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Hamburg Ballet in DC


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Anyone else go? What did you think?

It got a lot of applause at the end -- standing ovation, very warm reception for the dancers and for Neumeier, who took a call. Yet it was a very mixed reaction, from remarks I overheard, both at intermission and as people were leaving. Several people near where I was sitting left after the first act, people around me were laughing at some parts (not because they were intentionally funny), and I heard several 'I hated it," "That's the worst thing I've ever seen," and one, "I was miserable!" BUT I also heard the absolute opposite -- "Wasn't that wonderful?" "I think that's the best thing I've ever seen."

So go. Go and report!

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I just returned home from the performance and immediately checked this board to post but alas Alexandra beat me to it!

I absolutely LOVED the performance - while it may or may not be among the best ballets I have ever seen (I must sit down and analyze it a bit more before I can come to some sort of conclusion regarding that matter) it was certainly one of the ballets that have affected me the most. I cried several times and certain scenes (the brother's mad scene, especially) literally sent chills down my spine. I left the theater completely satisfied and enraptured by what I had seen.

I would like to go into more detail, but my mountain of homework beckons. I do hope to post a bit more once I've gathered my thoughts.

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Go see this, for the dancers alone. Their commitment to the piece and the movement is extraordinary. As Alexandra stated in Announcements, the company and production look fabulous. You may hate the ballet, but you will not leave the theater unaffected. For me, I would rather hate an evening at the theater than be left bored, which these days is my most common experience.

As for the ballet, I am still digesting a multiple course meal in a cuisine that I have not experienced in a while. All the cliches were there, slow walks across the back, coming forward backlit by a strong spot, multiple gestures used to mark a character and others. Music is used more for background emotion, similar to movies, than to drive or inspire the choreography. I find that this ballet comes out of the seventies American scene, which both Neumier and Forsythe went to Europe to expand. I am looking forward to Frankfurt coming here in June.

The choreography is well made and there are few times where you are left hoping for something to see. I was pulled and pushed, and would see it again. Dancers hold your attention and act extremely well.

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I was there on Wednesday night. I thought it was an interesting example of a trend that's popular in some, especially European, circles, but I didn't think it was a good ballet. You had to know quite a bit about Nijinksky's life and career in order to understand what was going on -- someone who didn't would be lost. Neumeier obviously made a conscious decision to eschew exposition in favor of "interpretation," but his ideas weren't powerful enough to keep me from finding the lack of realism disconcerting -- why, for instance, Diaghilev looked so young and Romola was a willowy blonde. The ballet never bored me, but never gripped me, either. As mbjerk said, Neumeier used a lot of choreographic cliches, and he put his best ideas in the first act. I found myself thinking that this was a pretty meagre result for a lifetime's obsession with Nijinsky.

Yes, the dancers were very good, which made me wish they had better works to dance.

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I saw the second cast tonight. I decided to try to watch it as though I knew nothing about Nijinsky except he had been a very great dancer -- it helped. I stopped worrying about why the nesting heads from "Les Noces" appeared in "Jeux", etc., and why World War I had been fought in hot pants, and just watched it as a fantasy.

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Or why the men started with the entrance of the Shades from Act II Bayadere in the second act..... But is was fun to see it then pickup to lightning speed with the women.

I look at this as a wash of emotion and ideas - perhaps choreographea (a la logorhea) - and meant as an expressionistic painting versus a realistic portrait.

I gave up realism when Nijinsjy entered with the white Liberace covering....

But I still enjoyed it and hope to make time this weekend to see it again.

It will be fun to discuss this Milwaukee-German dance theater versus Mr. Balanchine's ability to create a story with a man, woman and music.

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The problem, for me, is that if it's expressionist, why is there so little expression? Diaghilev is a stick of wood, no authority, no sense that this was the greatest man in the arts at the time, and god knows no taste (talk about Liberace outfits). The viewpoint is confused, too -- we're not always inside Nijinsky's head. He switches in and out, as convenient, so that blows the "he's going mad and this is what he's thinking" angle and leaves you with what are basically incoherent ramblings -- or, as the program note says, "choreographic approaches". Whatever that means. I'm always puzzled by the critics who find Neumeier deep and intellectual. You can pick up every shade of meaning, every choreographic quote, and every double casting by a second viewing, and have lots of time to remember the passages from this or that book that a particular gesture or moment is supposed to represent -- or not. (why does stanislav, who was not mad but "dim-witted" -- he fell on his head when he was a child and was so severely brain damaged that he was institutionalized for most of his life, count to five on both hands, quite successfully, and then Vaslav does the same thing, as though teaching him what he already knows? And he was the older brother, not the younger, as the sizing of the casting and Stanislav's demeanor, implies. But if you look at it as decorative entertainment, there is a sweep to it .

What I thought was good to see was something NEW danced by people obviously committed to what they were doing. It also shows what you can do with money. I kept thinking we won't have to worry about imiitations becuase no American company could afford something like this. Please, don't prove me wrong on that!

But, as a friend said to me last night, compared to the George Harrison ballet, it's quite good!

I'd still urge people to go -- see what this is about. The audience liked it very much last night. More enthusiasm than opening night (which is often the case here.)

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For another view, read Sarah Kaufman's review in today's Washington Post [copied over from Links]:

Sarah Kaufman reviews John Neumeier's Nijinsky, given by the Hamburg Ballet at the Kennedy Center, in the Washington Post.

Neumeier's "Nijinsky," which the Hamburg Ballet performed Wednesday at the start of a five-day run at the Kennedy Center Opera House, does not exploit the salacious aspects of the dancer's life. Nor is it morbid. It is, in fact, a singularly engrossing ride through an imagined world, one in which celebrated dancers, Parisian society and characters from long-ago ballets mingle with hallucinatory force.

With its casual, unceasing shifts of time and place, a complicated cast of characters — and with Nijinsky himself split into half a dozen personalities — this two-act, evening-length ballet ought not to work. Yet imperfect as it is, it succeeds as dynamic, rich and gripping theater.

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leaves you with what are basically incoherent ramblings -- or, as the program note says, "choreographic approaches".

Incoherent to us, but perhaps not to Neumier? I think that choreographers need the equivalent of an editor, or at least a trusted colleague to say - "What do you mean to convey - I do not see it"? Or would this stifle creativity and the individual expression?

Or if we had seen more Neumier over time, would the ballet be clearer to us?

The company's dancers seem to believe, I wonder what their conversations about dancing the ballet hold. When I danced, we often only understood a little of the choreographer's intent, but had lengthy discussions as to what it all meant and how best to convey it. And the choreographer/stager often told us not to worry but to dance it as they asked.

Larger issues....

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Somehow, Nijinsky's sturm und drang puts me in mind of Mark Twain: "Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use."

The problem, well, one of them, I have with Nijinsky is that, once you get past the shiny surface, it's all based on received wisdom. Nijinsky looks like he's having a toothache, so he must be Suffering for his Art. Neumeier sends Nijinsky's characters crashing into each other, so it must be a Brilliant Juxtaposition. Soldiers are made to look like mental patients, or is it the other way around? Aha! Nijinsky was going insane within just as Europe itself was going mad in WWI! War is crazy? No, really? Neumeier presents cliche after cliche dressed up as profundity.

I'm not so sure the divide here is between formalism and theatricality, or whatever. I think it's between good theater, and bad theater, and Nijinsky is, for reasons many have noted, bad theater.

Here's one definition of received wisdom, culled from an intensive Google search:

an idea or set of ideas sustained through labelling, commonly represented in the form of a narrative, and grounded in a specific cultural policy paradigm. It can be understood as a form of discourse in which it embodies relations of power that are constituted through everyday, familiar acts that go unnoticed because they are taken for granted.
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an idea or set of ideas sustained through labelling, commonly represented in the form of a narrative, and grounded in a specific cultural policy paradigm. It can be understood as a form of discourse in which it embodies relations of power that are constituted through everyday, familiar acts that go unnoticed because they are taken for granted.

Doesn't this describe basically a major form of choreographic device, and if so, I fail to see how this describes only shallow things. It's merely a tool for communicating ideas, and from what I've read here, it sounds like people don't like the message. That's fine, but to dismiss a work because it predominantly uses such tools seems to be missing the forest for the trees.

It also strikes me as particularly ironic that as ephemeral an art form as dance is often judged on literal, realistic terms.


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