”Queen of Spades”
Royal 0anish Ballet
The Old Stage
April 14 2017
Liam Scarlett and the Royal Danish Ballet creates a dramatic ballet, that by its form, choreography and outstanding design points towards a new area for story based ballets.
One of the strongest cards for a big scale company is the dramatic three act full evening ballet, preferably to a Tchaikovsky score. If the plot cannot be Shakespeare, it should be a story from the Great Russian literature.
However, following the great masters of the three-rigged ballets have proved to be a very difficult journey. Especially, it has been very difficult to locate composers that can deliver a strong dramatic score. When John Cranko created ”Onegin”, he and his musical cooperator, Kurt-Heintz Stoltze decided not to tamper with Tchaikovsky’s score for the opera, instead Stoltze created a ballet score based on other Tchaikovsky compositions.
Liam Scarlett has chosen a similar strategy for his creation “Queen of Spades” for Royal Danish Ballet.
31-year-old Liam Scarlett has been one of the in-house choreographers at the British Royal Ballet. For the RB project, all in-house choreographer’s are bound to create a full evening ballet. This demand have resulted in ballets like Wayne McGregor´s “Woolf´s Works”, several contributions by Christopher Wheeldon, and “Frankenstein” by Liam Scarlett. This specific demand has given Royal Ballet, what any big companies craves, big scale ballets that can combine lots of meaty roles and draw in the big audience.
Regarding Royal Danish Ballet, there have also been many attempts to get big scale ballets choreographed on the company. It makes a lot of reason as the RDB dancers are known for their strong acting skills. There has been a significant number of works created on the company, including a Hamlet ballet by John Neumeier etc. Probably the best attempt has been “Anna Karenina” by Alexei Ratmansky; still it has not had a rerun.
Signing Liam Scarlett for the job, proved to be a very good decision, and RDB now have a high quality ballet with a strong audience draw and many roles for their stars. However, “Queen of Spades” are more than this.
The Second Card
The British designer Jon Morrell has created outstanding décor and costume design. The costumes are lavish and simple at the same time. There are less than ten décor items in use. Some may be very grand, others very simple.
At the scene taking place at the officers barrack, the room changes completely from a canteen to a dorm, simply by stacking the tables two by two.
The bigger elements changes from being ceilings to walls. It is very cleverly done. It create atmosphere and spaces for the Dancers. It may probably be the best set design for ballet since Jürgen Rose´s outstanding design for Neumeier´s “Romeo & Juliet” from 1973.
Most importantly, it creates space for the dancers at the right atmosphere for the plot, wherever it is going. Within this frame, Scarlett can take his dancers everywhere he needs, without waiting for new set pieces.
With this year’s repertoire, including “Swan Lake”, Raymonda” and the “Nutcracker”, the RDB dancers have practically not been out of their Spanish, Exotic and Hungarian costumes.
It is such a relief that Liam Scarlett has chosen to create a divertissements free ballet. It also help the narrative along.
Yes, there are big dance numbers, especially the beautiful Ashton-like ballroom ensemble in Act 2. There is also several strong masculine numbers for the army lads. However, the best choreography is saved for the leading dancers.
There are only eight names roles in the production and the first cast is filled from the top of the company.
The gambling Countess, who is supposed to be 87, is danced by the vertical Principal Kizzy Matiakis, who can handle everything from Odette/Odile to the red queen in “Alice”. Even though she wears big crinolines and heavy makeup, she managed to get her character shine.
Soloist Jon Axel Fransson create the role as Tomskij, a multicaracter, who is the good friend of leading character, Hermann, grandchild to the duchess and second love interest to, Liza, the young heroine. The dramatically gifted Fransson, who could also have been a good choice for the leading role, created a strong and likable character.
Principal Ida Praetorius dance the role of Liza, who is in love with Herman, and whom he uses to gain access to the countess house, in another heartbreaking role.
Ida Praetorius is the wonderful combination of a romantic ingénue and a powerhouse. Reviewers and audience celebrate her partnership with Andreas Kaas, who dances the leading role of Hermann. Although her role in “Queen of Spades” is significally smaller than her usual employ, she files the character, betrayed by the gambler, Hermann, with feeling, love and heartbreak.
From a Jack to a King
There is one, and only one big role in the production and that is the role of the gambling mad young officer, Hermann, danced at the premiere by Soloist Andreas Kaas. It is a marathon role, practically on stage 90% of the time. Kaas brings all his skills and personality to the role. He is utterly convincing, whether he is playing the young, naïve officer, the possessed gambler or the lunatic.
His Hermann is touching, vile, loving and desperate. A role that demands everything you can ask from a dancer.
In this season and last season, Kaas has danced the leading roles in practically every production with aplomb. He have guested as James in “La Sylphide” at Mariinsky ballet etc.
If creating a marathon role like Hermann, on top of his other outstanding work does not validate a promotion to the highest level, I cannot identify what does. Nikolaj Hübbe has made two promotions to principals earlier this season to dancers, who even though older than Andreas Kaas, has a significantly shorter and less impressive resume.
At present RDB has three of their leading male stars dancing abroad. Both on the male and female wings, there are a big majority of older dancers in both the Principal and Soloist categories. Dancers like Andreas Kaas and Jon Axel Fransson has proven their value in a high number of roles.
Please reward them as deserved.
Photos by Henrik Stenberg Copyright(c) Royal Danish Ballet
- Andreas Kaas as Hermann
- KIzzy Matiakis as the Countess and Jon Axel Fransson as Tomskij
- Andreas Kaas & Ida Praetorius as Hermann & Liza