A tale of two countries: news from Sadler’s Wells, Stuttgart and beyond

David Mead

Today (July 28), two pieces of news arrived that emphasised just different the approach to the arts is in parts of Europe compared to the UK, and how far behind we are with kickstarting the arts and reopening theatres compared to our friends across the Channel.

From Sadler’s Wells came news that all performances there and at the Peacock Theatre in Central London are now cancelled until at least November 10. That takes us up to the premiere of Akram Khan’s Creature for English National Ballet, due to open on November 11. Given the restrictions on class and rehearsal presently in force, it seems highly unlikely that will take place either.

A statement from the theatre says, “Despite recent UK Government and Arts Council England announcements on rescue packages for arts organisations including Sadler’s Wells, and the initial reopening of public spaces, we are not yet able to welcome audiences to our theatres, as our programme for this autumn was not created with social distancing restrictions in place. We and the artists and companies we work with, are reimagining how we can serve audiences in ways allowed by evolving social distancing requirements, and will be in touch with more information as soon as possible.”

Among the performances cancelled are Machine de Cirque, Tango After Dark and Flamenka at the Peacock, the Akram Khan Company season on the Sadler’s Wells main stage, and some smaller productions in the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre.

In the meantime, Sadler’s Wells will continue to share work on their digital channels, but let’s not pretend this is anything but a very different experience and no substitute for watching live.

It is of course now over three weeks since the government trumpeted that £1.57 billion rescue package for arts and cultural industries in a scheme that were told would provide institutions such as theatres, museums and live music venues with access to emergency grants and loans. Since then, silence. Detail, zero.

Timoor Afshar in Fabio Adorisio's Empty Hands,part of Stuttgart Ballet's Response IPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Timoor Afshar in Fabio Adorisio’s Empty Hands,
part of Stuttgart Ballet’s Response I
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

Compare that to Europe, where companies and theatres are busy making plans for reopening, albeit in many cases new plans and new programming to fit the present circumstances.

That brings me to the second piece of news, the announcement from Stuttgart Ballet of details of the first half of their 2020-21 season. Thanks to the way the German government has handled the crisis, and the support received from the city and the state of Baden-Wurtemburg, classes for three dancers at a time resumed at the end of April. This month, the company premiered a programme of new, socially-distanced work to an outdoor cinema that attracted an audience of 3,000.

In-theatre performances are planned to resume in the autumn, in front of an audience of 330 in the Opera House (usual capacity 1,400) or 175 in the Playhouse (usually 650).

The 2020-21 season was originally conceived as a 60th anniversary season with works by all the choreographers associated with the company’s history alongside new creations. With various restrictions meaning that pas de deux work has not been possible for five months and that a number of coaches have not been able to come to stage works, much of that has been put on hold. And yet, Stuttgart Ballet will still present two new mixed programmes.

The works that form the core of Response I, which premieres on October 17, are those that were shown earlier this month. Louis Stiens’ Petals to music by Domenico Scarlatti and Francois Couperin is an exploration of relationships between people and their environment. Fabio Adorisio’s Empty Hands, set to Bryce Dessner’s Lachrimae is a furious lament for five dancers. In Roman Novitzky’s Everybody Needs Some/Body, a group of individuals try to combat loneliness, uncertainly and lack of human contact, their collective movement eerily emphasising their isolation. This piece, danced to Max Richter’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, will include a pas de deux, made possible by the fact two dancers live in the same household.

Marco Goecke rehearses Do You Love Gershwin? for Gauthier DancePhoto Jeanette Bak
Marco Goecke rehearses Do You Love Gershwin? for Gauthier Dance
Photo Jeanette Bak

As if the emphasise how things are moving in Stuttgart, up at the Theaterhaus, the previous week sees the world premiere of Marco Goecke’s Do You Love Gershwin? by Gauthier Dance.

Fred Astaire once said that Gershwin “wrote music for the feet,” which should make for a fascinating work given Goecke’s usual focus on dancers’ arms and torsos. Company artistic director Eric Gauthier makes a prediction: “I am convinced that at the end of the show the audience will not only answer the question Do You Love Gershwin? with a resounding yes, but also, ‘Do you Love Marco Goecke’s Gershwin?’

Back at Stuttgart Ballet, October 30 sees the premiere of Response II. Subtitled ‘Young Bloods’ it will feature five new works by young artists from within the company. Vittoria Girelli, Aurora da Mori, Agnes Su, Shaken Heller and Alessandro Gianquinto will each create a short piece for a limited number of dancers in order to ensure distancing. Artistic director Tamas Detrich has given them complete freedom, so a very varied evening is promised.

A one-off evening, Pallaksch: A tribute to Hölderlin, will honour one of Germany’s greatest poets. The performance is a collaboration between Stuttgart Ballet, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Schauspiel Stuttgart, the German Literary Archive Marbach and the House of Literature Stuttgart.

Stuttgart Ballet are hopeful that the Kylian/Petit/Béjart triple bill Angels and Demons, originally planned for May 2020, will open on November 27. If the situation improves sufficiently, the company will then present John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camelias from January 16.

Ballet OnR in Chaplin by Mario SchröderPhoto Agathe Poupenay
Ballet OnR in Chaplin by Mario Schröder
Photo Agathe Poupenay

Things are moving in France and Switzerland too. The most interesting looking production seen to date being Mario Schröder’s Chaplin, which returns to the repertory of Ballet OnR. Originally created for Leipzig Ballet, the work tries to discover the man behind the moustached figure with his bowler hat and his bamboo cane. Chaplin opens at the Strasbourg Opera House on September 5.