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on November 07, 2023
This is the page for the performance on November 07, 2023.
Choreography Ohad Naharin, Heinz Spoerli


Program booklet (2,50€)

In 1742, Johann Sebastian Bach gave his Goldberg Variations the simple title Piano exercise consisting of one aria with various variations – and it is a fascinating compendium of variations, canons and fugues. In 1993, the Swiss choreographer Heinz Spoerli accepted the challenge of meeting Bach’s Opus summum for the piano with dance – and created one of his major works: a dance drama built out of music-making with the body about human beings, their joys and fears, loneliness and desires, allegiances and quarrels, youth and age. Goldberg-Variationen presents an 80-minute panorama of life which is juxtaposed here with a ballet choreographed by Ohad Naharin – also performed by the Vienna State Ballet for the first time – Tabula Rasa, to the eponymous piece by the composer Arvo Pärt. The Israeli’s works are declarations of love to the body in movement full of freedom, strength, eroticism and wildness, but also of purity, tenderness and vulnerability. The term »tabula rasa« comes from an ancient philosophical idea and describes human beings as a »blank page«. Ohad Naharin takes one of these and writes on it his explorations of the self and the body in the form of touching, kinetic-meditative experiences.

Ohad Naharin is one of the most fascinating figures in contemporary dance: an artist who loves extremes. Born in the Israeli kibbutz Mizra in 1952, he left his homeland at the age of 24 when he was invited to go to New York by modern dance icon Martha Graham. He danced in Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXe Siècle, and from 1990 to 2018 ran the Batsheva Dance Company, based in Tel Aviv, developing an entire technique of movement for them, Gaga, a method of »training the senses to be receptive«, created out of the need to be able to communicate with dancers on a deeper level.

With Tabula Rasa, the Vienna State Ballet will show one of the choreographer’s early works, commissioned in 1986 by Patricia Wilde for Pittsburgh Ballet. Ohad Naharin had discovered the legendary ECM recording of Arvo Pärt’s Double Concerto for Violin, String Orchestra and Prepared Piano in a record shop: »one of the most amazing pieces of music« he had »ever heard«. Tabula rasa, composed in 1977 for Gidon Kremer, was indeed one of the works that sensationally heralded Pärt’s return from a deep creative and spiritual crisis after several years of silence: music that seemed to bear no relation to time, that was born from the power of silence and an intense study of the Notre Dame school, classical vocal polyphony and Gregorian chant. Like Pärt’s music, Naharin’s choreography is also a work of the most acute concentration and of reduction to the essentials.

As a Ballet Director, Heinz Spoerli made Basler Ballett, the Ballett der Deutschen Oper am Rhein and finally the Zürcher Ballett leading companies in Europe and created a comprehensive œuvre as a choreographer. He choreographed the Goldberg-Variationen in 1993 for his company in Düsseldorf. The Vienna State Ballet will present the work with a new stage and costume design devised especially for Vienna.

In choreographing to Bach’s music, whose 30 variations on an aria reveal a remarkable sense of structure and an architecture that is almost mathematically precise, Heinz Spoerli let himself be inspired by hearing rather than studying the music, by emotional response rather than academic analysis. Published in 1741 as a »piano exercise« and named after Bach’s pupil Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the composition offered Spoerli ideal scope to develop his »extended neoclassicism«: a virtuosic language of dance characterised by subtlety and clarity which did not feel the need to pursue abstraction but was also capable of telling the audience things without an explicit narrative. Horst Koegler described the Goldberg-Variationen as one of the works from Spoerli’s »Bach ballet cathedral« which describes people and life in a series of poetic, choreographed images and scenes – a meeting, a farewell, anticipation and retrospection, happiness and grief. »For me, the Goldberg Variations are like the life that passes us by« is how Heinz Spoerli described his work: »There are relationships, couples are formed, and separations that lead back to neutrality. As in life, we get to know people, and then we drift apart again. [...] Perhaps I can tell something about this passing each other and togetherness in this piece. It should create a choreographic arc that stretches from the beginning to our end.«