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Koblenz Ballet: Anthony Taylor’s Stalin Dances

Germany has always been one of the greatest countries for European art forms and counts a number of excellent ballet companies. As a matter of fact, every big city has its own ballet company and Koblenz, with its 100,000 inhabitants, is one of them.

Aram Chatschaturjan, Trio für Klarinette, Violine und Klavier (1932), Ensemble. Foto: Matthias Baus, Koblenz

Aram Chatschaturjan, Trio für Klarinette, Violine und Klavier (1932), Ensemble. Foto: Matthias Baus, Koblenz

The choreographer, Anthony Taylor, a very sensitive and cultivated person, is currently presenting his newest creation, Stalin Dances, at the Koblenz Theater

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. A singular title, whose apparent hardness actually conceals a very emotional, sweet and beautiful ballet, is exquisitely interpreted by talented dancers.

As Victor Hugo said, “music expresses what cannot be said and what cannot be hidden”
. That is what Anthony Taylor wanted to develop with his ballet, showing the audience the atmosphere expressed by the music composed during the Stalin’s regime. That is why he chose wonderful pieces composed by Aram Chatschaturjan, Dimitri Schostakowitsch, Alexander Tsfasman and Sergei Prokofjev, who were composers living in the USSR during the communist regime. “I was fascinated by the fact that, because of Stalin, these soviet composers composed perhaps a little differently than other composers, but they still managed to make unbelievable music despite the limitations they had”, he explains.

Dimitri Schostakowitsch, Streichquartett Nr. 8 c-Moll Op 
. 110, Iskra Stoyanova, Rory Stead, Asuka Inoue, Yao-Yi Hsu. Foto Matthias Baus, Theater Koblenz.

Dimitri Schostakowitsch, Streichquartett Nr. 8 c-Moll Op. 110, Iskra Stoyanova, Rory Stead, Asuka Inoue, Yao-Yi Hsu
. Foto Matthias Baus, Theater Koblenz.

There are four Soviet composers and four scenarios in this ballet. First, Soviet Russian peasants working in the fields are depicted, followed by some richer people, in a more melancholic mood, in the second part. In the third part, the ballerinas leave their pointe shoes for Tango dance shoes and interpret a dance full of passion and tension, but not without humor, under the amused look of “the little father of the people”. This part of the choreography reveals, perhaps even the most clearly, the mood that reigned during the Stalin regime, a mood of tension, betrayals and hypocrisy, where everyone had to show his love for the leader, but felt, in fact, nothing but fear. The fourth and final part takes place in a Gulag where the people are shown being antagonistic toward the farmers of the first part, who seemed much more carefree.

There is a lot of emotion in this ballet and the audience’s feelings are constantly being torn between carefree happiness and melancholic tension as they are swept along by the music. Add to this an original idea: the stage turns, creating an effect of fluidity and languidness. The musicians, seated on stage, turn, around the dancers, like the melody, sometimes behind them and sometimes in front of them, with their backs to the audience. This technique creates a lot of interesting impressions, but must also be difficult for the dancers to deal with. Anthony Taylor succeeds in making us feel a lot of emotions with his great instinct in using pas de deux and pas de trois, where the ballerinas always have a very important and beautiful role, and can show their solid classical technique, perhaps putting the men at a disadvantage as they are left a little too much in the background.

During the 29th seasons since Anthony Taylor arrived in Koblenz in 1981, he has created no less than one hundred ballets. In ten years, he has succeeded in attracting the Koblenz citizens to this unique art and developing their awareness of what they are listening to, so that they can actually see the music. With Stalin Dances, Anthony Taylor knew that he was dealing with a very particular period of Germany’s history, when the separation between East and West caused a lot of suffering.
But, this ballet is less about Stalin than about the emotions expressed by the music and, according to him, “it’s important that history does not keep the audience from listening to the music”. This is a ballet of high quality, created by a great choreographer such as we would like to see in many other companies.

by Christophe de Jouvancourt


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