Silent Screen and Schmetterling: Bayerisches Staatsballett at its very best

Opera House, Munich
March 31, 2023

At the opening night of the annual ballet week in Munich at the beginning of April, the Bayerisches Staatsballett catapulted itself into the league of the very best ballet companies. Embracing Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon’s style for the first time, in Silent Screen and Schmetterling (Butterfly) you had principals dancing next to dancers from the corps, and you could not tell the difference. The overall quality of the dancing is at a very high level throughout the company.

This was the first time that Lightfoot/León have presented Silent Screen (2005) and Schmetterling (2010) on the same program, but with both pieces focusing on relationships and death they complement each other perfectly.

Severin Brunhuber and Eline Larrory in Silent Screen
Photo Wilfried Hösl

In Silent Screen, we follow a couple, danced by Severin Brunhuber and Eline Larrory, through different phases of their life and relationship against projections of different sun-less landscapes and rooms, also developed by León/Lightfoot, to a mix of Philip Glass’ music. In a tentative and playful manner, they slowly become intimate on a beach. More mature, they walk on a path in a wood, when the projection of a young girl in a red coat comes running towards them. The camera zooms in on her eye, which turns into a maelstrom, causing the couple to writhe in agony, fear and despair, perhaps at the thought of the dangers that might await her growing up. They walk through various landscapes until they stand under the vast expanse of the dark sky, where the man reaches for the stars. But they just turn off and leave them in darkness. We next see them apart, another man moving around them in slow-motion.

Then like an explosion the girl in the red coat, now live danced by Margarita Fernandes, enters followed by three men, Osiel Gouneo, Giovanni Tombacco and António Casalinho, maybe playmates, maybe suiters. Fast and with intensity and extraordinary energy, they trio fly across the stage in high jumps vying for her attention.

The couple’s highly emotional journey, mostly expressed in angular movements and intricate lifts, ends with them standing motionless on the beach looking out at the sea with their backs to the audience. With great expressiveness, intensity and technical prowess, Brunhuber and the still only 20-year-old Larrory, fresh out of school and who joined the company only at the beginning of this season, made the pair come alive.

Silent Screen was tied to Schmetterling with an interesting intermezzo during the intermission. The safety curtain was raised and lowered, creating different frames for the stage reset. Independently from the choreography, the dancers had also created an introduction to Schmetterling featuring the protagonists; a young woman in a dress from the 1950’s who then turned into a tottering, old lady who chatted to the audience; and her caring son.  

Lorretta Summerscales and Robin Strona
in Schmetterling
Photo Nicholas MacKay

Lorretta Summerscales was adorable in Schmetterling as the tottering, slightly stooped, smiling old lady chatting her way unto her death. She is followed by her son, Robin Strona, caring and full of grief.

The ballet opens and closes to excerpts from Max Richter’s music while the middle section bursts with love songs by the group, The Magnetic Fields. A huge black doorframe, duplicating itself into the distance, behind which nature projections are visible, constitutes the set. The frames seem to function as kind of time warps from which dancers appear in solos, duos, trios or as a group; each embodying one of the love songs. They are all clad uniformly in costume designers Joke Visser and Hermien Hollander’s black dresses, socks and what look like shower caps.

The mother and the son weave in and out of these stories until, at the end, she stands between two men with her back to the audience. Then darkness. And she is gone. The anguish expressed in the son’s lonely, immovable figure was so strong that it left the audience breathless, before roaring applause broke out.

The ballet week also featured further modern pieces by David Dawson, Alexei Ratmansky and Marco Goecke. Classical story ballets came in the shape of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella, John Neumeier’s A Summer Night’s Dream, and John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, in which Madison Young and Julian MacKay gave heart-breaking performances as the lovers. The overall acting of the company is so intense, that some of the merry scenes made the audience laugh, a rare experience during the ballet. Normally you do not laugh during Romeo and Juliet.

If company director, Laurent Hilaire, who took over in May last year after Igor Zelensky’s departure, is able to keep up the momentum and continue this development, the Bayerisches Staatsballett is at the beginning of a successful journey.