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Flash Memorial, 12-8: Uwe Scholz, 1958-2004
'He Ate, Slept and Drank Art'

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Leipzig Ballet director Uwe Scholz, one of the most brilliant choreographic minds of his generation, passed away November 21 from pneumonia in a hospital outside Berlin, comatose, after being admitted to the hospital earlier to be treated for an infection of the pancreas, a Leipzig spokesperson told the Dance Insider. He was 45.

"We are all in shock, because we thought that Uwe Scholz would recover and return to us," Henri Maier, artistic director of the Leipzig Opera House, told the Dance Insider. "In the recent past we had times of sunshine but also thunderstorms together -- as it is in life. But Uwe Scholz did have a contract until 2006 with the option to renew it. The death of Uwe Scholz is a great loss to the company and the opera house. We don't know yet how things will go on. First we need time for grieving. But this much is certain: Uwe Scholz's great contemporary oeuvre will stay with us, will be a tradition and we will attempt to take care of it."

In a choreographic career that began at the age of 22, Scholz had created more than 100 ballets for Leipzig, Stuttgart Ballet, Zurich Ballet, and many other companies. He was planning a new work for Leipzig in 2005. Working in the classical ballet idiom, Scholz -- who succeeded John Cranko as Stuttgart's resident choreographer at the age of 23 -- was singular proof that the path to ballet relevance in the 21st century starts in the heart of the music, is blazed by the imaginative choreographer, illuminated by the artistically and emotionally invested dancer and, finally, taken home by the converted spectator.

"I am interested in ballerinas who make my heart rotate" as opposed to technical phenomenons, he once told this interviewer. Seen on Leipzig in San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House in 1995, in a stunning US debut for both company and choreographer, Scholz's "Pax Questuosa," to music by Udo Zimmerman, carried away audiences with its eloquent intimacy, as did the grander "Beethoven's Seventh." Performing alongside more established companies like the Bolshoi and Royal Danish Ballet as part of San Francisco Ballet's United We Dance festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, the young company and its young dancemaker stole the show.

"I remember seeing his first ballet to Mozart music while he was still studying," said current Stuttgart director and Cranko disciple Reid Anderson, who knew Scholz when he was a student at Stuttgart's Cranko school. "It was so remarkable! So musical, so clear, and so creative. He already had his own version of neo-classical dance. He loved music and responded to it. He was not its slave but he enabled the audience to understand and to see the music better. I experienced all of his works and even worked with him myself.

"We are all saddened at the loss of Uwe Scholz.... Uwe Scholz was not easy on himself. He ate, slept and drank art. There was nothing else for him. His loss is particularly sad because Uwe Scholz has always made the kind of dances that others were not doing. He didn't let himself be swayed by deconstruction, movement fads or tinkering with the music. He was a symphonic dance maker. One of a kind!"

After five years of choreographing for Stuttgart, under the direction of Marcia Haydee, Scholz took the reins of Zurich Ballet in 1985, at the age of 26. In 1991, he was hired to direct the Leipzig Opera's ballet ensemble, which became known as the Leipzig Ballet in 1992. It was a critical juncture for the company which, located in the former East Germany, had inherited a repertoire of calcified classical story ballets which, by the end of the Communist era, were drawing only miniscule audiences to a grand opera house. Scholz's challenge, which he rose to heroically, was to create new ballets that challenged the dancers and brought audiences back to the opera house, at a time when the eastern sector of the reunified country found itself rebuilding as well. Building his canon, often to sweeping scores by Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky and Beethoven, he forged a distinct modern identity for his own company and a bold yet humble and earnest new direction for his art form.

Critical to this mission, he told this interviewer in 1994, was taking over the direction of the Leipzig School, a goal in which he succeeded in 1997, enabling him to work with dancers from a formative stage. (Scholz himself began ballet at the age of 4.)

"He taught me to feel the music and to express it," said Kiyoko Kimura, first soloist with the company and one of its leading dancers. "From him I learned to use the imagination, to fill out the music full of emotions. And to give everything onstage.... He was incredibly musical, and he understood the music deeply. So he was able to transfer music to movement. He was the one of the choreographers able to choreograph with such big symphonies as those by Beethoven, Bruckner, Mozart, Wagner, etcetera.

"The time spent working with him was very substantial. He was a person with lots of humor, but also lots of passion and emotion. I still cannot believe his death. It is very sad to lose such a great artist." But, Kimura added, "I feel that he is still immediately at my side."

Uwe Scholz was born on New Year's Eve 1958 in Hessen, in Central Germany. In 1973, under Cranko's watchful eye, he passed his entrance examination to the ballet school of the state theater in Stuttgart. He was taken into the company immediately upon graduation in 1979, only to quit dancing a year later -- at the age of 22 -- to produce choreography at the command of Stuttgart director Marcia Haydee. In 1982, he became Stuttgart's first resident choreographer since Cranko's death.

In a career which encompassed opera as well as ballet, Scholz's work was seen on stages throughout the world, on his own and other major companies. In 1987, he was awarded Espressione Europa's Ommagio Alla Danza prize. In 1996, German president Roman Herzog bestowed upon him the Order of the Federal Republic of Germany. For his 1998 choreography "The Great Mass," the Bavarian state government decorated Scholz with the Theatre Award and, in 1999, he was recognized with Essen's German Dance Award.

Remembered by his company and the city of Leipzig in an opera house ceremony December 3, Scholz's compassionate and invested vision for ballet will be remembered for a long time through his inspiring oeuvre and the dancers he inspired.


Rita Felciano contributed to this report, in the form of the initial news tip.

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