Neumeier choreographs Leonard Bernstein
(and everybody wears Armani)
by SISSY VON KOTZEBUE and TESS CREBBIN
Imagine hundreds of people dancing, not walking, out of an opera house in grand jetés, swirling in pirouettes. A businessman doing ciseaux, a young student trying splits, an elderly women using her walking-stick as a drum-major's baton, and all of them with smiles on their faces that are out of this world. This was the impression of the audience leaving the Hamburg State Opera following the Hamburg Ballet Days' performance of John Neumeier's ballet revue, Bernstein Dances.
How can a performance be so thrilling that standing ovations, and flowers flying onto stage, seem to find no end? The recipe is simple -- just take an outstanding conductor / composer (unfortunately dead) whose music has been popular for over sixty years now. Let his music be set for ballet by the most celebrated living choreographer. And then add the dancers of one of the world's most renowned ballet companies, put them into costumes by an Italian couturier whose design stands for dressing the beautiful and famous. Any questions why this works?
Bernstein Dances is not the only Neumeier choreography people want to see again and again. When, at the end of each season, for the annual Hamburg Ballet Days, the company presents a summary of its work, there are always several 'Neumeiers', and they are usually sold out before you can say 'Neumeier'. The Hamburg-based American choreographer has become a phenomenon, larger than life, and so it is fitting that he should be the one to pay a danced tribute to another larger-than-life music legend.
But how did this match made in heaven form? The first contact between Bernstein and Neumeier was a phone call, when Neumeier wanted to perform his choreography of Mahler's third symphony and hoped to get Bernstein as conductor for the première. Bernstein, booked out for the next eight years, nevertheless talked to the young, unknown choreographer. They met again in 1978, when Neumeier brought out West Side Story in Hamburg, and became friends. Subsequently, Neumeier produced several Bernstein Ballet Evenings, which were very much appreciated by Bernstein.
After Bernstein's death in 1990, Neumeier was asked to create an entire dance evening of various danced Bernstein compositions. He decided to join several choreographies he had done over his twenty years of friendship with Bernstein, and this resulted in the Bernstein Dances. Neumeier's idea was not so much to provide a danced Bernstein biography but, rather, to bring his spirit alive through creating an entity made up of single songs and scenes that are divided into four parts.
Copyright © 26 June 2004
Sissy von Kotzebue and Tess Crebbin, Germany