Hamburg Ballet

More of the Same

“The Song of the Earth”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 09, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. H.Bouchet and A.Trusch, “The Song of the Earth” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © S.Ballone 2016While the Nutcracker-season is in full swing elsewhere, some ballet stages in German-speaking countries bring up serious and even fierce topics during Christmas time. Just recently, Christian Spuck premiered “Messa da Requiem”, his new creation for Zurich Ballet; the Bavarian State Ballet is in its final rehearsals for “Spartacus” awaiting Yuri Grigorovich’s finishing touch. In Hamburg, John Neumeier added another ballet, his fifteenth, to his encyclopedic collection of choreographies to music by Gustav Mahler. (more…)

Almost Holy

“The World of John Neumeier”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 08, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Riggins and ensemble, “Bernstein Dances” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © K.West 2016Calling two big stages home is a luxury few can call their own. Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier enjoyed it for the seventieth time this autumn when touring the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden for one week. Usually they bring along two pieces and one workshop moderated by Neumeier himself. This year the two ballets were “Romeo and Juliet”, scheduled three times with different leading couples, and “The World of John Neumeier”, a collection of excerpts from autobiographically significant pieces. It premiered in Tokyo earlier this year and was shown on two consecutive evenings in Baden-Baden. I saw the first performance. (more…)

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread

“Turangalȋla”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 05, 2016

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Evans, “Turangalȋla” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © K.West 2016Traditionally Hamburg Ballet opens its annual Ballet Days with the season’s second premiere. This July John Neumeier’s “Turangalȋla” saw the light of day. It is set to Olivier Messiaen’s symphony of the same title, composed in 1948. “Turangalȋla” is derived from the Sanskrit words “turanga” and “lila” roughly meaning a “love song and hymn of joy, rhythm, life and death”. I saw the second performance after the premiere. Unfortunately, one found little to delight in.

Choreographing to Messiaen’s symphony has been on Neumeier’s wish list since the 1960s. But Messiaen persistently refused to give his approval. He deemed the composition a sacral work not meant to be danced to. (more…)

Tracking Eleonora Duse

“Duse”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 11, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alessandra Ferri, “Duse” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015In his latest creation, “Duse”, John Neumeier explores the life of the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse (1858 – 1924). The ballet received its world premiere earlier in December with Hamburg Ballet. Alessandra Ferri, guesting with the company, is dancing the leading role.

Duse rose to international stardom at a time when the reputation of acting had considerably improved in bourgeois society. At the end of the 19th century Henrik Ibsen’s dramas were the first to offer major character roles for women. As a result, more and more actresses left their mark on stage, motivated by a previously unparalleled enthusiasm for the theater. (more…)

Not Exactly a Happy Love Affair

“A Cinderella Story”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 23, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Heylmann, S.Azzoni, C.Agüero and H.Bouchet, "A Cinderella Story" by J.Neumeier, photo: Holger BadekowIndeed Cinderella gets golden shoes to dance in at the royal ball, but unlike in the Brothers Grimm’s or Charles Perrault’s fairy tale they are not the key element of John Neumeier’s “A Cinderella Story”. The 1992 production has been revived earlier this season. It is a version mainly referring to the Brothers Grimm text but also includes a few details from Perrault. Yet above all it is Neumeier’s own interpretation, his perspective on the story.

Neumeier avoided the bloody cruelties one finds in the written sources. The mean stepsisters neither chop off their toes or heels to fit into Cinderella’s shoes, nor are their eyes picked out as a punishment at the end. Instead Neumeier added a heavy dose of humor and exaggerated most characters with stark cliches, yet also allowed character traits to surface which put another complexion on some figures. (more…)

Grand Finale

“Nijinsky-Gala XLI”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
July 12, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. J.Collado and A.Robinson, “Clear” by S.Welch, Houston Ballet © H.Badekow 2015Traditionally Hamburg Ballet’s “Ballet Days” end with a Nijinsky-Gala and traditionally John Neumeier presents an extra large format, that is five hours or more. The programs of past galas did not necessarily refer directly to Nijinsky, but this year’s prominently did. Otto Bubeníček bid his farewell as Vaslav Nijinsky in an excerpt from Neumeier’s “’Le Pavillon d’Armide” which was the center piece of the three-part evening. It was in the “Spirit of the Romantic Period”, which was the common theme of the season’s repertory. The first part offered insights into eight different ballets, the final third part was made up of excerpts from five other ballets. Neumeier never presents small snippets, instead he tends to add another pas de deux rather than cutting one. Dancers from the Houston Ballet and the National Ballet of China broadened the spectrum. Other guests were the Bolshoi Ballet’s Svetlana Zakharova and Johan Kobborg who danced with Alina Cojocaru, a permanent guest of Hamburg Ballet. As usual Neumeier in person guided the audience through the program. (more…)

Missed Chances

“Peer Gynt”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
June 30, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Jung, A.Laudere, A.Riabko, K.Azatyan, M.Jubete and A.Martínez, “Peer Gynt” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015John Neumeier’s “Peer Gynt” saw the light of day in 1989. Now, twenty-six years later, he has put it thoroughly to the test with a reworked version opening Hamburg Ballet’s 41. Ballet Days, bringing back for two weeks a kaleidoscope of the season’s repertory culminating in a gala this year on July 12th.

Boiling down Henrik Ibsen’s five act play about Peer Gynt’s life into a ballet evening of tolerable duration is a master stroke per se. Neumeier cut it down to three acts plus an epilogue and managed to tell the Norwegian’s life’s journey within three hours divided by a break. The first half comprised of two acts deals with Peer’s birth and his relationship with his mother Aase, a peasant’s widow. Peer is a blowhard, a prowler and scalawag, one hardly on good terms with the neighboring peasantry. (more…)

Safety and Comfort are Rare

“Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”)
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
March 29, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Martínez, “Winterreise” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015Reviving John Neumeier’s “Winterreise” in early spring seems odd programming. The ballet is based on Franz Schubert’s somber song cycle of 1828 as rendered musically by German conductor and composer Hans Zender. The twenty-four songs’ verses seem simple at first glance, almost folk-like, but plumb deeply into existential states of mind. Center stage are a young wayfarer’s experiences – encounters he has had with others along his life’s passionate path. Even if spring moods must be left aside “Winterreise” was a good opener the week before Easter.
Schubert had based “Winterreise” on poems by Wilhelm Müller (1794 – 1827), and he set them without informing the poet. Some attribute Müller’s death, which was untimely, to complete exhaustion; others speculate that he committed suicide due to unbearable depression. His verses exude gloom. He died in September and Schubert began composing in October. The two never met. Allegedly, Schubert secluded himself while composing. Eventually, when visiting friends he seemed to be unhinged. Zender suspects that the first concert performances of the piece must have caused fright rather than delight. Schubert died only one year later, in 1828. He was just thirty-one years old. (more…)

A Real Man

“Liliom”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
January 31, 2015

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Cojocaru and C.Jung, “Liliom” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2015“By the way we have to see how Dortmund played” a tall, athletic man said to his female companion when walking into Hamburg State Opera’s auditorium in front of me. Saturdays are usually match days in the German Bundesliga. “Dortmund”, or “Borussia Dortmund” respectively, was obviously the man’s favorite club in the top tier of the German football league system. His companion, slightly annoyed, looked heavenwards. But after all she had made her football addict friend accompany her to a ballet evening. Maybe John Neumeier’s “Liliom” was exactly the right choice to stir his cultural enthusiasm.

At least on first sight, its titular character Liliom fits perfectly into the cliche of a real man. He is a womanizer with plenty of brawn. Talking isn’t his forte. Worse, looking closer, Liliom turns out to be a good for nothing dude. When not knowing how to deal with a situation, when feeling helpless, he can’t stop himself from striking out. He is likewise quick to pull a knife, a macho man with a limited range of action alternatives who avoids at any cost exposing his innermost self. (more…)

The Land Where the Lemon Trees Blossom

“Napoli”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 31, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2015 by Ilona Landgraf

1. L.Cazzaniga, A.Riabko, S.Azzoni, K.Tselikov, M.Jubete and ensemble, “Napoli” by A.Bournonville and with new choreography by L.Riggins, Hamburg Ballet © H.Badekow 2014Like the Bavarian State Ballet’s recent triumph with “Paquita”, John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet revived an old classic, August Bournonville’s “Napoli”, a buoyant, romantic love story with dramatic sprinklings, transferring the southern Italian joy of life to the Elbe River.
Premiering in 1842 in Copenhagen, “Napoli” is a staple of the Royal Danish Ballet’s repertory, so long as Nikolai Hübbe doesn’t continue replacing Bournonville’s legacy with his own creations, as happened with “La Sylphide” this autumn. Similar to other ballets of the romantic period, the libretto of “Napoli” is lightweight. Bournonville’s source of inspiration was a journey to southern Italy. Drawing on myriad impressions – from the quarreling fish traders to different types of street merchants, flirting youth, ragged beggars and monks strolling around – he wrote the libretto on his way back home, more precisely in the stagecoach between Paris and Dunkirk in northern France. Even an episode during an excursion to the fishing village Baiae was worked in: until 1848 Bournonville, still actively dancing in Copenhagen’s ensemble and also artistic director and senior choreographer, surprised his fellow travelers when he himself suddenly replaced a dancer of a local dance group in a lightning tarantella. (more…)

What Young Girls Dream About

“The Nutcracker”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 23, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Trusch and A.Cojocaru, “The Nutcracker” by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet © Holger Badekow 2014Shortly before Christmas Eve, Hamburg Ballet had some special candy in store, John Neumeier’s “Nutcracker” with Alina Cojocaru as Marie and Otto Bubeníček as Drosselmeier. Bubeníček is the strongest of Hamburg’s male dancers in this role and having the opportunity to see Cojocaru dance is a Christmas gift all by itself. The appearance of both had already been planned for last season but was cancelled due to Bubeníček being injured. Complemented by a strong cast, this year’s run of “The Nutcracker” hence had a powerful start.

Inspired by John Cranko’s “Nutcracker” Neumeier also separated his version from the Christmas Season. Nevertheless it’s often scheduled at the end of the year. Any mice involved in fighting were eliminated by Neumeier. For him the story’s core topic is the transition from being a child to becoming an adult. His story begins at Marie Stahlbaum’s twelfth birthday party where she is presented with a wooden nutcracker – her companion throughout the ballet – and her first pair of toe shoes. The latter are a gift from Drosselmeier who is the ballet master of Marie’s older sister Louise and Neumeier’s homage to Marius Petipa. (more…)

Final Fulfillment

“Death in Venice”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 17, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

“Wer die Schönheit angeschaut mit Augen,
ist dem Tode schon anheimgegeben,…”
(August von Platen, “Tristan”, 1824)

1. A.Trusch, L.Riggins, "Death in Venice" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet“Whose eyes saw the beauty is already entrusted to death,…”
August von Platen’s late-romantic song, written in 1825, is grounded on the medieval tale “Tristan and Isolde”. Transgressive love and love-death are core aspects of Richard Wagner’s eponymous opera and Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice”, published in 1913. John Neumeier’s ballet version of Mann’s text pays homage to both monumental figures of the history of art. It wouldn’t be “made by John Neumeier”, however, if he hadn’t included additional historical references to broaden and enrich the total picture of the unique love story. He chose Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Musical Offering” as music to depict the intellectual, well-organized world of Gustav von Aschenbach, alternating with piano pieces by Richard Wagner. The latter evoke the ecstatic, Dionysian counterworld Aschenbach gets into in Venice. Integrating music by Wagner moreover takes into account that many aspects of his autobiography, published in 1911, recur in Mann’s “Death in Venice”. Just as for Aschenbach, Venice was Wagner’s city of refuge. In 1848 he intended to finish his “Tristan” in the lagoon city where he also wanted respite from his broken marriage with Minna and his desperate love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. (more…)

Trouble Backstage

“Shakespeare Dances”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 04, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. K.West, K.Tselikov, "As You Like It" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier’s “Shakespeare Dances” is a triple bill that he assembled in 2013 to celebrate his forty-year jubilee in Hamburg. It consists of short versions of “As You Like It”, “Hamlet” and “VIVALDI or What you will”, and aims to capture the essences of the respective full versions choreographed in previous years.

Not surprisingly, each piece’s unique qualities fade due to strong compression. While some characters could be omitted without much harm, Neumeier has tried to give the two Shakespeare comedies and the tragedy a degree of consistency. Does he tell the stories clearly? (more…)

Neumeier Commenting on his Work

“Workshop”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
October 03, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. C.Agüero and O.Bubenicek, "Vivaldi or What you will" by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet Workshops have been a regular feature of Hamburg Ballet since John Neumeier’s first season there in 1974. Successful from the start, they are so in demand that one can call oneself lucky to get a single seat for just one Workshop per season. One watches the company do barre exercises before Neumeier picks up the microphone. The atmosphere is relaxed and the dancers are in practice clothes, with a bit of costuming showing only here and there.
This autumn Baden-Baden’s audience hit the jackpot with a Ballet Workshop that introduced Hamburg Ballet’s annual visit to the Black Forest where the stage of the Festpielhaus serves almost as a second home for the ensemble of dancers. The first Workshop there took place in 1998. The topics this time were “Shakespeare Dances” and “Giselle”, both of which were shown in their entirety during the company’s stay.

(more…)

Taste, like all else, can be disputed

“Giselle”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
September 26, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alina Cojocaru, Alexandr Trusch and ensemble, Giselle by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet, photo H.BadekowAfter returning home from performances in Copenhagen, Hamburg Ballet opened its season with John Neumeier’s “Giselle”. This paragon dance work of the Romantic period exists in quite a few versions, modern ones as well as those that try to be traditional. How did Neumeier, aiming to “provide this jewel of a classical-romantic ballet with a new, modern setting,” approach the tragic tale?

Neumeier first tackled “Giselle” in 1983. The current production dates back to a revision from the year 2000, a collaboration with Greek set designer Yannis Kokkos. The décor by Kokkos avoids stereotypes of 19th Century style. The first act is transferred to a timeless yard. Giselle’s crooked cottage on the left and the little shed on the right are cardboard-like facades, all in white. The contour of a distant castle is sketched roughly onto the backcloth. Plain, broad brushstrokes in brown, yellow and green color suggest autumn. The costumes of the villagers – grape pickers and peasants – are in the same range of colors: simple dresses in yellow, light blue, green and olive for the women; brown cord pants with suspenders or plain dark suits and white shirts for the men. Those in the Prince of Courland’s hunting party wear classic riding outfits: white pants, red jackets plus black riding boots and hats. (more…)