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Stuttgart Ballet

Masterworks: 'The Four Temperaments', 'Dances At A Gathering', 'The Rite of Spring'

by David Mead

April 24, 2013 -- Staatstheater, Stuttgart, Germany

How many directors would even think about programming together the three works that made up Stuttgart Ballet’s “Masterworks” evening: George Balanchine’s sharp, classical yet angular “The Four Temperaments, Jerome Robbins’ warm and comforting “Dances at a Gathering,” and Glen Tetley’s very male-oriented “Rite of Spring.” Not only did Reid Anderson dare to think, his dancers pulled it off brilliantly is what was an exhilarating, if long, it ran three hours and twenty minutes, evening of dance.

In “The Four Temperaments”, nothing distracts from the dance. Balanchine’s ability to make us focus in on small detail, the tiniest of movement, even on a huge stage, is uncanny. Although three pas de deux introduce the three musical themes, and in the third of which Myriam Simon and Evan McKie were particularly impressive in a lively pizzicato dance, the meat of the ballet lies in the four main sections.

In Melancholy, Alexander Zaitsev gave us much inner emotion. His dance was both sensual and restless while the ladies stalked mysteriously. Maria Eichwald and Friedemann Vogel were perfectly matched in “Sanguine.” They were cheerful, exuberant and as one with Hindemith’s bright waltz tempo. Vogel in particular partnered and danced with vivacity and spirit, his lifts always strong yet gentle, his batterie exceptionally light, quick and neat.

Marijn Rademaker was the very definition of phlegmatic. His deep back bends and slow stretches articulated exactly the temperament. What was really striking, though, was all the beautifully fluid, his long, low sweeps of the arms. When he was surrounded by his four ladies he looked like a latter day Apollo. His languor and dreaminess was matched by his shimmering musicality. Among the ladies, Ami Morita stood out. “Choleric” may be briefer than the other sections, but Rachele Buriassi left us something to remember. Her dance was as perky as can be and full of cut and thrust. Is there a role that exemplifies Balanchine’s view of woman in ballet any better?

It is easy to dismiss “Dances at a Gathering” as merely a dance about dancing, but it is far more than that. It is a gentle and well-mannered ballet whose mood is epitomised at the end when the five men bow to the ladies, who respond with a bob/courtesy. But before that there is much to admire. It is subtle and full of detail, sublime and timeless.

There is much pleasure in watching Robbins’ ever changing and seemingly random groupings. Solos, duets and small groups come and go. There is lots of walking, standing, gazing, running, responding. Amongst this, the brief encounters sometimes surge in, as if the dance is suddenly soaring on a thermal. The cast make it look easy and so, so natural. There is quite a lot of partner-swapping, as if all the protagonists’ lives are somehow interlinked. There is a sense that their conversations are of events past. At times maybe they even re-enact that past. But while there’s a sense of nostalgia, there is one of optimism too.

The dances are performed with a quiet understatement but don’t mistake that for dullness. The ballet is a feast for the eyes and the ears. The Stuttgart dancers packed it full of individuality and little moments that stick in the memory. Each had personality and character. They were not simply bodies. Very early, one of the women dances as if her heart was fluttering. The following pas de deux is full of the joys of love. Some show off and flirt, others are reserved and shy. A dancer woos a potential partner, but she is unmoved, so he moves on. All the time there was a perfect synchronization with the music. Every step, every jump, every small gesture had the right tone. Sometimes the dance had a childish pleasure, not least that from Angelina Zuccarini (Apricot), who was perfectly jokey and light-hearted in her pigtails.

Of the other women, who could miss Alicia Amatriain, beautifully pliant in pink with such an expressive upper body and arms, or Anna Osadcenko (Mauve). Sue Jin Kang (Green) was nicely amusing as the ignored dance partner, fluttering and showing off perfectly. The men were outstanding, as indeed they were all evening. Rademaker’s (Brown) solo towards the end was worth every minute of the wait. Jason Reilly (Purple) was emphatic and exciting.

Chopin’s piano music was played with great sensitivity by Glenn Prince.

When Glen Tetley’s thoughts turned to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” he wanted to find new meaning and a more contemporary dance language for the seminal score. His focus turned to the cycle of spring and of life, death and rebirth.

Drawing on a passage from Joseph Campbell’s book of collected works, “A Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Tetley portrays a pagan culture and the use of ritual sacrifice to heal the earth. The ballet has a primeval air set as it is against Nadine Baylis’ forest scenery and under moody lighting with soft mottling on the stage floor that suggests the sun peeking through the canopy. The men wear briefs and body paint, the women are in flesh-coloured costumes that give a similar effect.

Although almost all versions of “Rite” feature a woman as the Chosen One, Stravinsky referred to the “innocence of spring” as neither being specifically male or female. Tetley’s ballet is very much one for the men with, on this occasion, Alexander Zaitsev as the chosen ‘victim of spring’.

The harbingers of spring are more men. Their frenzied dance gets stronger and stronger and rips through the music’s rhythms, although there are times when it does not quite live up to the complexities of the score. The movement is frequently shamanist-like. At other times, though, there is a strange, almost fatalistic calmness about proceedings. His parents, danced by Anna Osadcenko and Jason Reilly, watch much of this from the edge, although a solo for the former is quite ravishing.

Although Tetley’s Chosen One is killed as a scapegoat for men’s sins and sufferings, there is also a sign of hope. There is a sign of things to come as he is lifted by the men into a horizontal position; a symbolic representation of an altar maybe. Then, as the orchestra sounds its last, he is whisked heavenward and hangs from two ropes, his arms outstretched as if crucified. The image is powerful, but brings a sense of resurrection and of a new beginning as much as death

London readers can see Stuttgart Ballet locally when they visit Sadler’s Wells in November with John Cranko’s “Taming of the Shrew” and a mixed programme.

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