ISomehow the ballet world hardly finds answers to the pressing question of how to counteract the loss of importance of this art. Few choreographers share the task of creating new pieces for the famous big and better than ever dancing opera house ballet companies: Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, David Dawson and Crystal Pite and a few others. Developing aesthetic positions of the power and uniqueness that previous generations had been able to do seems beyond the realm of possibility. It is singular works that interrupt the flow of what is to be expected and remind us how unique and irreplaceable physical expression of our perception of the world is. The awareness of this only seems to be alive in an audience that attends dance performances anyway.
A two-year break has done its part. Above all, the – what should you call them – more intellectual positions have a hard time. Trajal Harrell, Kyle Abraham, Adam Linder, Sarah Michelson, Michael Laub and Pam Tanowitz are among them, the ones whose performances are not to be missed. Some choreographers have completely lost sight of the scene, although they must be counted among their greatest talents – such as Amanda Miller or Nasser Martin-Gousset.
Excited debates instead of concrete measures
And as if these difficulties weren’t serious enough, one of the greatest changes in the ballet world in recent decades – Alexei Ratmansky’s notation-based, sensitive reconstructions of the great nineteenth-century classics – has received insufficient recognition. Instead, the number of choreographers who turn to surprisingly old material from narrative ballets is growing. There seems to be a lack of ideas, authors or dramaturges to develop one’s own contemporary material.
Secondary scenes take up the most space in public perception. Discussions about how to get more black girls to become ballerinas, how to improve the perception and treatment of different bodies, races and ages should have long since turned into manifestos, commitments and programs. It would be so much more important to take concrete action on these questions than to get bogged down in considering whether Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and in particular the compositions “Chinese Tea” and “Arabic Coffee” are rightly suspected of being pejorative in the corresponding dances reproduce stereotypes. Isn’t it rather the case in The Nutcracker that the incriminated passages show toys that have come to life, that is, implement an old childhood fantasy? They are not supposed to show how the Chinese supposedly dance, but how one could imagine puppets dancing if they came to life.
Like rice cakes without the salt
In Stuttgart, the Romanian choreographer Edward Clug, who directs the ballet in the Slovenian city of Maribor, which has a population of 100,000, dared to create a new version of “The Nutcracker”. As a result, the performance illustrates the problems described. The most beautiful thing about her is the design by Jürgen Rose. The eighty-five-year-old was John Cranko’s costume and stage designer for his worldwide success “Onegin” and other famous ballets such as “Romeo and Juliet” or “Swan Lake”. Also for John Neumeier’s “Illusions like Swan Lake” Rose designed the impressive stage set and other major narrative ballets in Hamburg.
On the Stuttgart stage, too, one of Jürgen Rose’s paintings is more beautiful than the next. Clug has changed the story: now there are dancing walnut tree spirits and a forest queen, butterflies, a pair of squirrels on lace, a cute dragon, many ballet children as beetles like from “Peterchens Mondfahrt” and two incredibly funny camels who are in the “Arabian Dance ‘ making fun of the cancel culture. Clug’s directing of the first act’s plot is enchantingly realistic, charming and utterly unaffected.
Only the dancing animals and toys that have come to life as dancers save the second act. Because Clug’s best idea was to get Rose’s cooperation. Because sugar is so harmful, it says in the program booklet, the realm of sweets, including the sugar fairy, has been eliminated. Hard to believe, but comforted by Rose’s beauty and ingenuity. It can’t be a coincidence that his huge walnuts, into one of which the nutcracker retreats with his Clara at the end, sometimes shimmer so chocolate brown. Only all the sweetness of the original choreography is missing. Clug’s dances are like rice cakes without the salt.