Hamburg Ballet

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.

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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…)

Power Melts Away

“Tatiana”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
June 29, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Edvin Revazov and Hélène Bouchet, Tatiana by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet, photo H.BadekowTraditionally, Hamburg Ballet opens its Ballet Days at the end of the season with a premiere. This year it was “Tatiana”, John Neumeier’s new interpretation of Alexander Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”, a production in collaboration with Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theater.

In the playbill, Neumeier emphasized that he wasn’t driven by the notion of outdoing Cranko’s popular “Onegin”. Conjectures regarding this struck a nerve, however. Indeed, one has to agree with Neumeier – why not risk a new approach to the famous verse romance? It is, after all, almost fifty years since Cranko created his masterpiece of a ballet.

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Mass at Neumeier’s

“Messiah”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
April 18, 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Aleix Martinez, Messiah by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet This year Hamburg Ballet broke with its (almost) usual practice of performing John Neumeier’s “Saint Matthew Passion”. Instead, the company revived Neumeier’s “Messiah”, a 1999 work to George Frideric Handel’s eponymous oratorio.
For Neumeier, Handel’s oratorio is more than a depiction of Christ’s life of suffering. The oratorio goes back to a time before the Redeemer’s appearance, it includes several prophecies and predictions, it tells of Christ’s birth, of his ordeal and his Ascension. Moreover, it includes the disciples’ spreading the word, the doubters’ rejection of the Christian message, their punishment and also the joy of the ones who are of true faith. Thus, for Neumeier, it is the suffering of all mankind, of all humanity that Handel considered his subject matter.

In the context of the 1998/99 war in Kosovo Neumeier focused on people’s desire and pleading for peace. This certainly has currency and is as relevant as it was a decade and a half ago. Together with Günter Jena, a church music specialist, Neumeier chose arias, choruses, accompagnati and recitatives mainly from the first part of Handel’s threepart “Messiah”. Preferring God as the Prince of Peace, Neumeier omitted such arias as “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”. Recalling a comment by Will Quadflieg (one of Germany’s major post-World War II actors) that during happy moments one has to keep the darkest moments in mind, Neumeier chose – following the triumphal Hallelujah Chorus – to close with Arvo Pärt’s “Agnus Dei”. This put Handel’s apotheosis of God’s omnipotence into perspective. Similarly, Pärt’s “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” as the opening, indicated that a fall was needed to make the subsequent redemption comprehensible. (more…)

A Crisp Nutcracker

“The Nutcracker”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 19, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

John Neumeier’s “Nutcracker” is free of any association with Christmas. This Hamburg production, like John Cranko’s earlier version for Stuttgart, converts the winter-holiday fairytale for children into a ballet for all seasons. Substantial content has been added, and watching it becomes a pleasure for adults, too. Christmas or not, this Neumeier has become a much loved classic during Hamburg’s winter season.

As starting point there is the celebration of the 12th birthday of the ballet’s protagonist, Marie. The party is in full swing already when the quirky Drosselmeier arrives. He is ballet master of the court theater where Marie’s older sister, Louise, dances. Drosselmeier’s present to the birthday girl is a pair of pointe shoes, which fuel her dreams of dancing as beautifully as Louise. Another present, a wooden Nutcracker who becomes Marie’s companion throughout the rest of the story, is given to her by the smart cadet, Günther. Needless to say, he becomes the young girl’s infatuation. When all the party guests have departed, Marie returns to the parlor to take another look at her Nutcracker and falls asleep. She dreams that Drosselmeier introduces her into the court theater, showing her rehearsals for a ballet and for various divertissements. Marie, fascinated, becomes involved and even dances a pas de deux on pointe with Günther. There’s a grand climax but then, woken by her mother, Marie finds herself back in the parlor.
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Rejoice, Exult?

“Christmas Oratorio I-VI”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
December 09, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Lloyd Riggins, Christmas Oratorio by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier recently extended his contract as head of the Hamburg Ballet and general manager of the Hamburg State Opera until 2019. In his tenure’s final phase he has returned to Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” completing what he had begun in 2007 with the choreography of parts I-III. With the entire “Christmas Oratorio I-VI”, “Saint Matthew Passion” (1981) and “Magnificat” (1987) he has now come full circle: From the lost paradise to Maria as the chosen one, to Christ’s incarnation and finally his crucifixion. Other religiously inspired works were “Requiem” (1991) set to Mozart and “Messiah” to music by George Frideric Handel and Arvo Pärt. Though a practicing Christian and strongly influenced by his long friendship with Jesuit Father John J. Walsh, (who led the drama group at Milwaukee’s Marquette University, where Neumeier took up his studies as young man), Neumeier emphasizes that his choreographies are not religious undertakings. They’re neither substitute services nor an attempt to proselytize. This piece’s key topics are rather universal human values, basic emotional experiences and above all hope for salvation. (more…)

About Desire

“The Little Mermaid”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden, Germany
November 15, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Silvia Azzoni and Sasha Riva, The Little Mermaid by J.Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet The story of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale “The Little Mermaid” is quickly told: The little mermaid rescues a young prince from being drowned and falls in love with him. Driven by her strong desire for the prince and moreover longing for an immortal human soul she decides to leave the underwater world. Helped by the sea witch she becomes human, but on the condition that if she fails to win the prince’s love she has to die. Finding the prince, the mermaid suffers tremendously on shore, not only physically – every step feels like treading on knives’ edges – but even more emotionally, as she witnesses the developing affection between the prince and another woman – a human one. At the end, the mermaid’s love remains unrequited. She transcends to an entity of an upper sphere and is given a soul.

The Danish author actually wrote no fairy-tale for children in 1837, but instead a concealed depiction of his personal drama as homosexual. Like the mermaid losing the prince, Andersen’s love for his guardian’s handsome son Edvard Collin was unfulfilled. Collin married Henriette Thyberg which is exactly the scene John Neumeier’s “Little Mermaid” starts with. By remembering the wedding, his poet, unmistakably the figure of Andersen himself, slips into his own memories and fantasies. (more…)

The Triumph of Love!

“Romeo and Juliet”
Hamburg Ballet – John Neumeier
Hamburg State Opera
Hamburg, Germany
October 31, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Edvin Revazov and Alina Cojocaru, Romeo and Juliet by John Neumeier, Hamburg Ballet April in lovely Verona, the feast day of the town’s patron San Zeno lies ahead, and there’s a lot going on. Events, from highest bliss to deepest desperation, come thick and fast – as if condensing into a hot spot. In just four days the leading characters of “Romeo and Juliet” will be dead. Although it is almost forty years old, John Neumeier’s highly sophisticated creation to Prokofiev’s score remains a thoroughly convincing synthesis of the arts. Neumeier’s narrative style snares the spectators’ attention. One is transfixed and returns to reality only when the lights come up for intermissions. (more…)