New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls.
Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews
Review Journal, 11-19: Voyagers
Journeys with John Neumeier
By Stephan Laurent
Copyright 2003 Stephan Laurent
HAMBURG and COPENHAGEN
-- The Hamburg Ballet this year celebrates its 30th season under
the leadership of John Neumeier, and to commemorate the anniversary
this thrilling company has embarked on a highly ambitious schedule
of 18 different productions: 17 revivals, nearly all of them evening-length,
and one premiere, "Death in Venice," slated for December 7.
Neumeier, under whose
inspired direction I had the privilege to dance decades ago, has
proven to be one of the landmark choreographers of the past 40 years.
Aside from his remarkable output for his own company, which has
extensively toured worldwide, we find his ballets in the repertoire
of some of the leading companies across the globe: American Ballet
Theatre, National Ballet of Canada, Royal Danish Ballet, Paris Opera
Ballet, Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre, Tokyo Ballet, Vienna State
Opera, and the Royal Ballet in London, to name only a few. He has
tackled a number of narrative story-ballets, including contemporary
re-working of the traditional balletic repertoire such as "The Sleeping
Beauty," "The Nutcracker," and "Swan Lake." Other evening-length
works include abstract meditations on some of the greatest symphonic
and choral works of our time, such as his celebrated "Third Symphony
of Gustav Mahler" and "Matthaeus-Passion." It was thus with great
anticipation that I prepared myself to attend two recent monumental
Neumeier productions: "Winterreise," at Hamburg's Staatsoper, and
"The Odyssey," presented by the Royal Danish Ballet at Copenhagen's
Neumeier uniquely mixes
both an intellectual and an organic approach to choreography and
dramaturgy. He is a deep thinker who seeks under each story, each
situation, each score the hidden significance, the symbolic connection,
the personal or universal meaning. One finds so many layers in his
ballets that by the time the final curtain falls there is a longing
for seeing the whole work again, for a first viewing only seems
to barely skim the surface. This is true not only of the narrative
aspect of his works, but also of their choreographic design, which
is deeply harmonic, utilizing groups as a counterpoint for the spatial
tracings of a soloist, or combining together multiple layers of
space and time within different groups. In this sense, Neumeier
is truly a composer of choreographic symphonies in much the same
way as Massine was. He also is a master at blending (as opposed
to juxtaposing) very contemporary movement with very pure classical
ballet technique. He lets the impulse of motion take over no matter
where it leads; he carves space across all dimensions, flowing through
amazing sculptural or tormented shapes only to emerge with a sparkling
arabesque, as if resolving an anguished musical chord back to its
"Winterreise," as performed
by the Hamburg Ballet October 26, is a meditation on the personal
journey of the individual as he or she tries to comprehend a world
that seems to constantly (and aggressively) change around the wanderer.
Its title, in English meaning "Winter Journey," is derived from
a cycle of lieder by Franz Schubert, adapted and expanded upon by
the contemporary German composer Hans Zender. The premiere took
place in December of 2001. Against a backdrop of kaleidoscopic assemblage
of black-and-white portraits of all sorts of people young and old,
a vast, snow-swept plain illuminated by a solitary lamppost emerges.
The orchestra pit is circled with a semi-circular apron glistening
with fresh snow which drifts on the first rows of the audience with
each crossing of the recurring characters that take the foreground
in a melancholic trudge or a rapid dash while on the main stage
elaborate, multi-level groupings or agonized solos or duets occur.
There is one central figure, a bespectacled young Japanese man (Yukichi
Hattori) dressed in an oversized sweater and a sherpa fur hat, bumping
occasionally against other people dressed in empire coats with fur
collars or in contemporary garb. Other characters, both male and
female, take center stage successively in the role of the wanderer.
Their sinuous carving motions through their personal space receive
answers from fragments of group movement where the key to the psychological
state of the character can perhaps be found. There is a recurring
image of a hesitant walk with both arms outstretched and crossed
in front of the chest, only to recoil into a sudden jump in fetal
position, bent knees and elbows tightly gathered. One of the strongest
moments in the ballet occurs when the voyager struggles desperately
to prop up a huge leaning glass surface against which tightly packed
bodies are pressed, clawing the window in desperation before rolling
inexorably towards stage right until they fall into the wing --
a chilling reminder of the September 11 death plunges burned into
our eyes by their televised images.
A sense of unanswered
foreboding permeates the whole work. The journey of the wanderer(s)
may be a flight or a quest -- but Neumeier doesn't depict the origin
or destination of this voyage, letting the audience fill in the
details and the possible meanings on their own.
The Hamburg Ballet dancers,
corps and soloists, are uniformly strong in their technique and
perform the demanding, twisting shapes which resolve themselves
into breathtaking classical leaps or turns with a physicality that
is gripping. The convincing principals included the above-mentioned
Hattori, disarming in his youthful earnestness, as well as Ivan
Urban, Jiri Bubenicek, Peter Dingle, Lloyd Riggins, Helene Bouchet,
Silvia Azzoni, Laura Cazzaniga, Anja Behrend, Elizabeth Loscavio,
and Joelle Boulogne. All of them performed with total physical commitment
and complete mastery of the technical demands. The stark scenery
by Yannis Kokos intelligently mixes real elements such as a door
or a lamp-post with symbolic ones -- the faces on the backdrop,
an upside-down twig flying in, or a desert plain. Zender's score
faithfully quotes Schubert then comments on either words or music
with elaborate symphonic treatment not shying away from dissonance.
"Winterreise" is definitely a work that should to be seen widely;
If it tours to a theater near you, as it deserves, be sure to attend
more than one performance.
The Royal Danish Ballet under Frank Andersen has meritoriously enlarged
its repertoire to include contemporary choreographers such as Mats
Ek, William Forsythe and Neumeier. While the Bournonville repertoire
in which the Danes excel continues to be a centerpiece at the Kongelige
Teater, and other classical evening-length works such as Kenneth
MacMillan's "Manon" are also regularly seen, Neumeier's "The Odyssey"
was on the program in early November.
"The Odyssey," after
Homer's immortal classic epic drama, on a contemporary score by
the Greek composer George Couroupos, is another of the 'today-meets-yesterday'
adaptations of a classic at which Neumeier excels. Originally premiered
in Athens in 1995 by the Hamburg Ballet, the work faithfully represents
the diverse stages of Ulysses's journey home from the Trojan War
and his tribulations against monsters such as Polyphem the cyclops
and the powerful magician Circe, or away from the delectable nymph-princess
Calypso. But time constantly oscillates between pre-Hellenic Greece
and today. For instance, the gods' Mount Parnassus is represented
as a balcony towering over the upstage area where white-clad elegant
socialites seem to enjoy an endless cocktail party while watching
on television images of the bombing of Iraq during the first Gulf
War. As Neumeier explains in a program note, "Without war the Odyssey
is inconceivable. For me it's about how a human being rediscovers
himself after a ten-year war; how he finds his way back from the
male-defined macho world of battle and war and rediscovers his feminine
side. It is called Penelope."
As such, "The Odyssey"
is a meditation on the effects of war on the human as much as it
is the depiction of the heroic homeward journey of a lone figure
against the formidable odds thrown his way by capricious gods. Stripped
of his mythical garb, Ulysses (ably if at times hesitantly portrayed
here by Martin James) becomes a very likeable companion. Penelope's
desperate weaving and unweaving of a shroud for Ulysses's father
as a way to postpone the unrelenting assault of her suitors back
home involves a long red piece of red cloth passing through the
interlocked hands of a chorus of maidens. Telemachus, Ulysses's
son (an energetic and very believable Dawid Kupinski), has grand
swirling moments during his quest for the father he never believes
dead. During a stunning, groveling scene played on the apron thrown
across the orchestra pit, Ulysses consults with the soul of his
departed mother Anticlea, grimly incarnated here by Lis Jeppesen
(whose portrayal of "La Sylphide" remains one of the best ever immortalized
on video); she literally emerges from Hades as she mournfully climbs
from the pit to prophesize that her son must persevere, only to
wretchedly slither away again into the depths. But perhaps the most
formidable character in this epic saga may be the Sea, stunningly
represented by a group of women clad in huge dark blue dresses,
whose long trains sweep the stage as they unendingly cross from
one wing to the other, tense torsos inclined at a perfect diagonal
against the winds, and from which the wretched, ship-wrecked mariner
emerges on more than one occasion.
The Odyssey is, like
other Neumeier ballets, a multi-level work both dramatically and
choreographically. There isn't ever a movement phrase that occurs
alone or a thought that is not developed into more musings. The
depth of this work is truly epic, and it is cause for rejoicing
to see it adopted by other companies besides Hamburg.
The Hamburg Ballet will
tour Neumeier's acclaimed evening-length "Nijinsky"
to the U.S. February 11-28, hitting Los Angeles, New York, and Washington,
DC. But if you really want to immerse yourself in this great choreographer's
considerable work, go to the Hanseatic city in June for the 30th
Hamburger Ballett-Tage, when you can witness the entirety of this
amazing company's repertoire this season, including the two works
reviewed above, as well as "Romeo and Juliet," "Peer Gynt," "The
Seagull," "Matthaeus-Passion," "Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler,"
and "Death in Venice," among others, from June 6 - 27.
Born, raised, and trained in Lausanne, Switzerland, Stephan Laurent
emigrated to the US in 1977, after a dancing career in several European
ballet companies. After obtaining his MFA in Dance from Southern
Methodist University in Dallas, TX, he has shared his time between
the professional world and academic settings, choreographing over
50 works ranging from classical evening-length ballets to contemporary
chamber works. He left his position of artistic director of the
Des Moines Ballet in Iowa in 1988 to become Chair of the Butler
University department of dance and direct the Butler Ballet in Indianapolis,
IN, a position he held until September 2003. He is currently on
sabbatical in Europe, visiting the major dance capitals and renewing
contact with his mentors.
Go back to Flash Reviews