The John Cranko School summer performance celebrates Uwe Scholz

Opera House, Stuttgart
July 2019

David Mead

The finale of the John Cranko School summer performances at the Opera House in Stuttgart, extracts from Etüden (Etudes) is always something special. Starting with the youngest students, audiences are treated to a quick progression through the years that shows how technique develops. By the time we get to the two top Akademie A and B classes, it’s a feast of virtuosity as the women grand jeté across one by one and the men fill the stage with outstanding leap and turn after outstanding leap and turn.

This year would have been the 60th birthday of Uwe Scholz, probably Germany’s best home-produced classical ballet choreographer. Sadly, Scholz was lost to this world in 2004. Celebrated for his neoclassical symphonic ballets, his choreography is always intensely musical, the movement always full of colour and interest. That he is not better known, abroad especially, is surprising to say the least.

John Cranko School students in Etüden by Tadeusz MataczPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
John Cranko School students in Etüden by Tadeusz Matacz
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Scholz studied at the Cranko School from 1973-1979, going on to dance with Stuttgart Ballet, where he made his first choreography aged just 22. Then director Marcia Haydée clearly knew talent when she saw it. It was apt that this year’s annual school performances should be top and tailed by two of his works.

First, Air!, created in 1982, in which he recreates in movement Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.3. A dance for six couples in warm colours, two each in vanilla, light chocolate and rust, it’s vibrant and a joy. The steps flow with a delightful ease, the couples keeping coming, occasionally interchanging. There are some lovely moments of detail that one can just imagine might have happened in rehearsal, as when four of the men appear to have a ‘where are they’ conversation before their partners join them. Things then turn a little jokey as the men show off before standing amrs folded as the women respond.

Yuki Wakabayashi and Alexander Smith in Air! by Uwe ScholzPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Yuki Wakabayashi and Alexander Smith in Air! by Uwe Scholz
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

The dancers gave it all the accuracy and energy it needed. The choreography tends to highlight the vanilla pairings, who are anything but plain. The light Ji Soo Park, who graduated last year, was a delight, but it was Yuki Wakabayashi particularly stood out for a performance largely delicate but with surprise moments of sharpness and attack. At one point, and helped by her partners, she really did seem to float on air. There was some super partnering and fine leaps from Alexander Smith and Eduardo Sartori, the latter still having one year of study remaining.

Viva Vivaldi by Stefania Sansavini and Valentina Falcini gave the younger students a chance to show what they could do, and they didn’t disappoint. They looked very confident in a courtly dance full of good manners and pleasing ports de bras. Excellent jumps and turns too, with not so much as a single wobble, although what stood out for me (again) was the standard of the partnering.

John Cranko School director Tadeusz Matacz usually finds some space for a dash of Balanchine in his programmes, and this year it came with the Glinka pas de trois. Motomi Kiyota, Alessandra Bramante and Irene Yang produced the necessary speed and timing, and Kiyota some very clean batterie. Kiyota would later show his more contemporary side in Catarina Antunes Moreira’s solo, Todos os ais são meus (roughly translated as ‘all my troubles’), a solo about all the pain experienced when fighting for something that’s not meant to be yours!

Test Run by graduating student Tabitha DombroskiPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Test Run by graduating student Tabitha Dombroski
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Making a repeat appearance from last year was Lamento della Ninfa (The Nymph’s Lament) by Stephen Shropshire, whose We Are Nowehere Else But Here proved a big success a week earlier at the Colours International Dance Festival up at the Theaterhaus. The beautiful trio features a woman (Natalie Thornley-Hall) manipulated by two men (Luca Bergamaschi and Vincent Travnicek). It could be very cold, but actually is rather full of feeling. One almost senses she is somehow suffering an internal pain.

A cast of largely fifth and sixth grade students gave a solid interpretation of the rarely seen romantic ballet, Najade und der Fischer (The Naiad and the Fisherman) by Jules Perrot, an 1851 expansion of his 1843 ballet, Ondine.

Graduating student Tabitha Dombroski presented no fewer than three works, and what a fine choreographic prospect she appears to be. In Test Run, she puts a large ensemble of grades 5, 6 and Academy A students through their paces. Classically-based but contemporary in nature, the group moves in powerful, flowing waves. Things later take an acrobatic turn with some somersaults. One lovely moment of humour sees one of the men carried across horizontally as it swimming. Top marks for the gorgeous costumes too, everyone in billowing long black pants that at first looked like skirts.

Gabriel Figueredo in Uwe Scholz's Die Schöpfung (The Creation)Photo Stuttgart Ballet
Gabriel Figueredo in Uwe Scholz’s Die Schöpfung (The Creation)
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

I also enjoyed Dombroski’s solo, Cut the World, in which Javier Gonzalez Cabrera lamented on the state of the planet to music by Antony and the Johnsons. I was a little less taken with Meditative State, performed to a mix of music and text, in which Joshua Green and Angelo Minacori mused on love, mindfulness and respect.

And so back to Uwe Scholz, and more of his musicality in a couple of excerpts from Die Schöpfung (The Creation). Everyone was waiting to see Gabriel Figueredo, who was already making his mark a couple of years ago as Tadzio in the Stuttgart Ballet and Opera joint production of Death in Venice. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dancer still in his teens look so assured, so mature. His long solo was full of artistry and achingly emotional. It says much that he is by-passing Stuttgart Ballet’s apprentice year and going directly into the company. Already much loved by the Stuttgart audience, I confidently predict it won’t be that long before Figueredo’s name is much more widely known.

A second excerpt saw the return of Yuki Wakabayshi and Alexander Smith in a fine duet, full of crystal-clear dance and ravishing images.

Etüden by Tadeusz MataczPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Etüden by Tadeusz Matacz
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

It was a fine celebration of the school, and of the talent of its dancers, who now move on to major companies across Europe. I can’t help thinking that it helps that student numbers are rather lower than at many similar schools, allowing more individual attention. And by early next year, they should have facilities to match as they move out of their homely if rather outdated studios into more spacious, purpose-built premises.