This is the new German ballet

February 25, 2018 by norman lebrecht


photo: Regina Brocke

It’s not funny, it’s not provocative, it’s not even offensive.

It’s from the Theaterhaus Stuttgart premiere of a work by the Israeli choreographer Nadav Zelner.


Comments (14)

  1. Angela says:

    To be honest, it’s very funny. What’s the intention of a post like this – take a single picture from a production and judge the whole thing without having seen it? We’ve had stranger things in German ballet, much stranger things 🙂

    1. Alexander Hall says:

      Not just in the world of ballet. German opera houses have been full of such instances of puerile (mostly male) supposed iconoclasts giving way to every whim of their immature minds. I recall in the 1970s a production in Kassel where all the Valkyries rode around the stage in their motor-scooters discharging their blood-curdling cries above the din and fumes. It wouldn’t be allowed today, of course – the Green Party would see to that, not to mention the Health & Safety dictatorship that rules cultural life in the UK.

  2. Christopher Culver says:

    In Ancient Greek comedy, male actors would walk around with exaggerated phalluses attached. Old is new again.

  3. Granville Cooper says:

    Aristophanes comedy “Lysistrata” comes to mind. But if you want gratuitous nudity go no further than Bayreuth where Katharina Wagner had a naked man pulled out of a pile of earth to “illuminate” Beckmesser’s prize song in her production of die Meistersinger. And the grotesque embryo like apparition, with mature genitals fully exposed, which was revealed when the (painfully large) swan’s egg was rotated as Lohengrin introduces the restored Duke Gottfried of Brabant at the end of Hans Neuenfels’ production. From memory, I seem to recall that Peter Hall had a bevy of naked young men for die Walküren to carry off to Walhalla in his Ring cycle.

  4. Sharon says:

    Ballet in general is all about sex and largely about objectifying bodies. This is why interest in it surged in the early swingin’ seventies. The groin guards (I forget the name) for male “modesty” in ballet just emphasize the groin area and probably make dancing more difficult when an extra piece of cloth, (as what used to be done in Russia) would provide more modesty. Of course ballet emphasizes female legs which in the nineteenth century were considered so sexy one would not even use the name; legs were called limbs. And what about the ballet “Petit Mort” that was so popular a couple of years ago and was a staple of the mainly conservative American Ballet Theater and Hubbard Street theater where intercourse was simulated on stage? And what do you think accounted for the popularity of Rudolf Nureyev?
    I remember reading in the biography of Erik Bruhn who was considered the greatest classical dancer of the mid twentieth century who said that he was initially brought to the United States as a young man unknown as a dancer outside of Denmark, unbeknownst to him, sponsored by a guy who wanted Bruhn to become his twink. The guy was unsuccessful (although Bruhn spent an off season in his home) but Bruhn was angry with the then head of the American Ballet Theater, Lucia Chase for pimping him out until he found out that she believed that he and the guy were already involved.

  5. Nick2 says:

    I recall a visit of the Netherlands Dans Theater to Sadlers Wells Theatre in the early 1970s where the first nude ballet was being performed. Clearly someone objected for within minutes of the curtains opening, they closed again. No-one in the audience was quite sure why but it was obvious there were lights on behind the curtain and quite a nit of movement. Eventually someone from the administrative staff came in front of the curtain to say the performance had to be stopped as someone had thrown itching powder on to the stage! The performance eventually continued.

    It reminds me of the oft-quoted remark of Sir Robert Helpmann. He was against men dancing nude because, he claimed, part of the male anatomy would not stop when the music did.

  6. Angela says:

    Oh my, what a heap of prejudice against ballet.

    So to clear this up: in Nadav Zelner’s ballet “Bullshit” at Theaterhaus Stuttgart, the 16 men and women wear the same costumes, depicting a symbolic vulva with an abstract penis in it, to show that everybody in this tribe on stage is the same, that there are no differences between the sexes. If it works or not, well, let’s leave that to the audience. It’s a funny, rather harmless and naive work of ballet which aims to show that happiness and love are the most important things in life, with a very fast, colourful, original choreography. The audiences cheer it.

    And I still think it’s wrong to take one single picture and use it for scandal without having seen the context of the whole evening.

    1. Paul says:

      Why insist on context when outrage or ridicule are so much easier achieved without it?

  7. Oresta Cybriwsky says:

    The title of thus article portrays a heap of prejudice against contemporary German a time where humanity should unite and raise the vibration culturally rather than separate us! Yes, opinions are allowed, criticism is allowed..but stop polarizing and generalizing.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      The point is, of course, that distasteful and entirely unnecessary sexual sensationalist elements in the theatre merely distract from the work. Ballet is, in its better forms, the sublimation of the human form into something more elevated and sophisticated than farm animal pursuits. The expression of bodily movements is not enhanced by such utterly banal displays, but is greatly diminished. Where choreographers no longer have artistic ideas, they scrape the bottom of the barrel and sell it as ‘progressive’ and ‘groundbreaking’. But in reality it is puerile, unsophisticated, primitive. That such silly trends are particularly ‘popular’ in Germany, has historic reasons: the more frivolous and decadent and quasi-groundbreaking productions are, the more the illusion that the ‘brown period’ has been left behind. And it has been going-on for half a century. For some people, it’s still ‘Stunde null’.

  8. Uga says:

    If a person who writes this blog wasn`t so ignorant about cultural events outside English, German or French speaking countries he would have noticed that Latvian National opera has staged Stravinskys` opera Rake`s Progress with a lots of nudity and intimate details (pictures here –

    BTW really excellent production.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      These countries want to ‘modernize’ and are under the impression that the more ridiculous and embarrassing, the more ‘modern’. It is a kind of reliving the sixties they never had – for them it’s new and exciting, but in the West it is embarrassing, nostalgic stuff invented by old hippies.

      1. Uga says:

        Oh, this is nice one – “Haven`t seen, but I have an opinion”. Anyway – greetings from „these countries” (whatever you understand by that).

  9. barry guerrero says:

    I’m a long ways from being an old prude, but this photo simply doesn’t strike me as being funny. I guess you had to be there.

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