The decadence of the Bavarian State Ballet, led by Ivan Liska as artistic director, can be seen not only in the pink velvet handrails, pink velvet chairs and huge chandelier suspended above the stalls but also onstage from the very first act; Fokine's 'Shéhérazade'. One recalls tales of "One Thousand and One Nights" as dancers reenact a Persian love story of betrayal, jealousy and murder. The explosive colour onstage almost distracts us from the sensuous melodies of Rimski-Korsakow and the floating costumes brought to life by 30 ballerinas. One can imagine the original piece, performed in Munich in 1912, to have been very different to the athletic movement now performed for a sold-out audience. Today's piece, reconstructed by the choreographer's granddaughter, sees Lucia Lacarra and Lukas Slavick dance the roles of the star-crossed lovers with mechanic movements that are only softened by the luxurious costumes that drape over their solid limbs.
The next act, Nijinska's 'Les Biches', is like a refreshing breeze after the autumnal oranges and reds seen onstage for Shéhérazade'. With a clear nod to the 1920s, 'Les Biches' sees flocks of young girls giggle and dance to sassy Poulenc melodies who himself described the piece as a "contemporary drawing room party suffused with an atmosphere of wantonness, which you sense if you are corrupted, but of which an innocent-minded girl would not be conscious." The tempo picks up when the boys parade around stage in what almost looks like spray-on blue shorts and a quick head-count confirms that the girls outnumber the boys 4-1. Lisa-Marie Cullum dances the Hostess with a coy flirtation expressed by a subtle toying of pearls around her delicate neck and the long cigarette holder in her right hand. The elegance is further emphasizes by the pattering of ballerinas on point and the sharpness of the men's double turns. Wonderful.
The last act, Tchaikovsky's "Once upon an Ever After" is again very different from its predecessors thanks to Terence Kohler's new-age choreography. He thinks big and has over 30 dancers dance through the entire symphony of 45 minutes telling a story made up of six fairytale scenes titled 'Eternity', 'The Broken Heart', 'Phantoms of the Night', 'The Awakening', 'The Unavoidable Waltz' and 'Symphonic Classicism', The last scene, 'The Eternal Swan', makes a round trip in the finale back to the beginning of 'Eternity'.
The use of costume, space and light installations is incredible as the stage is lit-up with stars, fluorescent flowers and crystals dangling in long chains from the ceiling. The dancers begin androgynously dressed in green later to evolve and flourish, some dancing in full ballet tutus and others in dark grey dresses floating around their legs as they spin. As the piece speeds up we come to 'The Eternal Swan' a sudden slowing of the music as our focus is on the Dying Swan of Lacarra and the return to the androgynous dancers lying on the floor. As is customary, the best was saved for last and it left me with a cathartic sense of regret for the Swan, the 1920's girls chasing boys who were unobtainable and for Shéhérazade who couldn't bear to live without her lover. I will certainly be frequenting the Staatsballett more often.
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