John Cranko School and Stuttgart Ballet: Aktion Weinachten

Opera House, Stuttgart
December 11, 2023

Since 1971, Aktion Weinachten (Christmas Action), an initiative established by the local newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten, has raised money to support the needy of the Stuttgart region. Over the years, the charity campaign has raised and distributed more than 11 million euros; over 470,000 in 2022 alone. This year’s major beneficiaries include a Saturday school for refugee children from Ukraine, organised by the Stuttgart Children’s Foundation, and an increasingly in-demand telephone counselling service. But the charity provides individual help too, for small things that can make a big difference such as new glasses, dental treatment or a new refrigerator for a struggling single-parent.

The John Cranko School and Stuttgart Ballet have long played their part, inviting audiences to a festive, mixed program at the Opera House, all ticket proceeds going to the charity. Starting at the family-friendly time of 11am on a Sunday morning, this year’s edition of established favourites and new work was a festive feast of fine dance.

John Cranko School in Najade and the Fisherman
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Given fully over to the Cranko School, where Tadeusz Matacz is celebrating the 25 years as director, the first half opened with lively excerpts from Jules Perrot’s Najade and the Fisherman by a group of 16 to 17-year-olds. With the female corps in sunny yellow, it made for a bright start. All looked very focused but also as though they were enjoying every moment with smiles and expressive faces were everywhere. The boys stood out in particular, with Keisuke Miyazaki, Ryan Handa and Reito Nashiki all producing spot on double tours-en-l’air and multiple pirouettes.

Kaela Tapper and Serhii Zharikov in Uwe Scholz’s Sonata
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

I’m not sure I could tire of seeing Uwe Scholz’ deeply romantic, neoclassical pas de deux, Sonata. It’s very simple in a way. A couple walk along a pathway of light. They pause to express feelings for each other, especially him for her, before walking on. It was a joy to revisit it and the pairing of final-year students Serhii Zharikov and Kaela Tapper, just a week after seeing them dance it in Munich. Zharikov’s solo was especially achingly expressive but both again danced with wonderful assurance and maturity.

In Brian Steven’s The Shadow, Alexei Orohovsky certainly gave us a sinewy body as the percussion in Jóhan Jóhannsson’s music pushed him to leap before needing up on the floor, but as choreography it says little.

You can’t have the Cranko School performing without a dash of their founder’s choreography. The ‘Second Hand’ from his Jeu de Cartes was great fun, the hand of five hearts (neatly numbered two to six on the costumes) continually trying to oust the joker from their game. Even literally throwing him into the wings doesn’t work, though.

Justin Padilla in The Swan by Nicola Marino
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

A second solo piece came with Nicola Marino’s The Swan, danced by Justin Padilla. To the familiar Camille Saint-Saëns score, it projects a very forlorn creature full of nervous energy. I’m not sure it sheds any new light on the music, though. It certainly paled against Anna Osadcenko’s second half performance of Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan, which came with all the feather-light arms and pathos one would expect.

The Cranko School’s contribution ended as brightly as they began with 24 youngsters aged 10 to 14 dancing Stefania Sansavini and Valentina Falcini’s Vivaldi Suite, and ensemble piece of pleasant patterns. The boys again stood out.

Over to Stuttgart Ballet and the second half started in grand style with Cranko’s Hommage à Bolschoi. It’s little more than a fest of lifts in the traditional Russian tradition, many one-handed, and over in a flash, but it was danced with lightness, and with style and a smile by the impressive Elisa Badenes and Jason Reilly.

Fabio Adorisio and Rocio Aleman in Where does the time go?
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

After Osadcenko’s The Dying Swan, so to the highlight of the matinée. And a surprise. Two evenings previously, at Creations XIII-XV, I wasn’t wholly sure about Samantha Lynch’s Where does the time go? Some of the choreography was interesting but no more than that. And as a work it felt unfinished. But here, out of context, the closing duet for Rocio Aleman and Fabio Adorisio to Nina Simone singing ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ was seriously impressive. There was a real sense of them discussing things, maybe the past, maybe trying to work things out. They looked like real people. It was full of intensity and feeling, especially that moment when she just lets rip, lets her feelings spew forth in a torrent and he just listens resignedly. And some of the later floor work is really intricate. Sometimes it really does pay to see something again.

Henrik Erikson in Hans van Manen’s Solo
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

The sparkling trio of Henrik Erikson, Alessandro Giaquinto and Matteo Miccini filled Hans van Manen’s tour de force, Solo, with speed, agility and grace. Quirky and full of fast, highly articulate footwork, it got the best audience reaction of the show.

Adhonay Soares da Silva and Mackenzie Brown in A Dialogue by Roman Novitzky
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Nina Simone’s voice returned in Roman Novitzky’s new A Dialogue, which becomes just that. The word ‘power’ is heard a lot in ‘Sinnerman,’ which is precisely what Mackenzie Brown and Adhonay Soares da Silva delivered in a dance of sharp changes of tempo and gestures.

Aktion Weinachten finished with a flourish and that gala favourite, the Grand pas de deux from Don Quixote. They may have been making their debuts in the roles, but Daiana Ruiz and Ciro Ernesto Mansilla show no signs of nerves, pulling out all the stops. They just got better and better, the best moments coming with her fouettés and his pirouettes in second.

Ciro Ernesto Mansilla and Daiana Ruiz in the Don Quixote pas de deux
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet