Remembering Konstanze Vernon on the Occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of Her Death
21 January 2023 will be the tenth anniversary of Konstanze Vernon's death. The founding director of the Bavarian State Ballet, which became artistically independent with the 1990/1991 season, achieved something that cannot be remembered enough: It is thanks to Vernon's unbroken will and political assertiveness that, after tough negotiations, the ballet of the Bavarian State Opera finally became an internationally respected dance ensemble, the Bavarian State Ballet.
With the support of the then State Opera Director August Everding and other comrades-in-arms both inside and outside the theatre, Konstanze Vernon succeeded in developing a functioning organisational structure, being able to call her own rehearsal rooms in the ballet rehearsal house on Platzl her own and laying the foundation stone for what is still the company's profile today: an extraordinarily broad and varied repertoire. It succeeded in inviting dance-makers of distinction for new creations and guest engagements and in steadily increasing its reputation, not least due to the many guest performance tours.
In the run-up to the founding of the Bavarian State Ballet in 1989/90, which was officially completed in 1990/91, the debate about the future of the Munich ballet company was not only conducted internally but also in the media. In retrospect, one wonders how Konstanze Vernon managed to realise her vision against so much opposition and convince the opposition of her plans. Revealing in this regard is a transcript of a conversation from 1986 in the Main State Archives, which documents a meeting between her, the State Opera Director August Everding, the General Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera, Wolfgang Sawallisch, the dance critic Jochen Schmidt and representatives of the Ministry. Although Konstanze Vernon's contributions were rather brief and she mainly left the discussion to the other participants in the meeting, she was obviously recognised by all sides as an authority and treated with respect. She took a very clear position and stayed the course with her demands, for which she had obviously already gained support in advance. At the end of the meeting, she suggested a way forward on how to proceed with the issue and especially how to approach the media, which had already got wind of the plans. Her pragmatic comment to keep the very heated discussion going:
August Everding agreed with her: "Agreed. That everyone has given their point of view, even if it's controversial, that's quite interesting, and the talks will continue."
The recorded conversation may indicate the way in which the future ballet director managed to moderate the discourse about a future "Staatsballett". And a "moderating" attitude was bitterly needed in the charged atmosphere. After all, it was not only about the ballet as an artistically and structurally independent organisational unit. It was about the concept of culture itself, about positions of power, sovereignty of interpretation and spheres of influence. The term "state ballet" was the only thing that sparked heated discussions at that meeting. August Everding finally felt called upon to reassure General Music Director Wolfgang Sawallisch: This "pompous word state ballet" had only been invented "to have a name".
One would like to ask Konstanze Vernon today where she got the certainty and confidence that everything would turn out in her favour; whether she already had her future role as director clearly in mind; and what her experiences with the various (political) bodies were like - as a woman in a man's world at the end of the 1980s. As an educator, founder of the Heinz Bosl Foundation and director of the Munich Ballet Academy, she had already acquired leadership experience in various institutions. It can therefore be assumed that she had a very clear idea of the conditions that had to be in place to successfully lead a ballet company into the future. It is undisputed: The existence of the Bavarian State Ballet is to a very large extent due to her.
In the current 2022/23 season, there are two ballet productions that bear the signature of the director, who died ten years ago - and which stand for her skill in strategic and scheduling matters: on the one hand, John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream, with which she was able to bring an important Shakespeare adaptation by the Hamburg ballet director to Munich; and on the other hand, the ballet classic La Bayadère. This second production in particular was a major concern for her, as she was determined to bring out the German premiere of the ballet. She was not afraid to raise additional funds to cover the high set costs and to engage the French choreographer Patrice Bart and the Japanese costume and set designer Tomio Mohri.
These two ballets from Vernon's time have now been in the repertoire of the Bavarian State Ballet for over 20 years. And they still represent a very lively echo of that era, which is of significance for Munich's dance history that cannot be overestimated.
By Annette Baumann, Serge Honegger