Stuttgart Ballet: Remember Me

Opera House, Stuttgart
July 19, 2023

John Cranko only led Stuttgart Ballet for just over eleven years but his influence on the company, and indeed on German ballet as a whole, remains enormous. The company has been marking the fiftieth anniversary of his death, including with this beautiful double bill of his Initials R.B.M.E. and Requiem by his great friend Kenneth MacMillan. Appropriately titled, Remember Me, it was an evening of sublime beauty; one to savour.

Around six months before he died, Cranko created Initials R.B.M.E. to the four movements of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2. The dance nestles perfectly with music, the choreography an elegant, always so classical interweaving of solos, pas de deux and ensemble sections. It’s a ballet of so many highlights.

Elisa Badenes and Anna Osadcenko in John Cranko’s Initials R.B.M.E.
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

It may be an ensemble work, but the giveaway is in the title, whose four initials stand for his four most important muses, the movements showcasing the personality and strengths of Richard Cragun, Marcia Haydée, Birgit Keil and Egon Madsen in turn. Three of them are still with us (Cragun died in 2012), with Haydée and Madsen I understand involved in coaching today’s dancers in the very personal roles. But while it’s an homage to them and the company, more than anything, it’s about friendship.

There can’t be many ballets that start with consecutive double tours en l’air followed immediately by a series of pirouettes in second. But what else? Cragun was a dashing virtuoso dancer, a masterful turner and jumper. As the jumps and turns continue to come thick and fast, the nonchalant Adonhay Soares da Silva pinned each one perfectly. It’s not so much that turns so fantastically, it’s that he stops so fantastically too. Yet it never feels like some sort of gala exhibition, never superficial.

Stuttgart Ballet in John Cranko’s Initials R.B.M.E.
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Anna Osadcenko was all elegance and beautiful  lines in ‘B’. It was hard to believe that, just 24 hours earlier, she was stomping around as Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew.

‘M’ has soul. Choreographed largely as a dreamy pas de deux. Elisa Badenes was divine; full of feeling. Sometimes thought of as the missing fifth initial ‘H’ (Heinz Clauss), her fine cavalier was Friedemann Vogel. They don’t come much better than that. It was almost elegaic.

Friedemann Vogel and Elisa Badenes in Initials R.B.M.E.
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Finally to ‘E’, where Matteo Miccini was easy going and natural, full of joking, mischievous energy, and some very fine petit allegro.

The costumes for each section reflect the changing impressionist backdrop, all created by Stuttgart’s still favourite designer Jürgen Rose. They’re as super as the choreography and the dancing.

Initials R.B.M.E. ends with the four friends yet again putting a friendly hand on a shoulder but this time gazing up at a first circle box, where Cranko used to sit, and where you cannot help but feel his spirit still resides alongside present director Tamas Detrich.

Remembering John Cranko
Matteo Miccini, Adhonay Soares da Silva, Elisa Badenes and Anna Osadcenko
in the choreographer’s Initials R.B.M.E.
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

After the interval, the poignant Requiem by Kenneth MacMillan, a close friend of Cranko, is a moving memorial to the man who died so tragically.

Created two year’s after Cranko’s death, it has an unusual modernist set in the form of tall lightboxes by Yolanda Sonnabend, who also designed the costumes, again modern, with a lot of white and blue-grey, and a wonderfully emotive score by Gabriel Fauré.

The choreography is built around three main individuals: a man in only a loin-cloth (Jason Reilly), and two women, one in a soft white dress (Elisa Badenes), the other in a one-piece bodystocking with a purple design (Anna Osadcenko). Around them, the ensemble dance must surely be among MacMillan’s most fluid, the corps acting as a dance chorus. It is all quite restrained, however. There are none of the grand gestures of Initials.

Stuttgart Ballet in Kenneth MacMillan’s Requiem
Foreground: Friedemann Vogel, Clemens Fröhlich, Anna Osadcenko,
Martí Fernández Paixà, Christopher Kunzelmann and Jason Reilly
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Led by Elisa Badenes in white, the opening Kyrie feels like everyone has gathered to mourn. But while Requiem is just that, and does remember, it is more than an elegy for the man the company lost. The group finds solace and support from each other. The music helps but the ballet comes with an underlying sense of hope, deliverance and what the company then still had to look forward to.

Reilly brought a vulnerability to his role dancing powerfully but economically. Badenes was ethereal. She often seemed to be airborne. Her being lifted by the whole cast before being turned and falling forwards like diving back to earth is one of many memorable moments. Her solo to the Pie Jesu was charming and innocent, a stark contrast to an earlier lamentation. Osadcenko was just as striking in her more earth-bound role, all elegance, fine and gracious. She was especially moving in the Agnus Dei.

Jason Reilly, Elisa Badenes and Ensemble in Kenneth MacMillan’s Requiem
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Remember Me is just another example of how Stuttgart Ballet has not forgotten Cranko, whose works remain an important part of its repertory. ‘Remember’ was also what some were doing upstairs in the first ring foyer where a book had been placed in which people could write their own personal thank you. Glancing through them made you realise just how important the choreographer remains in his adopted city.