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German Choreographer Uwe Scholz Dead At 46

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 23 December 2004

"I would happily like to be considered as something of Cranko plus a little of Balanchine spat out a quarter of a century later."

- Uwe Scholz

The German choreographer Uwe Scholz, who died on 21 November at the age of 46 after many years of poor health, was the last protégé of John Cranko* whom he met at the age of 13 and revered for the rest of his life. His ballets, well over a hundred of them, were all marked by his extraordinary musicality, and owe much, not only to Balanchine and Cranko, but to his own very great innate gifts. He made no secret of his favourite composers; Mozart and Stravinsky.

Scholz was born in Hesse on 31 December 1958. He began studying the piano, the guitar and singing at the Conservatoire of Darmstadt, although I remember him telling me with a smile that from the beginning, his parents thought he was destined to be a second Nijinsky as each time he heard music on their radio, he would start to dance and jump from arm-chair to armchair in the living-room.

Uwe Scholz
Uwe Scholz
Photo: Andreas Birkigt

Albeit, it seemed as if the shy adolescent was headed for the career of an orchestra conductor, fascinated as he was by their ability to choose how each score of music should be played, but he found himself instead in Cranko's school, and inspired by the latter's Romeo and Juliet, created his first choreography at the age of seventeen.

In 1977 he spent five months at Balanchine's School of American Ballet, entranced by the luminosity and clarity of the Russian's work, before returning to Stuttgart to complete his studies and join the German company, but he abandoned his career as a dancer to concentrate on his choreography barely three years later. When he was 23, Marcia Haydée, Cranko's muse, now director of the Stuttgart company, offered him the post of resident choreographer there.

Uwe Scholz: Bruckner 8
Uwe Scholz: Bruckner Symphony No. 8
Photo: Andreas Birkigt

After his successful directorship of Zurich Ballet (1986-91), he was appointed artistic director of Liepzig Ballet in 1991. Not only did he revitalise their repertory, but he transformed them into a troupe of international standing.

One of his first ballets to be shown in France was set to Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, music which is slow and formal, and, one would have thought, impossible to choreograph, but he created a fascinating work, where sound actually became visible. Two principal dancers of the company, Kiyoko Kimura and Christophe Bohm, internalising the score, were at the centre of the creation, which served and added something extra to what one had heard before, giving the spectators the feeling they were actually experiencing the music for the first time. It was brought to France in 1999 by Pierre Moutarde, director of the Théatre of Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines at the time.

Moutarde recalled his amazement when Scholz insisted upon having the recording of Sergiu Celidibache, with the Orchestra of Munich, for the programme because it had exactly the tempo and fullness he needed.

Uwe Scholz: Bruckner Symphony No. 8
Uwe Scholz: Bruckner Symphony No. 8
Photo: Andreas Birkigt


Scholz was a man so closely associated to music that I always thought he was the conductor of an orchestra who had temporarily taken another path. He read and instinctively understood every score, and I remember numerous occasions when we'd be listening to some recording, which he always played very loudly, where he'd interrupt to say, oh no, dear, dear, they are playing the music all wrongly, it should be played like this. And he'd get that particular score out and slap the paper with his hand to demonstrate his point."

Moutarde, who went to see over twenty ballets of Scholz in Liepzig, recalled some of them. "I was fascinated by the central figure in his version of The Miraculous Mandarin. In the ballet he kept to Bartok's story where three ruffians force a young girl to seduce the passers-by while they rob them, but when his mandarin arrived on stage, he was all dressed in white. Everything in the tale is sordid yet the mandarin was so pure, he seemed like an angel. Scholz was a pessimist yet a great humanist at the same time. In his darkest works there was always a ray of light, no matter how faint. He always gave us hope."

"I loved his ballet on America", Moutarde added, "so full of invention, and with an extraordinary choice of music; he portrayed the United States as he saw it. I also saw his Swan Lake, transposed to the court of Saint Petersburg, and his version of Sleeping Beauty, when, in each case, he complained that he didn't have enough dancers".

Uwe Scholz: Sleeping Beauty
Uwe Scholz: Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Andreas Birkigt

In Sleeping Beauty, while respecting Petipa, Scholz cleverly adapted the choreography to suit his dancers. He created a very contemporary pas de deux. Another innovative touch was to add a mouse in the mouth of the cat in the (in)famous pussy-cat duet! Adored by the German audiences!

"It was his work on movement which fascinated me most", Moutarde told me. "It was at one with the music which itself dictated the shape of the ballet, as can be clearly seen in Bach Kreationen, where there is a step for every note. It was of breathtaking beauty. And unlike the majority of choreographers today who work with maybe eight or nine interpreters at most, he staged pieces for a minimum of forty dancers."

Indeed, each time we'd meet, Scholz would speak proudly of the fact that he had a company of fifty dancers, and wanted more, even though he possibly was not that interested in running a company. He needed them for his choreography. But each year, instead of hiring new dancers, cuts in subsidies obliged him to reduce the numbers of his troupe, from fifty to forty-six, and again down to forty, a fact which distressed him enormously, and involved him in lengthy arguments, disastrous for his general well-being and health, always fragile from childhood.

Uwe Scholz: Bach Kreationen
Uwe Scholz: Bach Kreationen
Photo: Andreas Birkigt

The first time I met him, in 1999, he was so thin he was almost transparent, with huge, dark, intense eyes in a pale face. His clothes always seemed too big for him and his hands, slender and delicate were half hidden by a jacket two sizes too large, and although he'd give the impression that he wasn't interested by what people said, he'd come to see me after a programme and the most important thing in the world to him was to know that his ballet had made me happy. "Hug me, then", he'd say. And I would. He was one of the most touching and engaging dance personalities I have met. A man whose personality as well as his work went straight to your heart

For Pierre Moutarde, the image that he will retain of the frail German choreographer is that of a star fallen from the heavens, a man who was probably the last in the line of the great Romantic 19th century figures.

" The last time he came to Saint-Quentin," he recalled, "he insisted in bringing La Grande Messe, set to Mozart's unfinished Mass in C Minor , with added music from Thomas John, Gyorgy Kurtag and Arvo Part, and with his own decor, lighting and costumes. I think he regarded it as his testament, the black side with its images of war portraying the chaos and suffering of mankind contrasting with movements of great purity, the music ending as abruptly as did his own life. I always had a premonition that he wasn't meant to live long."

"He was very human, yet at the same time, not of this world", Moutarde continued. "It was as if he'd arrived where he was without realising how and he seemed to carry the world's troubles on his shoulders. Life wasn't easy for him, and you can see the echo of that in his ballets. He was all alone with his music and his sublime ballets, ill at ease outside of his work. I had the impression that he was not really happy, because he was searching for an absolute which he knew could never be reached, a perfection he knew he'd never find. Well, if there's an elsewhere after death, he's now in company with the poets, with Mozart, with Balanchine, and with his god, John Cranko. "

And the world of dance is a less beautiful place


*John Cranko died just one month after their meeting.


** Scholz' ballets have almost all been written down and recorded on film.


Uwe Scholz, born 31 December 1958; died 21 November 2004

Related: Interview with Uwe Scholz (February 2000)


Related: Review and photos of Uwe Scholtz and the Leipzig Ballet's production of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and Bruckner's 8th Symphony

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.

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