John Neumeier – Creating on Emotion

Spring and Fall - ENB
Photo: Spring and Fall – ENB ………….. Link to video: Spring and Fall – Hamburg Ballet

It’s about time I start writing about choreographers. Last night was again a sleepless one, and I spent hours watching different stagings and performances of La Dame aux Camélias, choreographed by Neumeier.

Conclusion? all performances are beautiful, no exception. La Dame has such a lovely and expressive choreography, on such lovely music – it may even be performed (and sometimes is) by dancers that have not that great technical or acting skills – it doesn’t matter, its beauty is impossible to spoil.

There, I believe, resides Neumeier’s greatness: what he creates has a life of its own, his choreographies are in themselves objets d´art. They can be shown in a better light, when performed by great dancers (and then they become a regular WOOOW affair!), but their magic does not depend on dancers as some other works do – it’s the other way round,  his works HELP dancers make a great perfomance.

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Photo: La Dame aux Camélias – Marcia Haydée, Ivan Liska and Neumeier ………….. Link to video: Marcia Haydée, François Klaus, Ivan Liska in a most extraordinary scene

Neumeier is, by his own definition, a choreographer of human feelings:

“I’m a choreographer who works from emotion, from relationship, from situations, human situations, I try to make these situations as subtle, as different, as many-sided as possible. I never thought of Dance as anything else – ever – but the expression of a person’s emotion. For me Dance is not sport, it is not an acrobatic exercise, it is a physical expression of complete humanity. Dance is not really an Art form, unless it can express all that being human is.

*****  Ok, Neumeier, give me your feet so I can kiss them!

La Dame is certainly one of my favourite works – as everyone elses, I bet, but he created so many exquisite jewels: Spring and Fall (another favourite), The Little Mermaid, Death in Venice, Nijinsky (high on my wishlist), Liliom,…

Photo: Nijinsky…………. Link: the Bubenicec brothers Jiri and Otto as Nijinsky, and Anna Polikarpova as Nijinsky’s wife – a must see!

Most are at once lyrical and like sandpaper on soft skin – a tenderly done punch in your stomach. The Little Mermaid he created: of course! he is so right in the way he depicts her – in my mind (and heart) she is not, any more, like the lovely drawing in my Andersen book, but looks and behaves like Yuan Yuan Tan – and stands for anyone who feels alien and fragil in a strange hard world. He makes you ache inside…  and keep wishing for more.

The Little Mermaid - Yuan Yuan Tan and
The Little Mermaid – Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets

His works are often explicitely sensual, and no way to go around that – prude ballet-lovers are advised to stay away, sexuality is definitely there, under bright spotlight…  I recently saw a performance where Margherite and Armand just suggest the (choreographed!!) kisses in their PDDs, as if they were dancing a virginal Nutcracker instead of a courtisane‘s passionate story… I almost can see the frown on Neumeier’s brow!

Male dancers have lots of wonderful opportunities, sometimes more than women, but ultimately which gender gets more to do – and spotlight – depends on the subject and the plot –  it is just one more example of his honesty when choreographing.

Some things I love about him: the clever way he uses classical ground-stones to create something that is all his own; his themes and the way he handles them; the way he uses choreography to express feelings and ideas (never a dreadful outdated mime, relieved sigh!) . Then there are the great scores he – thankfully! – chooses, most are as nice to hear as to see danced. And he prefers dancers who know how to act (no wonder Alina Cojocaru is one of his favourites!). There are a lot of them in Hamburg: Silvia Azzoni, Helene Bouchet (love her!), Carsten Jung, Lloyd Riggins, Otto Bubenicek, Alexandr Trush, … It may even be that in Hamburg acting skill is a requirement to become a soloist or principal (hhhmmm, nice!)…

Alexander Riabko and Kusha Alexi   -  Joseph's Legend
Alexander Riabko and Alessi – Joseph’s Legend

But there are things I don’t like: in his stagings (he is keen on them, sometimes they are his own design), costumes are often unnecessarily ugly and unbecoming, and I highlight unnecessarily – AND not always easy to dance with. Costumes should never, NEVER be a problem to a dancer. I know you are thinking about the Mermaid, but even in La Dame those full skirts of Margherite, pretty as they are, are inadequate to the kind of complicated lift often used in the choreography. All that fabric is always in the way, or end up in a ball around her throat, or completely blind poor Armand… And then that napkin that is Joseph’s costume… or did they wash the thing and it shrinked to half its size?  In Ivan Vasiliev it would look like a tie!

Also, when he goes really contemporary, the choreography is somewhat less pleasing to the (my) eye than in his a little more traditional ones.

UPS! These last paragraphs sounded like an unsophisticated, or worse, uncultured critic, didn’t they?

In my original text, at this point I started a sidetrack to justify my apparently close-minded opinions. But the thing became too long (once again),  and I turned the whole sidetrack into an independent post (soon) . It was a comment on contemporary choreography, anyway, not on Neumeier himself – and if you don’t know me, don’t get the wrong impression: I love contemporary!

Never mind these “dislikes”, however, they are triffles that don’t make a dent in my admiration – he is placed VERY high on my Hall of Fame.

On my wishlist are also the updatings he made of several classics – but these I didn’t see, so I have no opinion on them, yet (was that a relieved sigh from you?!?).

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