Tag Archive: John Neumeier

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…)

Fostering Ballet’s Future

Noverre Society Stuttgart
Stuttgart, Germany
December 2014

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Logo of the Noverre Society Stuttgart © Noverre Society 2014The dance critic Horst Koegler once compared him with a F1 World Champion who – second to none – has held his title for more than half a century: Fritz Höver, founder and longstanding chairman of Stuttgart’s Noverre Society. How would the Stuttgart Ballet have developed without Höver? Back in the early 1960s no one knew John Cranko in Stuttgart, not even Stuttgart Opera’s general director Walter Erich Schäfer. It’s hard to believe these days but in the late 1950s Stuttgart’s audience had not yet acquired a taste for ballet. The genre’s main function, since 1957 in the hands of artistic director Nicholas Beriozoff, ex-dancer of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, still was to take part in opera productions. Beriozoff, paving the way for the company’s ascent, put considerable effort in promoting ballet. It was due to the relentless persuasive power of Höver, that the young Cranko was invited to Baden-Wuerttemberg’s capital. In 1960 Cranko staged his first work in Stuttgart, “The Prince of the Pagodas” which had premiered three years earlier atNich The Royal Ballet. One year later he took over the reigns of “The Stuttgart Ballet”. (more…)

The Paragon of Perfection

Sybille Zehle:
“Jürgen Rose”
480 pages, plenty of of color and b/w illustrations
Verlag für Moderne Kunst, August 2014
ISBN: 3869844337

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Jürgen Rose, book cover “Of all set and costume designers he’s the only one not merely competent in all fields but ingenious,” Sir Peter Jonas states about Jürgen Rose. Rose would master everything, ballet – classical or modern – conceptual and decorative theater as well as dramatic and popular operas. “That’s one point. The other is much more important for professionals,” Jonas, said, “and like a gift from God: Rose doesn’t grow old fashioned. He has no expiration date.” Jonas, general director of the Bavarian State Opera from 1993 until 2006, highly appreciates Rose’s designs. He was by far not the only one! Rose was very much in demand, everyone wanted to work with him: Hans Lietzau, Rudolf Noelte, John Cranko, John Neumeier, Marcia Haydée, Dieter Dorn, Otto Schenk, August Everding – to name just a selection.
At age seventy-seven, Rose looks back on around 300 set and costume designs for operas, ballets and theater productions. He gained laurels as a stage director and, for a quarter of a century, inspired students of Stuttgart’s Academy of the Fine Arts in finding their own language as future stage designers. Earlier this year stage director Dieter Dorn and Jürgen Rose, a seasoned, longtime duo, welded together by more than twenty years of collaboration at Munich’s Kammerspiele, followed by eleven years at Munich’s Residenztheater, staged Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” at the Grand Théâtre de Genève to acclaim. Professional to the core, Rose’s life was – and presumably still is – the stage. An outstanding figure of German culture! (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…)

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…)

What Should Ballet Dramaturgy Achieve?

by Horst Koegler
Transcribed from a lecture given in 1976 at the Noverre Society in Stuttgart.
Stuttgart, Germany

June 29, 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Ilona Landgraf

1) Horst Koegler, ca. 1976, photo Gert WeigeltHad anyone asked John Cranko what ballet dramaturgy is, I imagine he might have answered, “Ballet dramaturgy is the figment of a frustrated German ballet critic’s imagination, and that person is Horst Koegler.” I have no illusions whatsoever about my persistent demand for more ballet dramaturgy. I dwell on it in order to correct an intolerable situation that puts ballet at a disadvantage compared to drama and opera.

Because the term ballet dramaturgy didn’t exist in the past and ballet got along without it, some people today do not see the need for it. Although I can understand this attitude histori- cally, I don’t agree. Theater dramaturgy has existed ever since Aristotle’s Poetics, which spelled out the rules for comedy and tragedy. We also know what Gotthold Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy accomplished for the German theater. Opera dramaturgy is less explicitly fixed and, despite the Florentine Camerata’s erudite debates on the topic, never produced globally accepted standards. (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.

(more…)

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.
(more…)

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…)

Bonbons from Stuttgart

The Taming of the Shrew”
Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart State Opera
Stuttgart, Germany
September 28, 2013

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2013 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Alicia Amatriain and Alexander Jones, The Taming of the Shrew by John Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet, photo Stuttgart BalletStuttgart Ballet opened its season with a revival of one of John Cranko’s classics:”The Taming of the Shrew”- a turbulent, crisp comic. Audiences find it irresistible, like a bonbonnière filled with colorfully wrapped sweets.

At its premiere in 1969 the success of “Shrew”was all the more momentous given that narrative ballets were not in vogue during the preceding decade and ballet comedies were unusual. Next to Cranko’s “Romeo and Juliet”, “Shrew” added considerably to what the New York Times’ Clive Barnes termed “The Stuttgart Ballet Miracle” following the company’s 1969 visit to the Metropolitan Opera House. The premiere’s cast list reads like the “who’s who?” of ballet: Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun in leading roles, with John Neumeier, Egon Madsen and Heinz Clauss as Bianca’s (Susanne Hanke) three suitors, and in the corps de ballet: Jiří Kylián. Almost forty-five years later “Shrew” hasn’t gathered dust. On the contrary the Stuttgart audience thrilled to it and the atmosphere was splendid. (more…)