“A Wilde Story”
State Ballet Hanover
Opera House Hanover
November 20, 2022
by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2022 by Ilona Landgraf
Marco Goecke recently added the German magazine tanz’s “Choreographer of 2021” award and the 2022 German Dance Prize to his collection. Last month, he presented a new ballet at the State Ballet Hanover, which he has helmed as artistic director since 2019. “A Wilde Story” plays with the life and work of Oscar Wilde. I was curious to see whether or not the story was, in fact, wild.
The evening opens not with Wilde, but with a bare-chested Michelangelo Chelucci, who jerks open and closes off his muscular torso, arms plowing through the air. His feet scurry zealously this way and that as he elegantly lifts his black, floor-length skirt. A glance at the program book reveals that Chelucci personifies the art of writing. Behind him, black-clad dancers hustle from one side of the stage to the other, comic figures in fast-forward, shaking their fists. Their steps stir up dust that gradually blurs our view of the grainy facade of a stately gray mansion (set and costumes by Marvin Ott). Though the pulsing rock of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight Tonight” suggests otherwise, we’re in Victorian England. “Believe in me,” they sing – but at whom does this line aim? Are we to believe in the power of art in general, in Goecke’s artistry, or Wilde’s himself? Wilde (Conal Francis-Martin) appears several seconds later, sitting and occasionally sleeping on the floor. Only the call of a trumpet (playing a composition by Jules Massenet) prompts him to bustle about, his hands fluttering. Stricken by inspiration, he tenses, only relaxing when together with his wife Constance (Giada Zanotti). We watch Wilde achieve fame – but as the applause becomes ear-piercing, his movements stiffen. Later, we learn about the author’s intense romance with Alfred – “Bosie” – Douglas (Rosario Guerra), which – clashing with the Victorian code of ethics – gets Wilde sentenced for sodomy. In the moment that the verdict is rendered, the stately mansion collapses to the ground, revealing the meager wooden scaffolding holding the fake facade upright.
The two years in penitentiary that follow will see Wilde’s health and mind ruined. Before we go there, let’s have a look at the scenes that Goecke chose to adapt from the author’s oeuvre. As one might expect, we encounter Dorian Gray (Nikita Zdravkovic) whose picture by the painter Basil (Javier Ubell) ages in place of him – a process cleverly visualized by Goecke. There’s also the statue of the Happy Prince (Davide Sioni) who – aided by a black-feathered swallow (Chiara Pareo) – sacrifices his sapphire eyes (symbolized by swanky rings) for a crying woman (Marta Cerioli). Maurus Gauthier, mixing among the dancers while reciting parts of the story, helps us to understand the goings-on.
In “The Nightingale and the Rose”, Özkan Ayik – chest painted with black thorny branches – plays a young man seeking a red rose for his beloved maid. Two women together depict the nightingale, which in Wilde’s version spills its own blood to help the rose grow: Chiara Pareo, swapping her swallow costume for a black skirt, and soprano Kiandra Howarth, whose “Joy, that near to me remained” from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera “The Dead City” accompanies the bird’s death. From the pornographic novel “Teleny, Or the Reverse of the Medal” (which is often attributed to Wilde) Goecke distilled the affair of the gay couple Teleny (Louis Steinmetz) and Camille (Maurus Gauthier), explicitly showing their sexual desire. The only scene I struggled to recognize was “The Birthday of the Infanta”.
In the final scene, the imprisoned Wilde stands frozen on the ground, holding two blackened papers that rustle in his incessantly trembling hand (perhaps representing the letters he wrote to Bosie, which were published years later under the title “De Profundis”). Visibly tormented, teeth clenched, left hand groping in vain towards freedom, Wilde seems to find no escape. In the very last moment, though, Gauthier returns, walking around the scaffolding, his happy-go-lucky whistling evoking the tweets and trills of a free bird.
With Goecke’s 2016 “Nijinski” on my mind, I was skeptical that Goecke could do justice to this and other story ballets. In my opinion, his choreographic toolbox – though expanded over time – is still too limited to carve out distinct characters. Given the inclusion of Gauthier as a narrator and much more spoken (though sometimes incomprehensible) text – Goecke may be aware of the clarification that his choreography sometimes requires. For eagle-eyed onlookers who could follow every detail of the hyper-tense jerks and galvanic spasms, who might hold their breath when limbs slice the air with stupendous speed, who marvel at gaping jaws and silent screams and steely muscles snapping into accurate positions – for those folks, the seventy-five minutes of “A Wilde Story” were exciting. Audience members interested in a more broad view might find that this new ballet looks similar to previous ones by Goecke. One thing, though, is indisputable: the Hanover company has taken his style to a new, powerful level.
They were accompanied by the State Orchestra of Lower Saxony, playing under the baton of the dynamic James Hendry.
|Links:||Website of the State Ballet Hanover|
|“A Wilde Story” – Teaser|
|“A Wilde Story” – Trailer|
|Photos:||The photos show a partially different cast from an earlier performance.|
|1.||Michelangelo Chelucci (The Art of Writing), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022
|2.||Conal Francis-Martin (Oscar Wilde), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|3.||Davide Sioni (Prince) and Chiara Pareo (Swallow), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|4.||Marta Cerioli (The Crying Woman), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|5.||Javier Ubell (Basil) and Nikita Zdravkovic (Dorian Gray), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022
|6.||Giada Zanotti (Nightingale), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|7.||Özkan Ayik (Man in Love) and Giada Zanotti (Nightingale), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|8.||Conal Francis-Martin (Oscar Wilde), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|9.||Louis Steinmetz (Teleny) and Conal Francis-Martin (Oscar Wilde), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|10.||Rosario Guerra (Alfred Douglas) and Conal Francis-Martin (Oscar Wilde), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|11.||Rosario Guerra (Alfred Douglas) and Conal Francis-Martin (Oscar Wilde), “A Wilde Story” by Marco Goecke, State Ballet Hanover 2022|
|all photos © Bettina Stöß|