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Staatsballett Berlin, Deutsche Oper and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin

Posted on September 23, 2010

Schneewittchen – Das Flammende Herz

The Staatsballett Berlin opened its 2009-10 season with two works –  Angelin Preljocaj’s Schneewittchen (Snow White) at the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin and Patrice Bart’s Das Flammende Herz (The Blazing Heart) at the Staatsoper Unter Den Linden. The whole enterprise is under the leadership of Vladimir Malakhov, who happily still finds time to perform. His philosophy is in “…preserving tradition while visualising the present”.

The Deutsche Oper has, over the years, presented epics by Kenneth MacMillan and other works such as Valery Panov’s The Idiot. The post-war opera house, with its vast stage combined with up-to-date technical facilities, has always lent itself for this purpose, while the elegant Staatsoper has, in the past, remained within the classical repertoire. This has now changed under Malakhov’s direction, and a variety of dance styles are performed at both theatres.

Preljocaj brought his version of Snow White to Berlin, which is presented within the creepy style of a Brothers Grimm tale. Preljocaj produced his post-modern style of jagged and twisted movements to good effect whilst using some tender moments between the heroine and those who love her. The young Japanese dancer Shoko Nakamura, a prize-winner at the Prix de Lausanne competition a few years ago, was amazing. She portrayed Snow White as young, sweet and sexy, and was helped, no doubt, by Jean Paul Gaultier’s wonderful costumes. She was supported by a very strong cast, most notably by Beatrice Knop as the Wicked Stepmother, who danced almost as Carabosse dressed in black stockings and a basque. She could have come straight out of Hamburg’s red-light district. The seven dwarfs, trained by circus trapeze artists, appeared as miners, emerging from caves at the back of the stage, dropping from great heights, twisting and turning – a real coup de théâtre.

Preljocaj’s choice of some of Mahler’s most dense and difficult symphonic music with electronic additions supplied by 79D was possibly a mistake. However, the production was well worth the visit.

Just why a French choreographer should decide to mount a ballet about Percy Bysshe Shelley, that most English of English poets, on a German company is a mystery. The poet was full of passion, not only for his socialistic aspirations whilst studying at Oxford, but also for his early marriage and many affairs. He entered into a second marriage with the famous Mary (of Dr Frankenstein fame), but drowned during a raging storm off the Italian coast at the tragically early age of 30.

Bart’s view of Regency England is coloured by Jane Austen and features some well brought up families as well as lots of pretty young women in pastel coloured, high-waisted dresses, all anxiously awaiting marriage.

This stage picture changes when Shelley meets bad boy Lord Byron and his coterie of mistress and courtesans in dissolute Venice. Pastel shades give way to masculine flamboyance, scarlet feathers and much lower necklines for the ladies.

The sets are simple, as if drawn with images of black and white crosshatched engravings and silhouettes in mind. Mendelssohn’s score is played by the orchestra and the dancing is graceful. Shelley, danced by the good-looking, fair-haired Mikhail Kaniskin, is joined in duets by Shoko Nakamura as an astonishingly passionate Mary.

The whole production is reminiscent of Wedgwood porcelain and Italian cameos. It is almost as if Pushkin and Eugene Onegin were expected for tea. What is surprising and admirable is that by experiencing Bart’s production, we are left with a greater insight into the relationship between the personalities of this section of the Romantic Movement.

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