Martin Schläpfer’s ballet »Marsch, Walzer, Polka« to music by the Strauß family is a ravishing homage to waltz dreams and dance ecstasy, but also a humorous, grotesque look at depth psychology and power fantasies. The 2006 piece can now be seen in Vienna in a new version, for which Martin Schläpfer has been able to win Susanne Bisovsky as a partner – an artist whose experimental, »Tracht«-inspired works probe the boundaries between traditional and the avantgarde in a most congenial manner.
Gustav Mahler was »in seventh heaven« while he was working on his 5th Symphony. It had been revealed to him by his great love and future wife Alma Schindler, to whom he also dedicated the Adagietto that has now inspired Marco Goecke to create a new piece »Fly Paper Bird« for the Vienna State Ballet.
George Balanchine’s »Symphony in C« is a gorgeous homage to classical ballet – a beautiful evocation of the spirit of the White Acts of the St. Petersburg School and skilful interplay of soli, pas de deux and large groups culminating in a splendid finale.
Life in its absurdity, its beauty and its sadness
Marco Goecke in conversation with Anne do Paço
Your works are danced by companies around the world. Now you are about to make your debut in Vienna with a world premiere for the Vienna State Ballet. What was your first reaction when Martin Schläpfer asked you to do this?
Marco Goecke I was very pleased! My only encounter with this city was a very long time ago and rather special: in 2003 Klaus Zehelein sent me to Vienna to meet Andrea Breth. The plan was for me to do the choreography for her production of »The Bartered Bride« in Stuttgart. I was just beginning at the time and remember very clearly sitting in the canteen at the Burgtheater waiting for her. I was really fascinated by Vienna. Now my dog Gustav is getting quite old and is often unwell. I’m so afraid of losing him. So at night before going to sleep I always tell him that we’re going to Vienna together. I’m so looking forward to visiting Café Demel and all those wonderful delicacies. Only the Viennese can make them (and the French, of course). (…)
Has your life changed since you became Ballet Director and had to be responsible for your own ensemble?
Marco Goecke Yes, it’s a big adjustment for me after being permanently on the move for 20 years. My life consisted of packing my suitcase, meeting people I didn’t know and creating something with them in a short time. But I had a great deal of freedom. After a premiere I would leave and never had to watch any more performances, be concerned about different moods within the audience or support an ensemble from one production to the next. There are difficult moments, when you discover how alive what we are doing is and how it can waver or even collapse. I’m not so obsessed with myself that I love watching my own pieces several times. But now as Director my responsibility is different and this has changed the way I regard my work. The great opportunity in having a company of your own is to go deeper, to firm up the quality of the work, to get to know the dancers much better than when you’re a guest for only three or four weeks and you can’t really get under the surface in that time. We are as close as a family and that can only have a positive effect on the work. I started working very intensively on this point in Hanover – and then coronavirus happened. So there is a great deal to be done. But somehow that’s also typical of my life: looking for a home but repeatedly running away again on the way there.
For your premiere in Vienna you’ve chosen a famous musical score: two movements from Gustav Mahler’s 5th Symphony – the second movement, »stürmisch bewegt«, and the famous Adagietto.
Marco Goecke You’ve got this magnificent orchestra in Vienna! But I must confess it’s always difficult for me to find orchestral music because I really like commercial sounds like pop and jazz …
… Mahler’s Adagietto is not so far away from that, after Visconti’s film version of »Death in Venice« made it a hit far beyond the concert hall.
Marco Goecke That’s right. It’s similar to Vivaldi’s »Four Seasons«, which I would also like to choreograph some time: I’m very interested in music that has already been through the wringer so much that you don’t really feel its beauty anymore. If I can succeed in associating works like this with my own images, then they can be heard again anew – and seen anew.
What will your ballet be about?
Marco Goecke Because my piece is intended to have a length of around 25 minutes, it will be more abstract. But with me abstract works always contain mini-stories that are nevertheless a long way away from a specific narrative: it’s about the time in which a work is created, about what constitutes today.
Your piece is the central one in a three-part programme that opens with Martin Schläpfer’s ballet »Marsch, Walzer, Polka« and finishes with George Balanchine’s »Symphony in C«.
Marco Goecke Yeah, wow! That’s some programme! I hope I get an equally good hotel in Vienna as the person who comes from New York to rehearse »Symphony in C« (laughs).
What does Balanchine mean to you?
Marco Goecke When I was young, I was totally fascinated by Balanchine. His reduction and abstraction were a really important step forward for ballet. He brought »fresh air« to dance. But only a small number of companies can dance these pieces really well. I’ve worked with dancers from the New York City Ballet. They’re accustomed to a different kind of training: much harder, faster, more attacking and less lyrical than what we’re familiar with here. As a young dancer I absolutely wanted to do these pieces. But now my position is rather different and I must admit I don’t have much time for the cult that is still associated with Balanchine at New York City Ballet. They won’t even let Forsythe in there. For me, dance is also kept alive by the future and, in my opinion, you have to give youth a chance. Martin Schläpfer’s work is much closer to me than something like »Symphony in C«. They’re like fire and water …
… one basic idea in this programme is to bring together different styles and approaches to dance and confront them with each other, generating friction between them but also giving each work its own space – and the dancers too, who can present very different sides of themselves.
Marco Goecke I’m really very excited! Personally, I have difficulty with things being preserved and celebrated. I keep on thinking about how to deal with my own work. Wouldn’t it be better just to let it fade away? But the older you get, the larger the group of people becomes to whom something in my work belongs, who want to continue it and perhaps also make a living from it. And yet, dance is now, today. And that’s why I don’t like streaming performances. For me they’re too far away – too far away to celebrate the now. Dance for me is nothing else than affirming life when we meet in the theatre – life in its absurdity, its beauty and its sadness. There is hardly a metaphor that is filled with energy as much as dance. When I go to work in the morning, I feel I’m getting older and more tired and sometimes more frustrated too. But when I get out of the lift and hear the music for class, I’m like a dog picking up a scent. The scent of joy, of life. Then I’m wide awake. To experience that every day is a beautiful thing. That’s what I find working on dance is like.
The complete version of this interview can be found in our season book 2021/22.
Translated from German by David Tushingham
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Jerome Robbins created »Other Dances« for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov – a Chopin ballet in which the Romanticism of the music beautifully blends with the elegance of classical ballet technique in a way that is both sublime and yet also natural.
With »Concerto«, a work by the great American postmodern choreographer Lucinda Childs can be experienced for the first time with the Vienna State Ballet.
Balanchine’s »Liebeslieder Walzer«, on the other hand, evoke the world of Viennese balls – intimate portraits of passion on the compositions of the same name by Johannes Brahms.
Geometry and Minimalism
Lucinda Childs in conversation with Nastasja Fischer
Lucinda Childs is considered the »Queen of Minimalism«. Since the 1970s, the American has created a groundbreaking oeuvre - first as a member of New York's Judson Dance Theater, that long legendary, boundary-crossing artists' collective, then later with her own company and as a freelance choreographer working for renowned companies worldwide. With »Concerto«, the Vienna State Ballet presents for the first time a work by this important representative of postmodernism.
There are two paths in the history of your choreographic work. Pieces, which center pure movement (and the perception of it) without text, props or even music and creations, which unite music, picture, video and dance. Can you explain your interest in that different directions?
Lucinda Childs I made dances in the early seventies with no musical accompaniment that were performed in silence in alternative spaces like churches, galleries, and rooftops. They were not limited to the one-sided view of the traditional proscenium stage. After participating with Robert Wilson and Philip Glass in 1976 as performer and choreographer on the opera »Einstein on the Beach« I was eager to continue to work again with Philip’s music on a full-length work. In 1979, this became »Dance« with a film/décor created by Sol LeWitt. The classical stage space no longer seemed confined. I embraced the traditional collaboration between a choreographer, composer, and visual artist because we all shared the same minimalist aesthetic. The work is still performed by my company and is also in the repertory of the Lyon Opera Ballet.
When it comes to your work the word »perception« is most likely used. As you often work with repetitive and geometric patterns it is also a task for the audience to challenge themselves and their perceptual abilities. Do you think of the audience while creating?
Lucinda Childs Yes, perception is an important part of the minimalist aesthetic. Variation is achieved through reintroducing thematic material in different kinds of sequential patterns. I don’t think of the audience while creating, but I’ve been told that I make them think. It’s necessary to engage intellectually with the work to comprehend that the treatment of the content of the work is as important as the content itself. It is not just repetition for the sake of repetition but rather a more subtle adventure into the abstract world of theme and variation.
The Vienna State Ballet will show your work »Concerto«, which had its world premiere in 1993 in Lisbon. The motifs of repetition and geometrics are seen as well, but it is also about ballet technique and movements.
Lucinda Childs There really is no Lucinda Childs vocabulary. I use balletic material that I have modified and to some extent simplified. What is original is how the material is used as well as its style. Henryk Górecki’s »Harpsichord Concerto« is dedicated to the Polish harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka. After listening to it with her, I wanted to use it for my company and Elisabeth was kind enough to contact Górecki to obtain permission.
Can you describe what it means for you to restage a piece with Vienna State Ballet? Do you have any kind of a relationship to Vienna?
Lucinda Childs »Concerto« has been restaged with companies other than my own more than any other work in my repertory. I am especially pleased to have it on this program with this company. In 1997, I performed with Michel Piccoli in Robert Wilson’s production of Marguerite Duras’ »Maladie de la Mort« in Vienna. I was most recently there with my company in 2010 with performances of »Dance« at the Tanzquartier.
You can read the full interview at the season preview 2021/22.
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Images of people preserved in their microcosm but also exposed to the vastness of the universe. – For Martin Schläpfer, the idea of a full-length ballet inspired by Joseph Haydn’s »The Seasons« stretches back to the early 1990s. Now, over 25 years later, it will finally reach the stage – with the Vienna State Ballet, soloists from the vocal ensemble, the Arnold Schoenberg choir and orchestra of the Vienna State Opera conducted by Adam Fischer alternating with Jendrik Springer.
On a Winter Evening
by Martin Schläpfer
When Richard Merz, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung’s dance critic asked me in an interview in the 90s whether there was a piece of music or a libretto or a theme that I would like to choreograph, I told him: Haydn’s »The Seasons«. I don’t really remember his reaction. He printed my wish, though he certainly didn’t endorse it. I was a complete beginner who had never choreographed before and was just about to take over as Ballet Director in Berne – and hardly anyone in the Swiss press reacted positively when Eike Gramss announced my appointment.
25 years later I am now programming Joseph Haydn’s oratorio at the Vienna State Opera, creating a piece to it for the Vienna State Ballet. Not that I’ve been nurturing this wish for all those years. But last summer – I had just moved to Vienna – it suddenly came back to me. I hadn’t known then that the oratorio was so important to this city and that it had been launched here after »The Creation«. The Empress herself had sung the soprano role of Hanne. Well. That’s rather nice.
I had only got to know Haydn as a composer relatively late, in the 90s, by reading Alfred Brendel’s musical thoughts. I was delighted by »The Seasons«, which enchanted me with its beauty and power, and its text that still touches and moves me now and which is so humble, so pure – and yet is able to celebrate so heartily, praise so devoutly and mourn so deeply. It comes crawling up from of another time with a different pace – but one that was real and that surrounds the work with a deeply human fluidity. People were not pampered then. Quite the opposite: life was really tough. But they were capable of gratitude and took time for each other. All this together may have brought me to make that genuinely bold statement to Richard Merz.
»The Seasons« is only the third work I have choreographed to Haydn’s music. I am currently also making a dance piece to his 4th »Sunrise Quartet« for the Ballet Academy’s youth company. It feels strange creating ideas for ballets – here in Vienna, at a desk at home – while everything that we are working on is gradually being cut away from me and from my ensemble by the increasingly prolonged lockdown. Outside it is making a rather inhibited first attempt to snow – just as Haydn’s grim, ice cold winter takes away the wanderer’s hope of getting through and takes away his prospects.
What are our prospects? To carry on nevertheless. Out of dignity. Of course. But how we do it is important too. Haydn’s metaphor of God/nature doesn’t simply show an intact, naive world but a more conscious, humbler one – at least as far as the reciprocal effects of give-and-take are concerned. One that is harder and yet softer. We’re soft but act as if we’re hard. You can only withstand something hard by being soft – blows will only lose their power if a cavity will stretch.
The way in which at present more and more questions are being handled with the same rehearsed »adviser speak«, is of no interest. It is tiresome and boring. A good politician is really not unlike a good artist. Death is everything. Night is everything. Sleep is everything. Winter is everything.
Translated from German by David Tushingham
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»It was as if someone had released a wild animal into a living room«, one London journalist wrote in an obituary of Rudolf Nureyev, that remarkable artist who as a dancer recalibrated the world of ballet and as a choreographer breathed new life into the classics.
The Vienna State Ballet’s Nureyev Gala, introduced as the season’s finale by Manuel Legris in 2011, will be continued in alternate years under Martin Schläpfer: »As a bow to this truly exceptional dancer, but also to the work of my predecessor Manuel Legris«, said Martin Schläpfer. In memory of Nureyev, whose influence in Vienna was so strong, not only knowing how to make Russian narrative ballets sparkle but also working together with many leading contemporary choreographers and always being open to new things, in its 2022 Gala, the Vienna State Ballet will present historic work by Marius Petipa alongside contemporary ballet by Sol León & Paul Lightfoot, George Balanchine’s glittering virtuoso »Allegro brillante« and the »Songs of a Wayfarer« created especially for Nureyev by Maurice Béjart alongside Martin Schläpfer’s »Hungarian Dances«. Hans van Manen will entrust the students of the Ballet Academy with his ensemble piece »Unisono«.
In future, forms other than classical and modern dance shall also have a place at the Nureyev Gala. The first of these will be provided by David Coria, an artist whose unique elegance, breath-taking virtuosity and compelling aura makes him one of the outstanding flamenco dancers in Spain. The acclaimed star of Stuttgart Ballet Friedemann Vogel will also return to Vienna as a guest alongside Guillaume Côté from The National Ballet of Canada.
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