The Stuttgart Ballet - one of the world's most distinctive troupes and the only classical ballet company of international stature in continental Europe - appears to have an unlimited capacity for regeneration. The company's first visit to Kennedy Center in 1973 (a 1971 engagement at Wolf Trap preceded it) had a tragic sequel - the unexpected death of founder-director John Cranko on the flight back to Germany. Cranko, the distinguished choreographer who made story ballets respectable again in modern repetories, had not only provided the great bulk of dance works for the troupe, but was also its spiritual mainstay. His loss seemed an almost insupportable blow to company morale, as well as an enormous creative deprivation.
Yet, two years later the company again appeared at Kennedy Center Opera House, this time under the direction of the American eclectic, Glen Tetley, and the phoenix seemed completely, reborn. The dancing was still brilliant, and the repertory took on a new accent with the infusion of Tetley's modern dance background, manifest in such works as his "Arena," Daphnis and Chloe," and "Voluntaries," the last a tribute to Cranko.
Now the Stuttgart Ballet is about to begin its third, longest and most diversified engagment at Kennedy Center, and it appears before us in still another reconstitution. After Tetley's resignation last year, the held was assumed by ballerina Marcia Haydee, who was and remains the comapny's most celebrated dancer. It was Haydee for whom Cranko created his most illustrious dramatic roles, in such ballets as "Romeo and Juliet," "Eugene Onegin," "The Taming of the Shrew," and "Intials R.B.M.E." So the company comes to us with a new director, who is at the same time one of its star performers, and it arrives, too, with a fresh, particularly promising list of novelties and staples.
Most ambitious among the works new to Washington is a full-length version of "Sleeping Beauty," staged by Rosella Hightower to the Tchaikovsky score and based on the chareography of Bronizlava Nijinska. It was Nijinska, sister of the famed Vaclav Nijinsky and a choreographer of genius in her own right, who had mounted the first complete "Sleeping Beauty" outside Russia, for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1921. Hightower, in 1960, danced Aurora in the same ballet as produced by the Marquis de Cuevas' Ballet International, also choreographed by Nijinsky. In effect, then, the current Stuttgart production affords a rare contact with an earlier tradition no longer preserved elsewhere. The settings, by the way, were designed by Desmond Heeley, who - as Washingtonians may recall - also created the strikingly plush decor for the Australian Ballet's recent version of "The Merry Widow," in which Margot Fonteyn appeared in the title role at Kennedy Center.
Also new to Washington will be Kenneth MacMillan's "Requiem," set to the Requiem Mass by Gabriel Faure and widely hailed as one of MacMillan's most inspired ballets. MacMillan, director of England's Royal Ballet, always seems to rise to greater heights when working with musical scores of particular girth and challenge, as his setting of Mahler's "Song of the Earth" confirms. "Requiem," like Tetley's "Voluntaries," is dedicated to Cranko's memory.
Still another unfamiliar ballet will be "Daphne," choreographed by William Forsythe to Dvorak's Sixth Symphony and premiered in March in Stuttgart. Forsythe, a New York native, was invited by Cranko to join the Stuttgart Ballet during its U.S. tour of 1973, and previously created a work, "Urlicht," which was adopted by the company earlier this year. Marcia Haydee commissioned "Daphne," which features her in the title role and Richard Cragun as Apollo.
In addition to the full-length "Eugene Onegin," "Romeo and Juliet," and "Taming of the Shrew," the programs for the company's three-week visit will also include Tetley's "Voluntaries," and three other Cranko ballet: "Opus One," choreographed in 1965 to Webern's "Passacaglia"; "Jeu de Cartes," created the same year to Stravinsky's score of the same name, and subtitled "A Ballet in Three Deals"; and Initials R.B.M.E.," set to the Brahms B-Flat Piano Concerto and cranko's own tribute to his favorite dancers - Richard Cragun, Birgit Keil, Marcia Haydee and Egon Madsen.
"Eugene Onegin" will be the opening night offering Tuesday, with Cragun as Onegin, Madsen as Lensky, and Haydee as Tatiana. Immediately after the Washington engagement, the company will move on to New York's Metropolitan Opera for two weeks, initiating the innovative arrangement between the Met and Kennedy Center under which the two institutions will jointly sponsor tours of major troupes in both cities and other centers across the nation.