VIENNA–The Vienna State Ballet’s first premiere under new director Manuel Legris was a breath of fresh air Sunday at the sumptuous Staatsoper, although it was clear that more work needs to be done.
Under the title “Juwelen der Neuen Welt” (Jewels of the New World), the evening was dedicated to American dance, with choreographies by George Balanchine, William Forsythe and Twyla Tharp. A mix of classic and contemporary, with bright costumes set against simple backdrops, the evening was a sharp change from the conventional productions of “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” seen in recent years.
Twyla Tharp’s lyrical “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” featured some wonderful pas de deux. Set against that, Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” was more energetic and sharp, with male soloists Masayu Kimoto and Denys Cherevychko offering two of the best performances of the evening.
The evening ended on a high note with Balanchine’s dramatic and equally playful “Rubies,” assisted by Igor Zapravdin on the piano.
Ketevan Papava was captivating from her first attitude, while Maria Yakovleva proved she deserved her recent nomination as first solo dancer — a newly created position at the Vienna ballet, equivalent to the Paris Opera “etoile” or the American “principal.” Ironically, the only choreography not performed for the first time at the Vienna State Opera — Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” — was the least polished. Only Olga Esina, also recently named first solo dancer, shone truly in her bejewelled peach tutu.
Throughout the evening, several glitches and technical mistakes showed the Vienna Ballet still has some way to go to equal such ensembles as the Paris Opera or American Ballet Theatre.
But Sunday’s premiere showed promise and garnered long applause and ovations from the public. Costumes by couturier Christian Lacroix (Theme and Variations) and sleek lines with bold monochromes also provided stunning visuals. The newly-renamed Vienna State Ballet — formerly the Vienna State Opera ballet, now also incorporating the Volksoper (Popular Opera) ensemble — has a busy season ahead, with no less than five premieres and one world premiere: “Marie Antoinette” by German-born choreographer Patrick de Bana, on Nov. 20. Manuel Legris, who took over as ballet director on Sept. 1, has said he hopes to raise the ballet’s profile, and international tours are already planned.