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Stuttgart Ballet

By Horst Koegler

Stuttgart Ballet

Hamlet
Stuttgart Grosses Haus, Germany
October 3, 2008
Reviewed by Horst Koegler
 

Photo: The Stuttgart Ballet.

Alicia Amatriain as Ophelia and

Evan McKie as Laertes in

Kevin O'Day's Hamlet.

 

If Stuttgart had hoped to crown its Shakespearean repertory—Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew, and Neumeier’s Othello—with Kevin O’Day’s new Hamlet, then their hopes were dashed. Enthusiasm sounded somewhat muted when the curtain came down after the second act. Though the dancers performed as if doped by some speed drug, the result reduced Shakespeare’s tragedy to the level of  a soap opera.


Designed by Tatyana von Walsum, the set looked like an ossified morgue where funeral rites were held, while the squeaking noises from the outside traffic shattered the prevailing silence. Dimly lit by Mark Stanley, the succession of scenes resembled a patchwork of  episodes rather than a drama propelled by an unstoppable drive. Much of the dancing, to an original score by John King, was quite exciting in that virtuosic global classical-modern style. But apart from Hamlet, characters were recognizable only if one knew of their role in the play and hardly by their motivating actions, let alone by individual character traits.


Things tightened up during the second act, which started with a giant mambo party. A company of dancers replaced Shakespeare’s troupe of actors, with Hyo-Jung Kang and Alexis Oliveira performing the mouse-trap charade in disco manner. Later on, the entanglements between characters— Gertrude as the mother of Hamlet (the warm-hearted, dominating Bridget Breiner); King Claudius (the lecherous Jirí Jelinek);  the befuddled Polonius (Laurent Gilbaud); the straightforward Laertes (Evan McKie); and the faithful Horatio (Alexander Jones)—got rather inextricable, until the final fight developed with real dash and swagger.


It seems a pity, though, that O’Day, artistic director and chief choreographer of Mannheim Ballet, cast Ophelia and Hamlet against their nature. The Canadian Jason Reilly, Stuttgart’s dangerously frightening Othello, is much too explosive a dancer to dig deeply into the soul of  the ever-hesitating Hamlet. Dancing with untamed vigour, his confusion seemed rather fake. And Alicia Amatriain—pretending to be a frail, vulnerable, and tender Ophelia—appeared ready to explode from her strictly corseted movements and let her elemental instincts reign free.


With Sébastien Galtier and Mikhail Soloviev performing Rosencrantz and  Guildenstern like buskers from some vaudeville show, and Arman Zazyan rhythmically drumming a skull, Stuttgart again demonstrated the superiority of its male contingent. But with all the violent and frantic outbursts of movement in the solo and ensemble scenes, the overall choreography appeared like a fountain suffering from hiccups. One longed for a choreographer able to distill Shakespeare’s immortal verses into a rigorous pattern.