Stars of the future shine brightly: the John Cranko School at the Stuttgart Opera House

July 16, 2017

David Mead

After arriving in Stuttgart in 1961, John Cranko didn’t only turn Stuttgart Ballet into an international force, he established a school where talented young dancers could be trained in close contact with the company. The John Cranko School quickly became recognised as an international centre of excellence, and remains high on the list of desirable destinations for students. Under its present director, Tadeusz Matatcz, the quality of the dancers it produces, the depth and breadth of their skills, remains truly excellent, as this year’s very impressive Opera House matinee showed.

Overseen by Demis Volpi, The Four Seasons features classical dance from four choreographers and dancers from across the school. An opening duet in Katarzyna Kozielska’s Spring is delightful, Academy B (equivalent to first year upper school) dancer Nao Harada was as delicate as a new leaf, beautifully partnered by Roger Duart (Academy B). What follows is bright, fresh and full of joy with lots of small jumps and effortless lifts. Thomas Lempertz’s costumes are sunny too, multicoloured blooms on skin-coloured tight-fitting suits that look like flowers emerging from naked bodies. They also helped see the many gorgeous lines among the cast.

The John Cranko School in Autumn by Fabio Adorisio from The Four SeasonsPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
The John Cranko School in Autumn by Fabio Adorisio from The Four Seasons
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Louis Stiens’ ‘Summer’ has an edgier feel. It’s energetic, the combination of classical and more angular movement making the dancers resemble insects. A couple of male duets were especially inviting. Rather than reds and golds, Fabio Adorisio’s ‘Autumn’ is all black and purple shimmer. I was particularly taken by the delicate Aina Oki (Academy A graduating class), and Madeline Woo (Academy B), the latter dancing a fluid and graceful solo. Again, there is a sense of insect life, stiff yellow, transparent raincoats suggesting pupae. Volpi’s own ‘Winter’ is a pas de deux, danced here by Academy B students Ji Soo Park and Henrik Erikson, appropriately in icy all-white. Taken largely slowly, it featured some gorgeous lifts, before Park melts as spring bursts forth once again.

Leonid Lavrovsky’s Classical Symphony to Prokofiev may be over 50 years old, but in the students made it look as fresh as a daisy. It was danced throughout with great confidence. Among the lead dancers was Class 6 student, Gabriel Figueredo, who made such in impact recently in the Stuttgart Opera and Ballet co-production of Death in Venice. Have I ever seen a 15½-year old this talented? He has remarkable presence and technique for one so young. He may look slight and perhaps still lacks a little strength physically but he always seems to have so much time. His turns are not only fast and precise, he stops with such assured control you wonder if it’s possible. One set had the gentleman behind me purring audibly. Quite right too! I also enjoyed the delicacy of Natalie Thornley-Hall (also Class 6) in the second movement.

John Cranko School students in Alreddedor no hay nada by Goyo MonteroPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
John Cranko School students in Alreddedor no hay nada
by Goyo Montero
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

If that was good, then Alrededor no hay nada (There is nothing around), danced by members of Academies A and B, was quite simply outstanding. By Goyo Montero, best known for his work with Nuremberg Ballet, it’s taken from the longer work, Benditos Malditos (Blessed Dammed), a ‘dance-poem’ based on El Día de la Creacións by Spanish poet Joaquin Sabina about relationships, obsessions and transgressions.

That can just about be read into Montero’s fast-paced contemporary dance that follows the rhythms of Sabina and Vincius de Morales’ text. The piece has a youthful feel and suited the young dancers perfectly. As the words gather momentum, so does the choreography, which is quite physical with some intricate and unusual partner-work and much floorwork. A lot of use is made of strips of light, the dancers sometimes appearing from nowhere, and of the black hats, initially worn by the dark-jacketed men.

Stephen Shropshire’s Lamento della ninfa (Lament of the nymph) is a pleasant trio, if one that doesn’t leave much of a mark on the memory. Smoothly and effortlessly danced by Mizuki Amemiya, Christopher Kunzelmann (both Academy A) and Henrik Erikson, it involves much fluid folding, manipulation, carrying and lifting of the woman by the two men.

A Spell on You by Marco GoeckePhoto Stuttgart Ballet
A Spell on You by Marco Goecke
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Marco Goecke’s dance may have plenty of classical roots but at first sight it looks like dance of a very different nature. A Spell on You (to Nina Simone) is Goecke through and through: arms flutter and tremble at great speed. It’s jerky but all done with great control as muscles tense and limbs articulate. Also typical of his work, the choreography and costumes are gender-neutral (all in black pants, the men bare-chested, the women in skin-coloured tops). As in Alrededor no hay nada, the dancers all performed so precisely it was easy to forget they were students, so much did they look like a top professional company. Standing out were Amber Ray (Academy A) and Navrin Turnbull (Academy B) in an expressive duet, and then Turnbull alone in the lengthy and striking closing solo.

Porto que sinto, a pleasant solo by Catarina Antunes Moreira, danced nicely by Madeline Woo, was followed by tingling show of classwork in excerpts from Barbara and Tadeusz Matacz’s Etüden, that finally brought all the students on stage together. They sped through the jumps, pirouettes and diagonals with aplomb. How nice it was too, to see each class given the chance to then come front and take their own bow.

John Cranko School students 2017Photo Stuttgart Ballet
John Cranko School students 2017
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Four of the graduating students are remaining in the city to dance with Stuttgart Ballet. Two others are joining each of the Swedish Royal Ballet and Ballet du Rhin in Strasbourg, with one heading for the Czech National Ballet, Opéra National de Bordeaux, Opera Nova Ballet in Bydgosz, Poland and the Landestheater Eisenach.

Not only do they surely have a bright future, but so does the John Cranko School as its new premises a short walk from the Opera House nears completion. Due to open in the second half of 2018, the building will bring the impressive new facilities the school has long needed. For recent photos of the construction, click here.