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Ed Waffle

Stuttgart Ballet1-16-2000

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Stuttgart Ballet at the Detroit Opera House, 1/16/2000

With the North American International Auto Show in town, it was fitting that the ballet company from the headquarters city of DaimlerChrysler would come to town.

There were four works on this program, all danced to recorded music:

“Kazimir’s Colours”

Choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, to “Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Orchestra” by Dimitri Shostakovitch

“Kleines Requiem”

Choreographed by Hans van Manen to “Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka, Opus 66, by Henryk Gorecki.

“Solo”, also by van Manen, to “Partita No. 1 for violin” by J. S. Bach

“Initials R.B.M.E.”

Choreographed by John Cranko, to “Piano Concerto No. 2 in b-flat major, Opus 83” by Johannes Brahms.

The magic moment this afternoon came at the very beginning of the fourth piece, the Brahms. The b-flat major concerto, of course, is one of the best known of the big post-Classical works for piano and orchestra—and for all its familiarity, may be one of the most difficult. The recording that Stuttgart used sounded like the way I first heard it years ago. Chords crashing, tempos all over the place, Brahms as a tortured Romantic.

After the understated opening of the first movement, the pianist enters before the orchestral exposition is complete, but then the orchestra reasserts itself and states the main themes alone. During the first piano solo a lone male dancer had the stage, and as the orchestra begins again the Stuttgart ensemble enters with it. It was a perfect visual manifestation of what we were hearing.

Cranko must have been a very self-confident even hubristic artist. Taking on a masterpiece the size and complexity of this concerto is the mark of a choreographer who knew what he wanted. In the notes the ballet is described as “A ballet for friends Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil, Marcia Haydee and Egon Masden…” Each of the movememts of concerto was for one of the friends. Soloist Bridget Breiner was transcendent in the third movement, matching the lyricism of the movement which is highlighted by a cello solo and a quiet interlude between piano and clarinet.

Each movement had a wet-on wet painted backdrop in natural shapes-- leaves, branches-- that was effective without drawing attention away from the dancers. The same designs were repeated in the costumes.

The first work on the program, according to the notes, was “inspired by the paintings of the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich and the music of Dimitri Shostakovitch…in Bigonzetti’s fast paced and witty choreography.”

An odd pairing, indeed. Malevitch was a Supremacist painter who asserted that the reality in art is the sensational effect of color itself. He wrote that “The object itself is meaningless and the ideas of the conscious mind are worthless. Feeling is the decisive factor and thus art arrives at non-objective representation—at supremacism. Like the Italian Futurists and (even more so) the Surrealists, Malevitch and others like him wrote as much about art as they created, often eager to dialectally define themselves by showing that the were the opposite of what they were not—in this case “representational” artists.

Shostakovitch, on the other hand, was one of the most programmatic of composers. While music can much more easily be absolute than can painting, many of his works represented Russian (or Soviet) history. Shostakovitch, himself, of course can be seen as a vile collaborator, a misunderstood genius or brave defender of freedom. Or all three.

Malevitch’s work is often based on the square and colors off-primary; the costumes were colorblock in reflection of this. Structurally, they were longish boxer trunks and short sleeved shirts – until the shirts were removed, first by lead dancers hidden in a group, then by the ensemble. The men then danced barechested, the women in jogbras.

The second movement, Romantic and lyrical was danced beautifully by Roberta Fernandes, a soloist. She has a wonderful expressiveness and made the slow, languorous and controlled movements seem effortless.

This is an excellent company. I would love to see their “Eugene Onegin”. The will be at City Center in a few days, followed by stands in Minneapolis, St. Louis and Orange County.

Further information can be gotten at their web site:


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Estelle and list:

Regarding the two Manen pieces done by Ballet Stuttgart while in Detroit recently:

The “Klienes Requiem”, to music by Gorecki I found so unremarkable that I am unable to remember anything about it—my wife was much more taken with it and I will ask her to post a response. One problem was that the score was so derivative (of other works by Gorecki). It sounded like an uneasy amalgam of his Third Symphony, which was the big “classical” hit of the mid-90s and also of his Concerto for Piano and Strings. While there is a long and noble tradition of composers reusing ideas or even entire sections of works—Rossini, Handel, etc.—in Gorecki’s case it seems to be more a paucity of invention than the demands of the musical marketplace.

The program notes say only that it is “one of van Manen’s masterpieces, offering economy of movement and clean lines of exquisite beauty and a touch of humor—the hallmarks of van Manen’s style.”

“Solo, the other Manen work, is described as “a fast paced, eight-minute work created by three men—a relay race of intricate footwork and lightning fast changes of direction.

To this viewer, it looked like three guys running around while listening to Bach. I did discover that eight minutes is about as long I care to watch a ballet with no ballerinas on stage.

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