Trying to bolster up up two ballets into a full-length Trilogy
John Neumeier choreographs Stravinsky´s “Apollon musagète” and “Orpheus”
October 14. 2011
by Horst Koegler
copyright 2011 by Horst Koegler
When John Neumeier planned his "Orpheus“ two years ago, it was the first time that a ballet was to be specially created for Roberto Bolle, star-dancer based in La Scala di Milano, and a highly respected guest with many companies abroad, among many others the Paris Opéra, London´s Royal Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. He had been acclaimed in all the prince roles, from “Giselle” via the Petipas through their contemporary descendents, fathered by Ashton, MacMillan and Nureyev, plus some of their relatives from bourgeios stock. among them Balanchine, Petit and other representatives of the higher ranks of the international ballet gentry.
And that rested with its conceptual structure. As might be remembered. at the time of its creation Stravinsky´s and Balanchine´s “Orpheus” was planned as the middle part of a trilogy, based upon the classical myth, starting with “Apollon musagète,” and to be later completed by a third ballet, to be created at a later date. Alas, this was not going to happen. Instead Stravinsky wrote “Agon”, a ballet which had nothing to do with classical mythology.
Neumeier, however, still intended to use “Apollon musagète “ and “Orpheus” as part of a full-length two act ballet, which he started with “Apollon musagète” as the birth of Orpheus as the son of Apollo and Kalliope. He is destined to become a musician, and for this he is bestowed not with a lyre but with a violin, which he learns to play, instructed by a fiddler who appears on the stage, intoning one of the ´Rosenkranz sonatas´ of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), which goes very well as an insert to Stravinsky´s “Apollo” music. From there he progresses on earth as a street musician, an immensely successful artist of our times, idolized by a huge flock of fans. among them Eurydice, and they fall in love. They dance a very tender and touching pas de deux, but then she is killed in a car-crash to the noisy metallic sounds of the electronically generated pop-score of Peter Blegvad & Andy Partridge, two hard-core rock musicians, from their album ´Orpheus the Lowdown´, spiced with some highfaluting texts from Rilke, which are hardly understood in the explosive turmoils of uproar.
The apotheosis from “Apollo” serves as Orpheus´s mourning music, during which he expresses his unconsolable emotions for his dead beloved.
In the second part he seeks refuge in various orgies with prostitutes – again to the horrible sounds of Blegvad & Partridge, but is then gently taken by the hand of Hermes, and to the soothing tones of the “Orpheus” score with some more inserted violin melodies of Biber pass through the pastures of trees and rivers to Hades, where he gets attacked by the Furies and Shadows until his song of consolation calms their monstrous attacks and Eurydice is restored to him, though not without his being blinded with some dark glasses to protect him from facing her directly on their way back to earth. They again dance a heart-wringing pas de deux, in which she gets more and more demanding, until he, too, gets so excited that he tears off his spectacles, looking at her lovungly, desperately, while she slowly fades away. Having finally lost her, he mourns to the squeaking sounds of the Belgvad and Partridge noises, until Hermes guides him to the balming sounds of the Stravinsky back to earth, where, however, the public turnes away from him. He is left alone with his pain, while his music continues to mystcally spread its message of eternal bliss. This, however, is handled by Neumeier much less convincingly than by Balanchine where his instrument "raises higher and higher, carrying with it for the ages the tenderness and power of his song."(Balanchine/Mason)
Having accompanied the path of Orpheus in dozens of performances in all kinds of interpretations, in opera from Monteverdi and Gluck through some modern versions by Krenek and other contemporariers and in ballets from Balanchine via Béjart through Pina Bausch, I have to admit that no former realizations have left me as cold as this performance at the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus. This had been different when I first attended the Neumeier version in Hamburg two years ago. Though even then I suffered some qualms about the incoherent mixing of the Stravinsky and the Belgvad and Partridge scores, the production was at least partly saved through the deeply involved interpretations of the roles of Bubenicek and Hélène Bouchet.
At that time, I had already asked myself why Nemeier when he wanted to show Orpheus as our contemporary, had chosen those naughty sounds of Belgvad and Partridge instead of researchig the Stravinsky oeuvre for some appropriate fiery sounds (or, maybe, use part of the score Pierry Henry had composed for Béjart´s “Orrphée”, or Henze for Forsythe´s eponymous ballet. At least he would have saved us from the pretentious texts, whch nobody understands during the first encounter with the work (I think these textual infringements on ballets as unreasonable demands on the public, as they are just narcistic flighths of fancy of the choreographer, often are not even understood by the dancers and not at all by the audiences).
It would be wrong to blame Bolle that the ballet had lost the magic it had communicated at Hamburg, though he certainly is not the type of artist to die for not reaching the unattainable in art. If he was advertized as ´the Callas of dance´ or even `the best dancer in the world´ this is pure nonsense, for he posseses none of the charismatic powers of the diva. nor is he a dancer to compete technically with Nureyev or Baryshnikov at the heigth of of their powers. Of perfect build and beauty and a solid, though not really spectacular technique, he is more the type of Erik Bruhn and surprisingly unsexy. And thus his dance is a celebration of his beauty – a model rather than an artist. If he here plays a contemporary artist, who is idolized by the crowd, he (or Neumeier) should have modelled his portrait more after those icons of pop culture like Bob Marley or James Dean or - if he must be a violinist – like Nigel Kennedy (whose legendary interpretation of Vivaldi´s ´Four Seasons´ in their stormy invocation of winter would provided enough music to accompany his inner turmoil. Thus the collaboration between him and Neumeier hardly challenged Neumeier´s deeper passions which he has unleashed so irresistible in his working together with Richard Cragun in is “Streetcar Named Desire”.
The Baden-Baden performance culminated in Hélène Bouchets touching interpretation of Eurydice. She is an incredibly touching, tender and vulnerable creature of almost diaphanous transparence, who gracefully declames Neumeier´s lyric outpurings. His choreography is a beautifully moulded song of classicism of a creamy liqudity, emanatng from the music. Only in the mass scenes it assumes harder contours, with edgy arms. like holding up invisible signalling signs. They, are also danced perfectly synchronized , especially in the later ensembles when they are supposed to represent trees and rivers. There are few few roles asking for virtuoso stunts. Edvin Revazov and Anna Laudere represent as Apollo and Kalliope Orpheus´s parents, strong and mature adults and their pas de trois communicates a feeling of strong family bonds. Kiran West represents Hermes, here called the accompanist of soulds – very different from Stravinsky/Blanahine´s Dark Angel, a rather soothening character, later on accompanied by two Shadowy Figures . Alexandr Trusch and Konstantin Tselikov. The dances of the shadows have a stark and forceful determination, though they never sharpen into the visceral attack weapons, so threateningly handled by Balanchine´s Bacchantes. The design by Ferdinand Woegerbauer suggests a majestic gate behind which one first the milky contours of a distant landcspe. The constumes are by Neumeier, flimsy robes for dem women and tmostly tights for the men, , strongly coloroured and brightly lit by Neumeier himself. The Baden-Baden performances were played by the Wuerttemberg Phiharmonic from Reutlingen, conducted by Paul Fitzsimon – and these were of truly Philharmonic quality, with Daniel Garlitsky as thelean and shapely soloist in the Biber violin pieces.
On the whole the Baden-Baden performance materialized as a courageous and ambitious attempt at bolstering up Stravinsky`s “Apollon musagète” and “Orpheus” into a full-length trilogy, which did not really yield into a cohesive integrated wholeness.
Photographs courtesy of Hamburg Ballet.
Photos: Stephanie Schweigert.