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Wiener Staatsoper Repertory

»›Symphony in Three Movements‹ is one of Balanchine’s trademark black-and-white ballets – practice costumes, contemporary music, and angular movement – except that this one is black, white, and pink (to be precise, three shades of pink).« Nancy Goldner

»In ›Sinfonie Nr. 15‹ I want to let music and dance meet in essence, creating a powerful ballet.« Martin Schläpfer


Three masters of contemporary ballet in a triple bill: »Symphony in Three Movements« is a perfect example of Balanchine’s elegant virtuosity, Alexei Ratmansky sheds new light on the forms of classical ballet with great naturalness and Martin Schläpfer gains his energies, imaginations, and movement impulses from Shostakovich’s last Symphony No 15 for a new creation for Vienna State Ballet.

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»I allowed myself to introduce into it my own personal touch of madness, but it conceals a deeper meaning which I only discovered when I finished composing it: in the short anecdotes I have outlined, there are no victors. Whether they move up or down, they all try to do something extraordinary, but they are all defeated by circumstances which inevitably bring them back to earth.« Jerome Robbins about »The Concert«


An American neoclassical dance celebration! With »Glass Pieces« Jerome Robbins created a ballet driven by the energies of urban life; in contrast, »The Concert« is a crazy sequence of mishaps and slapstick-style numbers. And in the center two intimate chamber pieces, finely nuanced dialogues between dance and music.

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»Cranko’s pieces are extremely theatrical, highly musical and always hit the heart.« Reid Anderson


Restless dandy recognizes his great love too late. Torn letters. Destroyed lives. With his adaptation of Pushkin’s verse novel, John Cranko created a masterpiece of narrative ballet. The score combines various works by Piotr I. Tchaikovsky, but not a single bar from his opera »Eugene Onegin« is heard.

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»In the region of Sillein, there is a folk belief that the souls of brides who have died after their engagement do not enjoy rest, but are forced to wander around at night, where they hold round dances and sing eerie songs to the new moon. If they catch sight of a man, he must dance with them until he dies.« Therese von Ardtner: Der Willi-Tanz (Vienna 1822)


The romantic ballet with its fascination for fairies, elves, sylphs and other ghostly creatures, embodied by ballerinas in tender tutus and floating on pointe, found its climax in »Giselle« – to be experienced with the Vienna State Ballet in a version created for Vienna in 1993 by Elena Tschernischova: »The subject is a stroke of luck for the theatre: full of natural life and a mysterious transcendent world. Love, loyalty, death, betrayal, everything that moves humanity is here«, says the choreographer.

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»The main character of the ballet is the prince, not the swan. ›Swan Lake‹ is the dream of the ideal woman, the attempt to conflate the ideal with reality, which ultimately leads to disaster.« Rudolf Nureyev


For Piotr I. Tchaikovsky, the Moscow premiere of his »Swan Lake« in 1877 turned out to be a disastrous failure. It was not until 1895, two years after the composer’s death, that Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov created the St. Petersburg production that made the sad story of Prince Siegfried, who falls in love with the swan lady »Odette«, but breaks his vow of faithfulness through deceit, the most famous ballet of all time and served as the base for Rudolf Nureyev’s 1964 Vienna ballet.

What dance tells us: A shattering emotion called love

by Andrea Amort

The dance dramas »Giselle«, »Swan Lake« and »Onegin« enrich the repertoire in Martin Schläpfer’s second season. (…) Three major dance tragedies, each bursting dramatically with unfulfilled desires in their own different styles. In none of these three full-length ballets is the fantasy of an enduring passionate relationship actually achieved. Such outcomes cannot be summoned by magic and certainly not created by force. Each of the fates that are lived out with intense theatricality disabuse both women and men of such notions – albeit clearly viewed through the perspective of male interpretation. An awareness of status can be found here along with direct deception, vanity, jealousy, the hope of female forgiveness and rescuing angels as well as dimensions of human impotence in the face of the shattering emotion called love.

These timeless emotions are presented on stage in traditional Viennese productions through images that are steeped in history and introduced, fuelled and conveyed by music. »Swan Lake« (Pjotr I. Tchaikovsky) was premiered in the version by Rudolf Nureyev in 1964, »Giselle« (Adolphe Adam) by Elena Tschernischova followed in 1993, and »Onegin« (Pjotr I. Tchaikovsky / Kurt-Heinz Stolze) in the version by John Cranko from Stuttgart Ballet joined the repertoire in 2006. In their conception, dramaturgy and the way the dancing is directed, as well as their use of the musical score which in each case becomes synonymous with the stage work, they affirm their connection with the history of choreography and staging that dates from the 19th century: academic dance, character dance, acting based on models that are arranged in clear-curt scenes arranged into several acts, usually relying on the atmospheric effects of large homogenous ensemble scenes.

The passion of a Giselle, an Albrecht, an Odette, a Siegfried, a Tatjana, an Onegin can be felt by contemporary audiences when a delight in performance, which sometimes owes more to specific ballet miming or whole-body expression in dance, unfolds on an individual level in harmony with the music. Without doubt Cranko’s choreographic signature is closer to a psychological interpretation of his characters on multiple levels than characterisations that are deliberately based on influential precedents, such as those employed by Elena Tschernischova in her »Giselle«. In his Vienna production of »Swan Lake« Rudolf Nureyev, just 25 at the time, went far beyond using Russian-Soviet set pieces and cast Siegfried as something of an existential lone wolf who, in a painful duo with Odette in the lyrical fourth act, also bids farewell to his presumption in attempting to win her.

Nevertheless, many a drastic plot point from the heyday of classical narrative ballet in the 19th century seems to have been a memorable pretext to create thrilling virtuoso dances. For all the fashion of contemporising classics: what would »Giselle« be without the mad scene in Act One and without the ethereal-magical entrance from the grave? What would »Swan Lake« be without the white duets and solos of its protagonists, without the conspiratorial »Black Swan pas de deux«, without the effect of the huge swan ensembles?

The power of (classical) dance to attain maximum expression and impression in articulating so much without following a linear libretto but in following choreographic and musical intentions, presents an abundance in itself. In this sense dance that is filled with intent, however »plotless« it may be, always tells us about itself, about moods and movement, about people, about the human condition.

We will see presently how much the current gender debate will influence and change how large traditional stages approach classic ballets. Now state ballets discuss international issues such as diversity, body positivity and white-facing. Changes in socio-political reality repeatedly puncture tightly wrapped ideals: classical dance is in a state of (constant) transition.

The complete version of this essay can be found in our season book 2021/22.

Translated from German by David Tushingham

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»It was important for me to show the process of what happens to a person while they are dancing. Even if it is very simple movements and gestures – hair, arm, hand, feet – the audience can never be that close not even with opera glasses. That is only possible with the camera.« Hans van Manen

»A divinely cheerful and deeply sad melody goes through the whole entirety, that you will only laugh and cry.« Gustav Mahler about his 4th Symphony


Hans van Manen’s video ballet »Live« is an icon of dance history: an intimate exploration of mechanisms of perception for a ballerina, a danseur noble, a cameraman and a pianist. Martin Schläpfer, on the other hand, was inspired by Mahler’s 4th Symphony to create a great dance world theatre about the desires and forlornness, dreams, and distortions of the modern human being.

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