athletic pas de deuxs (with American dancers Bridget Breinier and Robert Conn performing roles created for them). It offers a somewhat cynical look at gender roles and relationships in the contemporary world. The couples dance brilliantly together but are fiercely (almost violently) self-involved, until this dispassion turns on them, and drives them out of their own control. John King's blues-based electronic score highlights the sense of discord, placing the dancers in a gritty world of out of tune radios and cacophonous machines. Physically, the piece is filled with contrasts between sensuality and angularity, highlighting the endless legs and arms of the female dancers with plenty of arabesques and extensions. The final moment of the piece is surprising: the dancers walk off the stage in an arm-in-arm embrace, displaying a kind of quiet affection and solidarity that seems almost out of place after the turbulence of the movement.

The second work, "Dos Amores," was my favorite. Another work on love and relationships, Christian Spuck's choreography cleverly integrates six silver pendulums which seem to cut through both space and time. Based on Pablo Neruda's poetry, the work also effectively integrates the spoken text of two of Neruda's poems--the quietness of the stage during the readings concentrates your gaze on the intensity of the movement. I felt as though I was inside a dream from the 18th or 19th century. "Dos Amores" begins on a primitivist note, with a sparse drum beat, and dancers emerging (seemingly naked but desexualized) from a haze. But these sections alternate with Vivaldi's rich "Four Seasons," taking the dancers in and out of a European world where everything is a bit off kilter. The piece's magic realism is highlighted by Miro Paternostro's stunning costumes: courtly petticoats and skirts for the men, tailored jackets for the women, which appear and disappear with the changes in mood. The dancers were particularly brilliant in the challenging and idiosyncratic partnering sequences, which, like Day's work, highlighted speed and agility, and pushed the limits of classical vocabulary.

Both of these pieces brought up an interesting tension. The earthy, contemporary moments and romantic themes in the two works seem to be encouraging the audience to relate to the dancers--to imagine themselves in the emotional tangles being acted out on the stage. But the dancers' extraordinary classical training and the at times gymnastic feats constantly reminded me that they are unlike anything or anyone I know. I wonder if it is necessary for choreographers to choose between the two impulses: "look at me" versus "relate to me." I'm not sure it is possible to do both things effectively simultaneously. I have a feeling that the less familiar the audience is with the dance world, the more uncoordinated they feel themselves, and the more the "look at me" impulse wins out.

The final work of the evening was an unambiguous "look at me" piece, a spectacle with a cast of 40, and a tremendous crowd-pleaser. John Cranko's "Initials R.B.M.E" takes you inside four impressionist paintings, with gorgeous sets and matching costumes by Juergen Rose. This pastel world alternates between blinding sunrises and blue sensuality, and employs a more classical and formalist vocabulary, but without sacrificing creativity and an element of surprise. It superbly highlights the company's technical virtuosity. In fact, the momentum of the Brahms score and the dancers' incredible energy elicited several spontaneous eruptions of applause for sequences that were not incredibly technically demanding but brilliantly danced (as well as for the many challenging solos interspersed throughout the work). The piece moves the dancers through hundreds of portrait-like poses, the most effective of which are ephemeral and break just a moment too soon. Bridget Breinier and Ivan Cavallari's melancholy pas de deux in the third section was the highlight of the evening --I was in a trance by the time it ended and was annoyed to be awoken by the applause.

The company's New York program at City Center next week will include Mauro Bigonzetti's "Kazimir's Colours," Hans van Manen's "Kleines Requiem," and Uwe Scholz's "Notations," in addition to the above works. All but "Initials R.B.M.E." will be New York premieres. The difference between support for the arts in Europe and the US is old news to the dance community. But the Stuttgart Ballet's tour in the US (the company is also appearing in Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Costa Mesa, California and has already been through Newark and Princeton, New Jersey), should allow the American public to see for itself what kind of results can come of this extraordinary combination of international talent and generous local support.

(Note from Paul B-I: Unfortunately, due to the uncooperative attitude of presenter ICM's local press representative for the New York engagement, Richard Kornberg Associates, it does not look like The Dance Insider will be Flash Reviewing Stuttgart Ballet's rare and much-anticipated City Center season. Based on previous experience with ICM vice president for dance Jane Hermann and with Mr. Kornberg, we have no reason to believe the situation will be remedied. Don't cry for us, though; Tara's report is good evidence that good criticism and good dance happen beyond the confines of New York, and as for us, we'll find plenty of other dance to tell you about this week, put on by presenters and repped by publicists who appreciate the attention more than do Ms. Hermann and her press rep., whose attitude is bad for Stuttgart Ballet and bad for dance. Preceding represents my and only my opinion, and not necessarily that of any other member of the DI staff!)

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home