Livestream from the Opera House, Stuttgart
April 1, 2021
Like so many of the planned 2020 celebrations to mark the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, Stuttgart Ballet’s had to be put on hold. Albeit a little delayed, the company now honours the German musical genius in a triple bill: well-known works by Hans van Manen bookending a new ballet by Mauro Bigonzetti.
When asked, Van Manen once said that he had not heard George Balanchine’s famous remark that “dance should leave Beethoven well alone; there’s no choreographing to his music,” but that even if he had, he’d have thought a little then gone ahead anyway. Just as well, because Adagio Hammerklavier and Grosse Fuge are both regarded as masterpieces, although these days one wears that mantle rather better than the other.
Adagio Hammerklavier is a contemplative study for three couples in which van Manen plays with their relationships as he depicts their encounters and power struggles. The men are young and bare-chested. The women, beautiful in their white dresses, are older and more worldly wise, one senses.
Going back to something said in a recent Dance Theatre of Harlem discussion, each duet is a conversation in movement in every sense. Full of expressive power, each is elegant and dignified, the choreography itself refined and understated. Like a conversation, sometimes the dance flows, but sometimes it’s interrupted. A pause, a look; a lift freezes; a soft body stiffens. The exceptionally slow tempo at which the music is played allows feelings to be drawn out and magnified.
There is sometimes a sense that what we are seeing played out are memories. In the first meeting, it’s a long time before Anna Osadcenko looks at David Moore. When they come together, her gaze is distant. When they repeatedly walk past each other, she does not see. When she does finally turn her head to him, it’s with a cool detachment.
The other relationships are different but there remains a repeated sense of melancholy from the women in particular that reaches across the digital divide. Elisa Badenes and Jason Reilly certainly suggest much more that they enjoy (should that be enjoyed?) each other’s company, yet still there’s more than a hint of love and loss, of what was or what might have been, of desire never quite fulfilled.
Even with today’s modern technology, the piano remains many composers’ preferred tool of composition. Right at the centre of the stage for Bigonzetti’s new Einssein is just that: a piano, placing the music quite literally at the heart of the ballet. The German title translates as ‘to be at one with’. Bignozetti’s dance is very much at one with the excerpts from three Beethoven piano sonatas to which it is performed.
They may be standing next to each other but the ensemble gathered around the piano reflects the solitude and alienation many have experienced in the last year. Heads are held in hands, arms reach out, eyes peer out longing for escape. A duet for Vitorria Girelli and Alessandro Giaquinto shows the difficulties of first reacquaintances with intimacy. There is an awkwardness, a sense of uncertainty, of fear even, as they quite literally at one point, feel each other out.
Hyo-Jung Kang and Adonhay Soares da Silva suggest a more comfortable togetherness but it’s in the duet for Elisa Badenes and Friedemann Vogel that we really see the thrill and joy of full intimacy once more. Unlike in both van Manen’s works, the pair are very much equal partners. The dance is playful, faces and bodies do not only speak, they yell loudly as the couple throw themselves at each other, roll on the floor and embrace closely. One lovely moment has them pause, close up, look into each other’s eyes, and break into broad smiles. I did too.
Van Manen’s Grosse Fuge, made in 1971, takes us back to bare-chested men, this time in black skirts. Essentially the ballet depicts a mating ritual. The men strut and preen in a beefy, macho sort of way very much of the time, all to impress the women in contrasting white (which surely sends a message). Upstage they look petite as they stand close together tense and unsmiling, like animals in a pen awaiting their fate.
When the women get their turn, they move in marked contrast, walking lightly on demi-pointe, almost floating. There’s some taunting pas de deux before the men rip off their skirts to leave them only in tight-fitting black shorts and belts, which the women grasp as they slide between their legs before being dragged around. The message is as unsubtle as it is clear.
Grosse Fuge is powerfully danced, but unlike Adagio Hammerklavier, it fails to connect. I suspect that has much to do with the attitudes in it, which now look more than a little worn. Times have moved on, thank goodness.
The performance, accompanied by a virtual backstage tour, digital program, audio pre-performance talk (in English and German) and a superb film of Einssein shot from a dancer’s perspective will remain available as video on demand until Monday, April 5, 2021. It’s all at www.stuttgart-ballet.de.