Waltz and Ohman. Photo by Davids/David Dormer via the Berliner.

Big Changes at Bavarian State Ballet and Staatsballett Berlin

Big changes are afoot in Germany's ballet scene, including director and dancer turnovers at two of the country's high profile companies.

Staatsballett Berlin

At Staatsballett Berlin, artistic director Nacho Duato will leave at the end of his contract, which expires in 2019. Duato has served as the company's artistic director for the past two years, but it hasn't been smooth sailing. He's faced some harsh criticism, and Staatsballett dancers went on strike over wage disputes under his leadership.

Duato has three years to plan his next move before co-directors Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman take over in 2019. Öhman has directed the Royal Swedish Ballet since 2011. Waltz currently leads and choreographs her own contemporary troupe, Sasha Waltz and Guests. She will share her time between the two companies. It's unclear what steps the Royal Swedish Ballet will take when its director assumes executive and administrative responsibilities in Berlin. Waltz's role will be more studio-oriented. She will set one of her works on the company annually and create three world premieres.


Bavarian State Ballet

Meanwhile, in Munich, Igor Zelensky has begun his first season as artistic director of Bavarian State Ballet (Bayerisches Staatsballett). But the company looks a lot different than it did last season under his predecessor, Ivan Liška. That's because a whopping 29 dancers have left the company, including international stars Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino.

A statement released by the company in May declined to say whether the dancers left of their own volition or had been forced out by Zelensky. It's fair to speculate that new leadership and mass dancer exoduses have a cause and effect relationship. For now, we know that many of the departing dancers have careers ahead of them. Lacarra and Dino said in the statement, “We will follow exciting projects and offers, that will take our career to another level, and which will be announced by us briefly."

Bolstering the depleted Bavarian ranks are 10 new dancers, including a new husband-wife star couple who joined as principals: former Mariinsky dancers Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklyarov. Former Norwegian National Ballet principal Osiel Gouneo (a Cuban expatriate with Carlos Acosta-sized talent) has also entered the top rank. Sergei Polunin, who danced under Zelensky at Stanislavsky Ballet, is a new guest artist along with (romantic partner) Natalia Osipova and also Svetlana Zakharova. Unlike the two women, Polunin's guest status is listed as “permanent."

Such major changes inevitably prompt speculation. We'll be waiting for the dust to settle at the Bavarian State Ballet to see how the season progresses, and we look forward to watching how Staatsballett Berlin's dancers will take to Waltz's experimental choreography.

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