Stuttgart Ballet Channels the Past, Present and Future

December 29, 2023

The studio is abuzz with creative energy on a Friday afternoon at Stuttgart Ballet. Following the previous night’s triple-bill performance, which featured new works by up-and-coming choreographers Vittoria Girelli, Samantha Lynch, and Morgann Runacre-Temple, dancers are immersed in rehearsals for multiple programs: the return of Edward Clug’s The Nutcracker, and world premieres by David Dawson and Roman Novitzky. “Promoting new choreography is what propels the company forward,” says artistic director Tamas Detrich. He’s not kidding; William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, John Neumeier, Uwe Scholz, Marco Goecke, Christian Spuck, and Demis Volpi are just a handful of artists who choreographed their earliest work while dancers with Stuttgart Ballet. They are proof of the company’s open creative channel moving between the past, present, and future.

During a performance of the ballet Onegin, Friedemann Vogel kneels on the ground and rests his head despairingly on the skirt of Elisa Badenes. He wears a black jacket with tails, black tights and black ballet slippers. Badenes looks down at him, her arms at her side. She wears a brown dress with a long, full skirt and puffed, off-the-shoulder sleeves. Her hair is worn in a Romantic-style bun.
Friedemann Vogel and Elisa Badenes in John Cranko’s Onegin. Photo courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

While innovation drives Stuttgart Ballet, heart really sets it apart. When company founder John Cranko first came to the German city of Stuttgart in 1961, he established a repertoire of dramatic story ballets and symphonic neoclassical works of his own, and fostered work by new choreographers. Above all, he was known for caring deeply about the artistic growth of Stuttgart’s dancers. After his sudden death in 1973, subsequent artistic directors, including Glen Tetley, Marcia Haydée, and Reid Anderson,worked to carry the company forward.

Detrich arrived at the affiliated John Cranko School as a 17-year-old student from New York in 1976. He was hired into Stuttgart Ballet in 1977 and was impressed by the creative stimulation and care the company offered. “I learned to never say no to an opportunity,” he says. (Early on, Jiří Kylián cast Detrich in the premiere of Forgotten Land as the youngest of three couples, portraying the innocence of youth.) Detrich’s trajectory of nearly 50 years, from dancer (rising to principal), then ballet master, and eventually artistic director, says the most about Stuttgart Ballet’s appeal: “Why would I leave what I have here?” he asks.

Mackenzie Brown, wearing socks and a patterned high-neck leotard in multiple hues of blue, perches on demi-pointe on bent legs and leans back as Martino Semenzato holds her by the back of the neck. He wears blue pants and squats in a low second position, looking towards Brown. They dance in front of a blue backdrop.
Martino Semenzato and Mackenzie Brown in Vittoria Girelli’s Sospesi. Photo by Roman Novitzky, courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

Today, Detrich feels a deep responsibility to give back to the company’s dancers. “I’m trying to pass on knowledge I received to a new generation,” he says. “I’m here for them, not for me.” Since the company enjoys generous state funding and an enthusiastic audience, filling seats doesn’t have to be Detrich’s main incentive for choosing the season’s repertoire. Still, selecting work that challenges and showcases today’s dancers is a balancing act: “It’s a puzzle,” he says. “The classical repertoire is essential to maintain the company’s standard and push dancers technically. But new choreography sparks dancers’ curiosity. You need both.” Upcoming highlights this season are the mixed bill Shades of Blue and White (Makarova/Forsythe/Scholz) and Swan Lake (Cranko)—classical counterpoints to the innovative works currently in progress.

Principal dancer Mackenzie Brown, a Virginia native who joined the company in 2020 from the Princess Grace Academy in Monte Carlo, was drawn to Stuttgart Ballet’s family atmosphere and mix of classical and contemporary choreography. In preparation for her recent debut as Juliet in Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet, she was inspired by her coaches’ unflinching trust in her. “The experience reminded me to be true to myself, both as a dancer and a person,” she says. “If you’re not, you can’t thrive in your work environment.”

Jsaon Reilly, wearing a brown loincloth, stands onstage on his right foot and leans his head into his right hand. He flexes his left hand and rests it agains his left hip, and stretches his left leg out in parallel.
Jason Reilly in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Requiem. Photo by Roman Novitzky, courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

In general, the company chooses dancers from the Cranko School’s graduating class (Brown is an exception). The resulting ensemble is cohesive and mutually supportive of each other. Take principal Jason Reilly, from Toronto, who joined the company in 1997. Like Detrich, he’s spent his entire career in Stuttgart. “In the beginning, I had to earn a way to the top: take corrections, learn the story, stay humble,” he says. Alongside performing, he teaches body conditioning at the John Cranko School and helps students prepare, physically and mentally, for company life.“I tell students that if you get tired of cross-training, remember this: All the major pas de deux in Cranko’s ballets are 12 minutes long. If you can’t go for that long, you’ve got to keep working,” he says. At 44, and named 2023’s dancer of the year by Germany’s Tanz magazine, Reilly’s career is proof that the work pays off.

Work ethic, experimentation, and exploration are how Stuttgart’s dancers develop their artistry. Detrich signs off on this: “Our dancers are everything. They can show the future— show the world—where Stuttgart is going.”

Stuttgart Ballet at a Glance

Number of dancers: 69, including 5 apprentices

Length of contract: Contracts run a full 12 months, though dancers receive 6 weeks of paid summer vacation. Dancers are paid a monthly salary for 12.72 months per year, so they receive an extra .72 month of salary

Union: The Genossenschaft Deutscher Bühnen-Angehöriger, Germany’s AGMA equivalent

Performances per season: Approximately 90 in Stuttgart; up to 8 more on tour

Programs per season: 8–10 (full lengths and triple bills), as well as occasional galas and special events


Audition Advice

The company rarely holds auditions, and generally hires from the John Cranko School’s graduating class. The school awards scholarships at international competitions, such as Youth America Grand Prix and Prix de Lausanne. Since becoming director, Detrich has increased the number of apprentices substantially (there are 5 at present, but often up to 8). He looks for personality and drive in new dancers. “I’m not interested in dancers who just do steps. I want to see where the steps are coming from,” he says. A final tip: Don’t wear sweatpants or other warm-ups to an audition. “I need to see the instrument,” he says.