Former dancers strapped on pointe shoes they hadn't worn for years. Audience favourites, unbeknownst to Reid Anderson, flew in from as far away as Chile and Australia to perform. Choreographers nurtured by the company (Kylián, Neumeier, Forsythe, Bigonzetti) were represented. The Stuttgart Ballet knows how to throw a party, and for this gala, billed as Anderson's "Surprise 60th birthday party", they outdid themselves. For almost a year, Stuttgart's dancers and choreographers had been creating and rehearsing in their lunch hours and evenings, if need be stopping on a dime to disguise what they were doing if Anderson walked by. And, from the moment the irrepressible Márcia Haydée broke into an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday, the surprises never stopped coming, for without a printed program, only surtitles announced the work and the performers before each of the 20 pieces started, a circumstance that certainly added to the audience's excitement and anticipation.
Resident Choreographer Christian Spuck's knack for creating entertaining gala pieces alongside his more serious works was once again confirmed by his goofy Ständchen ("Serenade", definitely not to be confused with George Balanchine's work of the same name) in which the bumbling trio of Stefan Stewart, Roland Havlica, and Alexander Zaitsev, outfitted in metal conical birthday hats and bedevilled by coughs, sneezes and many other bodily noises, endeavoured to get their act together so as to sing "Happy Birthday". Another favourite Spuck gala piece, the spoof classical Grand Pas de Deux, brought former principal Julia Krämer out of retirement and reunited her with Jason Reilly, a red handbag, and a stuffed cow.
Reilly, due to join the National Ballet of Canada in the fall of 2009, was much in evidence, replacing an injured Evan McKie at short notice in company principal Douglas Lee's creation Fanfare LX, which exploited Alicia Amatriain's more than 180-degree extensions and plastic fluidity to the full. In Legende, a pas de deux perfectly suited to the beautifully lyrical Sue Jin Kang, Cranko's trademark high lifts, executed one-handedly and apparently effortlessly by Reilly, brought spontaneous gasps and applause from the audience.
Kang was reunited with Robert Tewsley in the exquisite white pas de deux from John Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, danced with the tenderness, passion, elegance, and musicality that made theirs such a special partnership while Tewsley, now a freelancer, was in Stuttgart.
In contrast, a recurring theme was lust on a couch. In Itzik Galili's The Sofa, former company dancer Eric Gauthier, now director of his own Stuttgart-based company, is at first the would-be seducer of Lisa May and then has the tables (or in this case the sofa) turned on him as he is stalked by the hilariously camp William Moragas. Hans van Manen's equally funny but somewhat more bittersweet take on the theme, Sunday, saw Haydée, as an ageing housewife with curlers, down-at-heel slippers and knitting (but still proving by the mere arch of an eyebrow what a consummate dance actress she is), rejecting the advances of another Stuttgart Ballet legend, Egon Madsen, in pyjama bottoms and an undershirt. The fact that Haydée and Madsen had created the roles danced in the immediately preceding number by Kang and Tewsley only added to the poignancy.
Fun, beauty, emotion, lyricism, explosive energy, creative new choreography, a wealth of talented dancers too numerous to mention, a charming défilé by the students of the John Cranko School culminating in a cleverly choreographed representation of the letters HAPPY BIRTHDAY REID. Proof positive that Reid Anderson has been keeping the spirit as well as the repertoire of John Cranko alive. By the end of the almost 5-hour long evening, the Stuttgart audience, whose extraordinary appreciation and support for their beloved company should not be overlooked as part of the Stuttgart miracle, felt like children who had gorged themselves on a friend's birthday cake.