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The Dance Insider Interview, 8-9: Uwe Scholz
'I am interested in dance which makes my heart rotate'
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 Paul Ben-Itzak
(Editor's Note: Published today for the first time, this interview took place in 1995 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, where Uwe Scholz's Leipzig Ballet was performing in San Francisco Ballet's UNited We Dance festival to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco. Uwe Scholz passed away in 2004; his reflections on ballet are more relevant today than ever.)
Paul Ben-Itzak: Uwe Scholz, I was overwhelmed by the pas de trois from your "Pax Questuosa" presented at San Francisco Ballet's UNited We Dance, in your company's U.S. debut. When will we be able to see Leipzig Ballet in the future? Are you touring to Europe or the States?
Uwe Scholz: Touring in Europe, yes. As for the States, for the moment, nothing. Shame.
PBI: Shame. Has your choreography been presented previously in the States?
US: Munich Ballet presented "Mozart Piano Concerto" in New York.
PBI: What were you trying to say with "Pax Questuosa"?
US: The whole piece is about 55 minutes, and this trio comes at the half-way point. It's a prayer of, not forgetting, but forgiveness. Else Lasker-Schuler wrote the text. She was Jewish, and was killed in Germany 50 years ago, so we have 50 years since the end of this horror of my country. I thought that might be a message which should be coming from Germany, not just some kind of show business.
PBI: The message is one of forgiveness for Germany, or -- ?
US: I feel very much the history of my country, and in that sense, yes, it is, at this point.... The music is by Ude Zimmermann. After the trio, this girl gets raped, and the corps is standing on the sides. This skinny little girl is taken completely apart.
PBI: You have said that dance is not a luxury. Explain.
US: Like bread, dance is necessary. I was for six years director in Zurich, a beautiful city, with a beautiful lake, and the best chocolate in the world. People (went to the ballet) to show their new fur coats. When this wall fell in Germany, it was very clear I had to go to Leipzig, to bring into this gray world a little bit of color, and to build up something. I think a bigger contrast at this time I couldn't find than going from Zurich to Leipzig.
When I arrived in Leipzig in 1991, the city had the most amazing art nouveau buildings, which no one cared for for 40 years of socialism, and they were kind of all falling down. But from that moment on -- and this is what interested me -- there was an incredible tempo. This former east started to bloom. After the wall fell, everyone was just interested in buying cars, television, their 24 channels, and their videos. Now, they're coming back to the theater. But they are coming with expectation, with knowledge of what they are seeing, and all of a sudden I have a different responsibility. I'm not just entertaining. I'm having to do this for someone who's very awake, and --
PBI: Are they like sponges, in terms of absorbing ballet?
US: Yes. (Appreciation of ballet is) quite high. I spent 13 years in Stuttgart, during West Germany's ballet boom. But there was still something a little bit more exotic about ballet there, while in East Germany it's completely different. They take it much more seriously.
PBI: What are some of your influences?
US: Marcia Haydee was very important. Stuttgart was a place where you could see a lot of styles. I have Cranko as a Dionysus mentor, and Balanchine as an Apollo.
PBI: I can see the Balanchine influence in 'Pax.' Why did you decide at age 22 to stop dancing and just choreograph?
US: I did my first piece at 17. I licked the blood of this profession. I was infected with choreographing. Marcia said if you like, do more. The first invitations came from other theaters, so I couldn't have been so bad. Also, as a dancer, I never had fantasies that I would be the reincarnation of Nijinsky. My mother had, but I didn't.
PBI: You have said you see choreography as the danced translation of music. How does dance convey the music?
US: If you play Stravinsky's "Septet" to someone a couple of times, they might find it deadly boring. I choreographed to this, and a couple of people watching understood the structure of the music at once, and liked it from then on. When I work with music, I go through the score, I look at it, but I close it quite early. I'm not a mathematician. I'm looking for soul landscapes, and when one hits them, it's very exciting. Something honest can happen which automatically touches people.
PBI: You found those landscapes in 'Pax.' What impression were you going for with those effortless-looking lifts?
US: That the most incredible movement can happen, but it's still the most logical and peaceful movement.
PBI: How many new pieces do you choreograph each year?
US: I'm trying to go a little calmer just now, because I had an accident with my hip. I did before five, six pieces. The first season I did a full-length for Leipzig called "America," to American composers of this century, such as Gershwin, Copeland, Ives, Glass, and so on.
PBI: This was an abstract ballet?
US: Maybe more surrealistic.
PBI: How would you describe the dancing in the work?
US: I tried to get this '20s feeling, with Gershwin of course. The stage is a huge television set, always changed to different programs, but the music then shoots in. From serious Gershwin dancing, we have also scenes where 30 Miss Piggys fly down from the sky, or Mickey Mouses.
PBI: What emotional themes do you like to explore?
US: Not the direct ones, the ones in front, but the ones in the back. Everything that's possible. Or available.
PBI: Do you like to explore certain movement themes?
US: I play with a lot of things. Standing on the classic background and schooling, I have a huge basket full of different movement possibilities. The roots will always be classical, but the blooms can play around.
PBI: Do you like music that is challenging to dance to?
US: I have at lest five or six pieces which I want to do very badly, but at the moment either I'm not in the right mood for it, or the company constellation isn't right.
PBI: What pieces would they be?
US: 'Sacre' I want to do once in my life. I want it to be completely right, and I'm waiting for that moment.
PBI: How many ballets have you created?
US: About 90. (Editor's Note: At the time of this interview, Scholz was in his mid-'30s.)
PBI: Is technical perfection less important to you than the artistic statement you're making in your work?
US: Depends. It's fantastic to see the Kirov in "Bayadere," and there you want technical perfection. But for me, it's more exciting to have the feeling here, in my heart. I am interested in dance which makes my heart rotate, and in dancers who I can see that under their skin is really blood.
PBI: What qualities characterize your 60 dancers?
US: Incredible trust. They're completely open, and this openness makes me incredibly productive. They do anything I would ask from them.
PBI: You can see the trust in "Pax Questuosa," in the lifts. Will other troupes be presenting your work soon?
US: Yes, but I will not guest so often anymore, because I want to build Leipzig's profile. Then I want to invite guest choreographers, and that gives me more time to go around to where my invitations are.
PBI: So, no guest choreographers yet?
US: I don't think the dancers are ready yet. They will be when they have a complete profile, and they need something like Forsythe, or Kylian. When they are strong and ready for this, it will bring them a lot. But they need to be absolutely sure in that one style first -- mine.
PBI: Does the company do work from the classical rep.?
US: Yes. I pull the audience with these kind of pieces, then (get them to see) the mixed programs.
PBI: Have you seen your home audience grow?
US: At the beginning, the audience was gone. The people were so confused -- next to what I said with the cars and the videos and the television, the people were without work. But all of a sudden they were coming, they were lacking something and they're coming back. There is a kind of middle class building who can afford stuff like this.
PBI: Is ballet there affordable for people that are not of the middle class?
US: Absolutely. It's astonishing how many of the youth in Leipzig are coming.
PBI: When you started, what was attendance like?
US: I had to take over what was there, a brand new Russian "Giselle" which looked 600 years old. We performed in front of 50 people, in a 1700-seat house. We cut that away, and we started again with Haydn's "Creation Oratorio." That piece is now always sold out.
PBI: Where does your funding come from?
US: The State.
PBI: How do ticket prices compare to those in the U.S.?
US: Ours are much cheaper. Students, for example, can come in the last five minutes before curtain for $2.
PBI: Can you tell me something about your school?
US: The school is to be redone and started over, because it's not what I want. It's just swallowing money and bringing no good students. I don't agree that you just take in pupils (even when) you can see that they are never going to be dancers, just to make your income. It's unprofessional, and unhuman. If you know that this girl is never going to be a dancer, why educate this child, (take her money), and tell her then, 'thank you very much'?
PBI: Never going to be a dancer because of talent?
US: Talent or figure or rotten feet.
PBI: Do ballerinas have to have a certain figure?
US: No. Ballerinas are a dying species, so they can look however. You notice them by the way they enter a room.
PBI: Why do you say they're a dying species?
US: You don't find them anymore, these people.
PBI: You mean that are really very talented?
US: Yes, and who are more than dancers, who are ballerinas.
PBI: So, the definition of ballerina to you is what?
US: Where you melt underneath the table.