volcanohunter

Hamburg Ballet on tour

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Two years ago the Hamburg Ballet's performances of John Neumeier's Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler in Chicago were canceled owing to an electrical fire at the Harris Theater. It was put out immediately, but since the theater is located almost entirely underground, there were concerns about how readily an audience could be evacuated from the building, and it remained closed for several months. This time the performances went off without a hitch, but my own journey to Chicago was beset by rotten weather, which resulted in four itinerary changes, two canceled flights, one suitcase lost somewhere in customs limbo, a night at an anonymous airport hotel and crossing an international border four times without actually going anywhere. (Somewhere I suspect Helene is scratching her head and thinking, “all this for Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler?" :wink:) I finally arrived in Chicago 22 hours late, so I missed a performance of Neumeier's Othello, as well as a matinee of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, which highlights the importance of always having a back-up plan and perhaps suggests that traveling to Chicago in February may not be the best idea.

I did not see Boston Ballet perform this ballet last autumn, so my most recent basis for comparison was the film from the Paris Opera Ballet. While the POB may have the more beautiful women’s corps and stronger demi-soloists, its coolly elegant performance had none of the Hamburg Ballet’s burning commitment or zeal, and for those qualities alone I would have to give the edge to the Hamburg Ballet’s men’s corps, which performed the very long first movement with such devotion and drive that it honestly didn’t seem long. It didn’t even matter that the music was a tinny old recording. (I imagine that hiring a Mahlerian orchestra, chorus and alto soloist would have been prohibitively expensive on tour.)

Notable among the soloists were evergreen Carsten Jung in the role sometimes called “Soul” and Konstantin Tselikov as “War,” although he was even better in the elegiac opening of the final movement, while Alexandr Trusch brought pure joy to the allegro duet of the second movement. I am sometimes critical of Edvin Revazov, but his performance of the “posthorn” duet with Anna Laudere was rapt and beautiful, and Hélène Bouchet invested the fourth movement with intensity and raw grief.

But at the center of everything was Alexandre Riabko as the ballet’s protagonist, demonstrating all of his most admirable qualities: endlessly fascinating phrasing and huge dynamic range, the expressiveness of his upper spine, shoulders and arms, phenomenal control—the ability to stop on a dime and an apparent capacity to speed up or slow down movement at will—preternatural lightness and unflagging virtuosity, despite spending nearly all of the ballet's uninterrupted hour and 45 minutes on stage. He is a uniquely lucent presence, but the obvious elation he expresses when dancing has an undercurrent of wistfulness, which gives it complexity and poignancy. It was almost achingly beautiful to watch his isolated hero finally find his Angel, the ravishing Silvia Azzoni, and in their duet they embodied something close to perfect rapture. But then she and this beatific vision vanished, and if initially he reacted to the encounter as though it had been a dream, toward the end, surrounded on all sides by apparently contented couples dancing serenly to exultant music, he stood at the front of the stage utterly bereft, struggling mightily not to cry. In this he ripped out my heart, and then for good measure he ripped out my guts, too.

Audience reaction was fantastically enthusiastic, although I wouldn’t venture to guess whether this was primarily a response to the ballet or the music or the performance. Along the way I was lucky to have dinner with a lovely group of ballet lovers, none from Chicago, but all of whom, I think it’s fair to say, came away very pleased with what they saw. The Hamburg Ballet’s tour, meanwhile, has moved on to Japan.

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Almost laughing--in horrified sympathy--at your travel woes. Glad you were able to see the Mahler ballet at least -- and thanks for your account of it.

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My commiserations on the trip there, but it sounds like you felt the performance was worth the travail. I've only been to Chicago two times, once in the middle of the summer, and once in the middle of winter, but neither trip was as beleaguered as it sounds like yours was!

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I'm grateful for the sympathy. I actually like Chicago very much (although perhaps it does not like me). The city has so much to recommend it, so I've never regretted visiting, even when half my plans have been, shall we say, altered. :)

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It was great to meet you, volcanohunter!

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