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Staatsballett Berlin encounters Stravinsky

Our correspondent Sabine Proll shares her impressions after attending the Stravinsky Ballet evening:

Staatsballett Berlin’s designated new Artistic Director Christian Spuck headlines his foreword to the new season 2023/24 with the words: «Rethinking Ballet and dance». The focus for next season is clearly on less classical, more neoclassical and contemporary dance.

As a bridge between the past and this promising new chapter for the company, Staatsballett Berlin presented the long awaited production of the Stravinsky Ballet evening.

First piece of the evening was Petrushka by Marco Goecke, created in 2016 for Ballet Zurich. Ballet lovers surely know the story behind, and Goecke certainly leans on the original story. However, his focus is more on the mental state of Petrushka alone, rather than on the fight between Petrushka and the Rival (as this role was called here) over the Ballerina. Goecke focuses on Petrushka’s outsider status.

Marco Goecke’s unique dance language is a «love-it-or-hate-it» art, in my opinion. I am always fascinated by his work, where «the story behind» is something that should not be forgotten, but put aside. How can he translate intense feelings? Via intense, weird, rapid, vibrating movements maybe, that is his way to work. Here in Petrushka, the fluttering movements play around the stage as a symbol for Petrushka’s happysad character. Alexandre Cagnat did an impressive job in the title role. At times, I even saw a kind of Charlie Chaplin movement. Maybe Goecke also had in mind that the original Petrushka in the Ballet Russe version, Vaslav Nijinsky, also had mental troubles and that his intention to develop a modern dance language was often misunderstood.

We saw a precise dancing by David Soares as the Rival, Alizee Sicre as the doll-like Ballerina and Federico Spallita as a very convincing charlatan, but the dancers impersonating other people on the vanity fair, except Petrushka didn’t make a big impact on me.

In the end, Petruhska loses his soul and returns to the stage as a ghost puppet, no longer able to communicate with feelings as a „person“. As a symbol, he rapidly opens and closes a wooden mouth. It was heartbreaking.

During the intermission, it was very interesting to see how the stage was prepared for Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring. The floor was covered with fresh turf from the North of Germany.

Then, the lights went down and… the Rite of Spring began.

I must admit I have difficulties to describe with words what I saw. The story is well-known, so I spare the details here. But HOW Pina Bausch brought this ancient rite on stage, is literally breathtaking, for dancers AND for the audience. A belief in the rite of spring, so deeply routed in the group that they follow this rite with all brutality, violence and dedication til death. I can just share the most impressive moments:

  • The group of women, trembling with fear to be the Chosen One (Clotilde Tran performed this role that evening).

  • The melting of bodies with the soil and thus with the spirit of earth.

  • The merciless dragging of the Chosen One across the stage.

  • Her giving-in, her dance, half conscious - half unconscious, till death.

It was disturbing, heartbreaking. Especially because this topic of violence against women is still so up-to-date (on several levels across the globe, of course) although the piece is almost 50 years old.

A standing ovation from the first curtain call is rare in Berlin. But there was no question, the audience jumped from their seats. Side note: this is an ensemble piece. The Chosen One has the final solo, sure, but I cannot say less about the other dancers, among them Polina Semionova (Principal) Alexei Orlenco, Arshak Galumyan (First Soloists). It really didn’t matter.

I left the theatre unable to speak or collect my thoughts, and walked a bit aimless, not in a direct route, back home.

It’s a masterpiece.

Christiane Theobald, the leaving interim AD, had worked for a long time to get the rights from the Pina Bausch foundation for this piece. I am beyond grateful that she eventually did it.

Sadly, and that’s really a very sad fact, both pieces are not part of the new season 2023/24.

All performances are sold out.

Videos: Staatsballett Berlin

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