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Review 2, 6-19: Weill Song
Something to Care About from Het
By Jill Cirasella
Copyright 2003 Jill Cirasella
AMSTERDAM -- Krzysztof
Pastor's 2001 "Kurt Weill," which the Het Nationale Ballet performs
through Sunday at the Het Muziektheater, is a stunner, both visually
and aurally. Though not about the life of the German-Jewish composer
who fled Germany in 1933 for Paris and then the US, it is aware
of his times and trajectory. The ballet, seen this past Saturday,
begins in Europe, keeps a close eye on Hitler, and ends in the United
Weill is best known
for his music for the theater, including the Bertolt Brecht collaboration
"Three-penny Opera," and for Hollywood. I expected "Kurt Weill"
to be something like Balanchine's Gershwin extravaganza "Who Cares?"
And there are similarities in structure... but not in mood. "Kurt
Weill" includes many of Weill's earlier and heavier German compositions,
so, unlike "Who Cares?" it is not frothy. And, unlike "Who Cares?"
it entertains for the entire evening. (Is it blasphemous to suggest
that "Who Cares?" is just a few minutes shy of tedious?)
"Kurt Weill" has no
set, but it uses moving projection screens to excellent effect.
Sometimes they show slides; sometimes they show films; and sometimes
they show nothing and just reshape the space. The songs are performed
by a full orchestra, a featured pianist and cellist, a chorus, and
three onstage soloists. And, in two of the most successful scenes,
there are only songs and screens, no dancers.
The first of these scenes
opens the second act and uses Charlie Chaplin's balletic talents
to remind us where we were headed before the intermission. It pairs
"Caesars Tod" (from "Der Silbersee") with the scene from "The Great
Dictator" in which Chaplin's Hitler makes the world his plaything.
(The evening's one laugh came when Chaplin bounced the globe off
his dictatorial bottom.) The second illustrates "Lost in the Stars"
(from "Lost in the Stars") only with projected bits of lyrics. Pastor
is right to give centerstage to this song and its singer Hans Voschezang.
They are simply arresting.
Of course, the dances
and the dancers are most responsible for the ballet's success. The
evening began and ended with stark solos by Federico Bonelli, perhaps
the clearest mover in the cast. Later, he and Igone de Jongh danced
a pas de deux that was lovely but somehow less compelling than the
simultaneous duet faintly visible through a projection screen.
After the double duets
came "Berlin im Licht-Song," a dancehall scene with a kick-up-the-heels
feel almost like "Who Cares?" A bit later is a pas de cinq to "Alabama
Song," one of Weill's most recognizable tunes. Pastor does well
with fives: "Alabama Song" is full of surprising and sophisticated
interactions and is thoroughly enchanting. The first act's final
solo was danced Saturday by Ruta Jezerskyte, who did amazing things
with her shoulders. (Shoulders are an unusual thing to praise, and
at first I wasn't sure whether the credit should go to dancer or
choreographer. Later, when I watched Jezerskyte in a group, I realized
that the gift is hers. Strange as it may sound, she is blessed with
The second act includes
two magnificent duets for men, the first to a fragment from "Der
Silbersee" and the second to two songs from "Lost in the Stars."
And sometime between these duets, the ballet seems to move from
Germany to the United States. (The Andy Warhol slides are a big
tip-off. First come his Coke bottles. Then, more menacingly, his
Just before the closing
solo is "Collage rock-interpretation." I had spotted this on the
program and was expecting the worst kind of labored, mock-MTV treatment.
Happily, I was wrong. The steps are slinky versions of those seen
earlier, and the sound "collage" by William S. Burroughs, David
Bowie, and Tom Waits is well done. In fact, the only unfortunate
thing about this scene is its name.
So much of "Kurt Weill"
is so right, but its costumes are not. The fronts of the shirts
and vests are normal, but the backs are a nude stocking material,
with just a few tabs of fabric wrapping around from the front. These
tabs are exactly like the tabs that hold paper clothes to paper
dolls, and I don't see why real people shouldn't have clothes with
real backs. Also, many of the dresses' tops are made entirely of
that nude stocking material -- a bad compromise between modesty
and nudity. In fact, I found the fake nudity more distracting than
I would have found real nudity. (I'm the first to admit that these
are small complaints about a big dance. If only one's objections
were always so petty.)
Weill once said, "I
have never acknowledged the difference between 'serious' music and
'light' music. There is only good music and bad music." And his
music is good. Good enough to inspire and sustain a very, very good
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