First and last chance

After this weekend, Taipei won’t catch the Berlin State Ballet company again in its current form

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 - Page 12

The Staatsballett Berlin’s (Berlin State Ballet) performances at the National Theater this week offer Taipei audiences a chance to see a classical company that is equally at home with neo-classical and modern works. While the troupe opens their Taipei stay tonight with Mauro Bigonzetti’s Caravaggio (see Dancing with the Statts, June 8), the two “Star Gala” shows on Saturday will really give the principals and soloists a chance to shine.

Artistic director and principal dancer Vladimir Malakhov told a press conference on Tuesday that he chose the mixed program to show his dancers in the best the company has to offer.

“It is like when you go to the most expensive restaurant and are offered a little bit of caviar, some lobster — you get a sample of the best it has,” he said.

Staatsballett Berlin has exclusive rights to several of the works it’s staging, he said, adding: “When you bring the company for the first time, it must be special.”

The program is a mix of group pieces, pas de deux and solos, including Barocco, choreographed by Renato Zanella; Ronald Savkovic’s Transparente; Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc; Lacrimosa by Gyula Pandi; a duet from Maurice Bejart’s Ring um den Ring and the pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixiote.

The company also brought along, contrary to my previous story, a few swans. The mixed program opens with Act II of Swan Lake, largely to give the corps de ballet something to do.

“I must use the corp de ballet, they are not just here for holiday,” Malakhov said.

However, the second swan piece on the program is not your usual The Dying Swan. Most people associate the name with the solo choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokines for Anna Pavlova, set to a cello solo by Camille Saint-Saens from his The Carnival of Animals. The solo became Pavlova’s trademark and her swan’s quivering, faltering movements have influenced scores of famous ballerinas ever since.

No matter how graceful, it is hard to picture a man in the role (though the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo do a wonderful parody). Malakhov says his performance will be a surprise.

“Dying Swan is a completely different interpretation done by a young choreographer and friend of mine. It’s bare feet, shorts and [done] in a square. It’s about body language and feeling,” Malakhov said.

The mixed program closes with one of Malakhov’s creations, The Four Seasons, set to music from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera I Vespri Siciliani.

“Verdi created such great music … beautiful music for ballets … This piece you can take out and use as a divertissement. It is very nice to show the whole company, all the boys and girls,” he said.

There are some familiar couples among the dancers for those who have attended the International Ballet Stars galas that Art Wave, founded by dancer Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨) and her husband, Chat Tzongue (謝宗益), have staged since 2007 (the company also organized the Staatsballett Berlin visit).

Husband and wife Mikhail Kaniskin, here in 2007 and 2009, and Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, here in 2009, will perform Fanfare LX, which choreographer Douglas Lee created for them, as well as a duet from Bigonzetti’s Kazimir’s Colours, which they performed brilliantly in the 2009 show.

Shoko Nakamura was here in 2008, while husband Wieslaw Dudek was here in 2007 and Iana Salenko danced in 2010, as well as in the first gala in 2007 with husband Marian Walter.

Having so many couples in the company has helped foster the family feeling that Malakhov spoke about at the press conference. However, that family may be breaking up next year.

While Malakhov is focused on the company’s upcoming 10th anniversary season in Berlin, with premieres of five new ballets, he announced earlier this year he will step down at the end of the season. He said the government has decided it wants the company to become more modern, as opposed to the classical-contemporary repertoire he has built.

“It will be tough,” he said of his final year with the company.

The 45-year-old Malakhov, who began dancing at age four, was reticent about his future plans, saying he could not tell anything to the press “until contracts are signed.”

So the four performances at the National Theater will be Taipei audiences’ first chance to see the Staatsballett Berlin — and their last chance to see it in its current form.