“But there is no Mayerling without a Rudolf. Friedemann Vogel, one of the world’s finest male dancers, took on this mammoth role, the first of three Stuttgart Crown Princes. It now stands as a considerable achievement in his artistic maturity, such was the intelligence he brought to this complex and many-layered part. His Crown Prince was just that, a young man brought up to be Emperor, and his off-hand arrogance was portrayed with perhaps greater clarity than any other interpreter your critic has seen. Vogel cuts a handsome, elegant, noble figure and approaches the choreography with his usual purity of movement which makes his descent over the course of the ballet all the more tragic – some Rudolfs appear damaged and vulnerable from the start, but Vogel makes him almost dislikable and certainly the violence and casual humiliation of his bride Stephanie on their wedding night were uncomfortable to watch – this prince is not only used but relishes pushing his women around. He is a hugely strong partner, easily possessing the stamina to execute all seven major duets, yet still showing with care the way his character dances and acts differently with each of five women. Vogel charts Rudolf’s decay and disintegration with alarming verisimilitude, his drug taking produces blanks stares and zombie-like movement, his syphilis-induced blinding head-pain is sudden as it is shocking. Vogel will, no doubt, deepen his interpretation further, but it was, on first night, already the real deal, a performance to cherish.”
A “Swan Lake” in Stockholm, a ballet festival in Tokyo, a gala with the prima ballerina Olga Smirnova in Moscow, a premiere in a new Dior costume in Rome and soon “Giselle” with Polina Semionova in Zürich: a look at Friedemann Vogel’s schedule on his website is enough to recognise that he is a global player in his art form.
Friedemann Vogel is the Jonas Kaufmann of the ballet world, someone recently pointed out to explain the status of the superstar amongst the principal dancers in Stuttgart. The dancer, who takes time for an interview between two rehearsals and sacrifices his lunch break for it, doesn’t object to the comparison, even if it implies ballet remaining in opera’s shadow. “The important thing is that another audience can get an idea of what ballet is all about and that this facilities access to ballet”, says Friedemann Vogel.
Advertising for ballet? In Stuttgart, where Friedemann Vogel has now been engaged for twenty seasons and appointed as “Kammertänzer”, it seems hardly necessary. And yet the dancer often slips into the role of ambassador for his beautiful and fleeting art, despite his high workload. The fact that he steps in front of the camera for fashion magazines like “Vogue” or “Harper’s Bazaar” and presents Haute Couture in an unusual way has nothing to do with the fact that he wants to show his well-trained body on another stage.
“If there are requests from fashion magazines, I make a commitment depending on whether an interview will be published with the photos”, says Friedemann Vogel. “Ballet and Fashion are closely linked. And it’s a good thing to present an art form for another audience and to promote ballet.” Furthermore, working with photographers is a lot of fun for him. “These are very talented artists with great visions”, he knows what fashion photographers appreciate about dancers: “Models know how to look good, which always leads to similar poses. But dancers can also convey emotions. I am very interested in capturing feelings through photography.”
Just how well Friedemann Vogel’s ballet promoting mission works is evident in the collaboration with his colleague Roman Novitzky. An image from the “Swan Lake" that shows Friedemann Vogel as a ballet prophet dancing over water became an internet sensation. Now the two of them have a new Stuttgart photo to show: Friedemann Vogel captured in a jump in front of a panorama of the city, for a moment, the principal dancer seems to defy the law of gravity.
It’s hard to believe that someone like him still has dream roles that he has not yet interpreted. High on Friedemann Vogel’s wish list is Crown Prince Rudolf in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet “Mayerling”. He has received many invitations from other companies to perform this role, but the time was never right. When one came from Moscow last year, he turned it down at the request of the new Stuttgart Ballet artistic director; Tamas Detrich, who wanted Friedemann to make his debut in the role when he brought this full length production to Stuttgart.
Rehearsals are now in full swing , with the premiere on 18th of May. The dancer describes the new role as a great challenge, “both physically and mentally”. “There are many pas de deux and variations; Rudolf is non-stop on stage”, says Friedemann Vogel. He finds the embodiment of the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, who dies with his beloved, devastating, “because it is always only about depression and conflicts. There’s never a moment when he is happy and free to dance”.
The intense personality of Rudolf follows him home in the evening, Friedemann Vogel says. “The difficultly is finding yourself in this character. As a dancer, who can only communicate with the body, one must not pretend, but must actually embody a role. With Rudolf, it really gets under my skin”, notes Friedemann Vogel, who comprehends it this way: “Rudolf is someone who was abused as a child. He is military trained and educated to continue the monarchy. He is an artistically inclined. His despair, his madness is a response to an education that is not at all compatible for his character”, says Vogel, suggesting this where this ballet could be topical. It’s difficult material. “But the Stuttgart audience, which readily engages with issues, is certainly ready for such a piece”, says Friedemann Vogel. And as he speaks, you feel a deep connection. “This is my home and a part of me”, adds the Stuttgart native. “I am incredibly happy here, the Stuttgart Ballet is my base and gives me a stop”. But it is also clear to the superstar that without the experience of many performances as guest artist, he would have never made it to the top. “I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it, if I only stayed in one place”, he said.
Does the dancer, who celebrates his 40th birthday this year, think about the end of his active career? “Through injury, it can happen any time”, Vogel responded thoughtfully. But actually he feels in better shape than at the beginning of his career. “As a young dancer, you need time, until you have found yourself and the knowledge about your body”. Passing on his experiences to the next generation could be a field of work for the future.
The world of fashion and costumes, which he explored in collaboration with his partner Thomas Lempertz, is not a perspective for him personally. “This was a trip, but nothing that would fulfil me”, Friedemann Vogel realised. “Only dance gives me fulfilment”, he says, “I want to be faithful to it. It’s been with me since I can remember, and it will always be a part of me”. How, this will certainly reveal itself for someone like him.
Translation courtesy of Carla Böhm
“You will be completely absorbed in what happens when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time... And who better to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet than Friedemann Vogel and Alicia Amatriain” Stuttgarter-Nachrichten
The Stuttgart Ballet étoiles will reprise their critically acclaimed roles as the world’s most famous star-crossed lovers in John Cranko’s production this week, on 6, 8 & 9 December at the Stuttgart Ballet.