Stuttgart Ballet: 50 Years of Stuttgart Ballet

February 4, 2011

Fifty Years of Stuttgart Ballet

Various Venues

Stuttgart, Germany
February 4–27, 2011

Reviewed by Horst Koegler

Photo: Magdalene Dziegielewska, Marcia Haydée, Oihane Herrero in
Las Hermanas. Courtesy Stuttgart.


When, John Cranko took up his new job as artistic director and chief choreographer of the Stuttgart Opera Ballet in 1961, he was a 33-year-old nobody from Sadler’s Wells. When 12 years later, he unexpectedly died on a return flight of his company from a triumphant tour to the States, the company had just been branded “the Stuttgart Ballet miracle” by Clive Barnes.

Again 38 years later, when he looked down from his celestial heights in February 2011, he would have been astonished to witness an overflowing three-week festival celebrating “50 Years of Stuttgart Ballet.”

This started with a conference to which ballet directors had congregated from Beijing, Sydney, Santiago, New York, Toronto, London, Milan/Moscow, Rotterdam, and Hamburg. It was chaired by Reid Anderson, artistic director of the Stuttgart since 1996. There followed a string of performances, talks, and meetings of about 300 former and present members the Stuttgart Ballet.

Since Kylián, Neumeier, and Forsythe had all first flexed their choreographic muscles when they were young dancers at Stuttgart, guest appearances included the Nederlands Dans Theater II (with pieces by Jirí Kylián and Paul Lightfoot/Sol Léon), John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet (with his Nijinsky) and the Royal Ballet of Flanders (with Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar).

The local company, apart from contributing Cranko’s Initials R.B.M.E. (the troupe’s visiting card, the initials referring to its 1972 principals Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil, Marcia Haydée and Egon Madsen), concentrated on presenting their latest full-length creations: Mauro Bigonzetti’s I fratelli—The Brothers as well as Leonce and Lena and Orlando by their two resident choreographers, Christian Spuck and Marco Goecke. Thus the accent was very much on choreographers who had emerged from the company.

One of the most impressive programs was the revival of MacMillan’s Las Hermanas, his first creation in 1963 for the Stuttgart. Based on García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, it deals with a family of sexually frustrated sisters dominated by a haggard and bigot mother. When her youngest daughter has a passionate affair with a flamboyant macho type, the mother mercilessly punishes her, and things get worse from there. Each of the sisters is profiled individually, showing MacMillan’s talent for drawing strongly delineated characters. Today Marcia Haydée plays this monster of a mother with uncanny and unyielding hardness. Laura O’Malley is the erotic teaser of the youngest sister, and Jason Reilly oozes sex with every fibre of his well-packed body. Las Hermanas has kept its erotic fervour well over the 48 years, which have passed since its creation.

The other surprise was the pas de trois from Cranko’s Song of my People, which he created in 1971 for Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and which has never been seen in Europe before. (It was reconstructed from an amateur movie by Georgette Tsinguirides, the company’s notator.) It is a lean, crystalline piece, very much in the wake of Balanchine’s Apollo. It is danced now with icy candour by Myriam Simon, Hyo-Jung Kang and Marjn Rademaker, who just seems to have descended from a Dutch Mount Olympus.

And so it went on for three weeks, from students at the John Cranko School, energetically directed by Tadeusz Matacz, to corps members through the soloists and principals of the company and its idolized star performer Friedemann Vogel. The festival confirmed Stuttgart’s reputation as Germany’s top ballet company as far as communicative power and choreographic creativity are concerned. After the climax of a five-hour gala, the stage was flooded with about 300 former and present members of the company, celebrating their reunion in each other’s arms.