THE BAYERISCHES STAATSBALLETT – FROM ITS ORIGINS TO TODAY
From the court festivals of the 16th century to the first ballet stars of the 19th century
If we look back over the surprisingly long history of ballet in Munich, we find, as in other major European cities, the tradition of court festivals in the French and Italian styles of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century, big names became shining highlights of the ballet world: Paul and Marie Taglioni, for example, appeared in Munich in 1825, when the National Theatre was reopened following a devastating fire.
King Ludwig I and the dancer Lola Montez
Lola Montez (actually Elisabeth Rosanna Gilbert) was a stage artist of Irish-Scottish descent. She travelled across Europe as a “Spanish dancer” and enjoyed enormous success with her programme. When she tarried in Munich for a while, the ageing King Ludwig I was so fascinated by her and her art that they began a tumultuous affair, which, no doubt, played a big part in his abdication during the crisis-shaken year of 1848. A year before, in 1847, Lola Montez had pushed through a production of Giselle at the National theatre. It was riddled with problems, as the performance was to start in the middle of August, when almost a third of the theatre’s staff were on holiday. This would still be problematic today, as in August, all Bayerisches Staatsballett and Bayerische Staatsoper employees enjoy their well-earned summer break.
Lucile Grahn as an influential ballet mistress in the world of ballet and Richard Wagner’s operas
The Giselle production was restaged to accommodate the guest performance of the famous dancer, Lucile Grahn. Ms Grahn made Munich her adopted home in 1869 and worked as a ballet mistress until 1875. Among others she rehearsed the ballets Sylvia and Coppélia and collaborated on the dance composition for Richard Wagner’s Rheingold, Tannhäuser and Meistersinger. During this time, the company and the ballet school formed an integral component of the royal, and then the state opera house. The dancers’ main task was to perform in the dance interludes and the “movement choirs” in operas.
The Prinzregententheater opens
As the Bayerische Staatsoper’s second venue after the National Theatre, the Prinzregententheater opened in 1901 as a festival theatre for role model performances. It continues to be used for performances to this day. The building is an arena theatre reproduced in the style of the Bayreuth Festival Theatre with exemplary art nouveau charm. It served as the main venue from 1944 until 1963, when the National Theatre reopened, after which it was used less frequently and only renovated in 1996 after a thirty-year deep sleep. Today it serves as the Bayerisches Staatsballett’s second venue.
Social radicalisation and war years
In the 1920s modernity was heavily represented on the programme with works by Béla Bartók (The Wooden Prince) and Igor Stravinsky (Petrushka) or ballets by Manuel de Falla. In public life, radical tendencies became increasingly perceptible during this period. On one hand, the inflation of 1923 resulted in demand for a strong leadership personality. On the other hand, the downward economic spiral became the argument for claiming the Jewish community had benefited from the crisis. While the democratic system was increasingly questioned in the 1930s, the nascent, radical National Socialists cast themselves as patrons of a music theatre culture that should follow the party doctrine. At the National Theatre, political convictions were reflected in the choice of works and the staffing policy. Following the seizure of power in 1933, rigorous measures were taken to rid the theatre of non-Arian performers and staff. Jewish visitors were ultimately barred completely from performances in 1938. Eventually, during an air raid in the night of 2 to 3 October 1943, the opera house on Max-Joseph-Platz was destroyed. However, already in 1945, the Bayerische Staatsoper began performing again, this time in the Prinzregententheater. In 1951, the ‘Friends of the Nationaltheater’ formed a citizens’ initiative to begin the National Theatre’s reconstruction. It was re-opened in 1963. To this day, the Friends of the National Theatre continue to support opera and ballet activities financially.
The history of Munich’s opera and ballet with regard to the Third Reich and the pre and post-war periods at the National Theatre were diligently reconstructed and are worth reading in: Wie man wird was man ist, Henschel Verlag.
Post-war years – Russian and English dance tradition
In the autumn of 1945, the new Director, Marcel Luitpart, got to work and began his direction by gathering the remaining ensemble members in a room in the middle of the bombed-out ruins under the roof of the National Theatre. Luitpart delivered a successful series of ballets, predominantly from the repertoire of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in his own adaptations. In June 1948, he also caused a serious theatre scandal with the world premiere of Werner Egk’s Abraxas in the Prinzregententheater. The culture minister of the day personally saw to the work’s removal after just five performances because of, “too much permissiveness”.
Ballet in Munich truly blossomed under Luitpart’s successor, Victor Gsovsky, who combined the Russian dance tradition with innovative choreographic trends of the young French dance scene. Gsovsky had previously worked at the Ballet des Champs-Elysées, among others, from whence he brought the ballerina Irène Skorik. She was not only a role model for an entire generation of dance students – she also represented the embodiment of a romantic-classical dance style for the audience. In the following years (1952 – 1954) Pia and Pino Mlakar led the ensemble, however, they were soon replaced by Alan Carter and his wife Joan Harris, who worked at the Staatsballett as a training mistress. Thus, the English school arrived in Munich. This balanced dance technique proved extremely beneficial to the dancer’s training, education and development.
New dance languages under the direction of Heinz Rosen
The newer dance languages of the 20th century recevied greater attention in Munich, when Heinz Rosen took over the direction of the Staatsoper’s ballet division in 1959. Rosen had been a student of Rudolf von Laban’s school of German expressive dance. He was lucky to have dance personalities of intensive creative power in the ensemble, such as Natascha Trofimova, Heino Hallhuber, Franz Baur or Walther Matthes, who could translate his ideas and instructions into dance. In the years that followed, Rosen brought more and more outstanding dancers to Munich, some as guests, some as permanent members. The engagement of Konstanze Vernon, a young principal from Berlin who had trained at the school of Tatjana Gsovsky, proved to be especially momentous. Over two decades later, this performer initiated the foundation of the Bayerisches Staatsballett as an independent division under the auspices of the Nationaltheater. Together with her long-standing stage partner Winfried Krisch, she debuted in Munich with Carl Orff’s Nänie und Dithyrambe during the Ballet Festival Week of 1963.
Introduction of the Ballet Festival Week and opening of the reconstructed National Theatre
With the introduction of the Ballet Festival Week, Heinz Rosen opened the doors to the international ballet world in 1960. He succeeded in bringing big ensembles and stars from major European and American cities to Munich. For the first Ballet Week, the American Aaron Copland appeared with a guest performance of the American Ballet Theatre showing a choreography (Rodeo) by Agnes de Mille. The ballet contributed two choreographies (Dance Panels in Seven Movements by Aaron Copland and Entrata-Nänie-Dithyrambe by Carl Orff) to the National Theatre’s reopening in 1963. In addition to this, the Bayerisches Staatsballett showed the world premiere of Triptychon, to symphonic music by Karl Amadeus Hartmann. The latter evoked ambivalent emotions among parts of the audience with regard to the atrocities of the Second World War and can be seen as courageous programming on Rosen’s part. All in all, the company’s style under Rosen’s direction is a typical representation of stage dance at that time: a mix of classical and modern dance with elements of expressive dance.
1960 – 1990: Formative stimuli from John Cranko
In the two decades between the Rosen era and the foundation of the Bayerisches Staatsballett lie a series of short-term directors. Especially important during that time werel the years when John Cranko, in addition to his work in Stuttgart, decided the fate of ballet in Munich (1968-1970). He brought with him three of his most beautiful narrative ballets, which had been produced in Stuttgart: Romeo and Juliet, Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew. His artistic influence continued during the time when his dance colleague from the Royal Ballet, Ronald Hynd, was director of the Staatsballett.. Many cherished the hope that Cranko would move his field of influence and activity entirely to Munich. Although this hope was not fulfilled, he had a major influence on the company’s style. To this very day, Cranko’s three great narrative ballets, Romeo and Juliet, Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew, are an indispensable part of the Bayerisches Staatsballett’s repertoire. Directors such as Dieter Gackstetter or the ballerina Lynn Seymour also set important accents. Gackstetter, for example, gained Jerome Robbins for his first work with a German ballet company. And Lynn Seymour brought Bournonville’s jewel, La Sylphide, to the stage. The development of Youri Vámos, for many yearsone of Europe’s most important choreographers, began under Director Edmund Gleede. Stefan Erler brought David Bintley to Germany for the first time. In the mid-1970s, a dance couple worked in Munich, which would return to the company more than two decades later as director and ballet mistress – Ivan Liška and Colleen Scott.
Konstanze Vernon and the foundation of the Bayerisches Staatsballett for the 1990/1991 season
In the 70s and 80s it became increasingly evident that the company would have to be re-structured in order to be able to stay abreast of ballet’s international development and the increased dance requirements caused by new choreographic languages. The driving force in this period was Konstanze Vernon, an icon in the 60s and 70s, not just in the Bavarian ballet scene. For Vernon, it was clear: Ballet in the state capital only had a future if it opened itself up to new forms of expression as well as taking responsibility for its own artistic creativity. The necessary resources for these developments had yet to be created: the Staatsballett had to become its own organisational and financial entity. Thanks to her political instinct, Vernon managed to convince the responsible politicians to set up an artistically and budgetarily independent ballet directorate and to create new rehearsal spaces. She had presented the model before, suggesting the conversion of the opera-ballet school into a state ballet academy, in close cooperation with the Heinz Bosl Foundation for ballet she had established. In February 1989, the Cabinet finally decided to establish the Bayerisches Staatsballett at the beginning of the 1990-91 season. Konstanze Vernon used the 1989-90 season as a preparatory year during which the company was already being called “Bayerisches Staatsballett. The Bayerisches Staatsballett has been an independent artistic entity since September 1990. From a cultural and political standpoint, this represented an important transition to a separate and artistically autonomous division under the auspices of the National Theatre. Since 1991, the Bayerisches Staatsballett has also had training and rehearsal room at the Ballettprobenhaus at Platzl 7 in the heart of Munich’s old town, close to the National Theatre. The new independence resulted in an immense boost in quality, which meant coveted choreographers such as Hans van Manen, John Neumeier, Jiřì Kylián, Mats Ek, Ohad Naharin, Lucinda Childs, Twyla Tharp and Angelin Preljocaj came to Munich for new productions.
Pronounced expansion of the repertoire under Ivan Liška’s direction (1998 – 2016)
Following Konstanze Vernon’s time at the helm, Ivan Liška shaped the company’s renown from 1998 to 2016. Ivan Liška had been a formative principal at the Hamburg Ballet under John Neumeier before he assumed his position as Director of the Bayerisches Staatsballett after a year as Konstanze Vernon’s deputy. From 1998 to 2016, he built up a repertoire of more than seventy works ranging from classical to the avant-garde. Liška’s period as director brought productions by important choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, William Forsythe and Mats Ek, as well as the classical reconstructions of Raymonda, Le Corsaire and Paquita entrusted to dramaturgist Wolfgang Oberender. Pina Bausch’s Für die Kinder von gestern, heute und morgen was a highlight towards the end of Liška’s period in office. The educational work as part of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s ‘Campus Programme’ was also intensified and further expanded during this time thanks to the dedication of dramaturgist Bettina Wagner-Bergelt.
Foundation of Bayerisches Junior Ballett in 2010
In autumn 2010, the Bayerisches Staatsballett, the Heinz Bosl Foundation and the “Hochschule für Musik und Theater (University for Music and Drama)” in Munich established what is now the Bayerisches Junior Ballett Munich: a young ensemble consisting 16 members, of which eight are volunteers of the Staatsballett and eight are students at the Hochschule. With a scholarship from the Heinz Bosl Foundation, they complete a two-year training course, dance regularly in repertoire performances of the Bayerisches Staatsballett and go on tour with their own productions.
Igor Zelensky as Director – 2016 to April 2022
In August 2016, Igor Zelensky took over as the third director since the Bayerisches Staatsballett was founded in 1990-91. Zelensky studied at the Institute of Ballet in Tiflis and at the Waganowa Institute in St. Petersburg. In 1988, he made his debut at the Mariinsky Theatre and was promptly entrusted with the main roles of the classic repertoire. For many years, he was the undisputed star among the male principals at the Mariinsky Ballet, then the Kirov Ballet. Since his first appearance with the Bayerisches Staatsballett as part of the Terpsichore Gala I in October 1999, he has been a regular guest in Munich. In addition to maintaining the Bayerisches Staatsballett’s wide-ranging repertoire, Igor Zelensky has brought the works of internationally coveted choreographers such as Sharon Eyal, Yuri Grigorovich, Wayne McGregor, Christian Spuck and Christopher Wheeldon to Munich. Another important aspect for him is to offer a platform to younger choreographers, such as Andrey Kaydanovskiy, Philippe Kratz, Edward Liang or Liam Scarlett. At the beginning of the 2020-21 season, Andrey Kaydanovskiy was named the Bayerisches Staatsballett’s resident choreographer, and in spring 2021, he produced his first full-length ballet, The Blizzard, for the Munich company. In this last season 2021/22 Zelensky put on Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella and the triple bill evening Passages including works by David Dawson, Marco Goecke and Alexei Ratmansky.
On 5 May 2022, Laurent Hilaire was announced as forth director of the Bayerisches Staatsballett, starting his contract on 9 May 2022.