By Patricia Boccadoro
PARiS, 17 APRIL 2015 Undeterred to be told that Mahler was a
composer whose music was considered unsuitable for dance, the British
choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan, created a wonderful ballet to Gustave
Mahlers symphonic song cycle for the Stuttgart ballet in 1965. His
bittersweet, highly charged work left memories in the minds of all who saw
it, particularly the young dancer, John Neumeier, who was chosen to take
part in the première.
Neumeier admits to being indelibly marked by the beauty of the
symphonic music and texts, illustrated by MacMillans danced poems which
were neither narrative nor abstract, but rather atmospheric. The American
choreographers own version of Lied von der Erde, Mahlers most
personal work, is a form of tribute to both the composer and Kenneth
John Neumeier's Song of the Earth
Photo: Ann Ray
Song of the Earth, is inspired by seven 8th century Chinese
poems of the Tang dynasty, translated into German and partly rewritten by
Mahler himself. They express human joys and sorrows ending with a farewell
to the world, and the music composed, the last of Mahlers masterpieces,
is a reflection not only of the poetry, but of his own private tragedy.
Shortly before, his adored 4- year-old daughter had died from
complications after contracting scarlet fever, he himself had been
diagnosed with a serious heart problem, (he was to die four years later),
and he had resigned from his post at the head of the Vienna State Opera
which he had held for ten years.
With, as he said, only emptiness before him, he spent the summer of
1907 at the small village of Schluderbach in the Southern Tyrol where he
read the poems in The Chinese Flute, their intrinsic sadness
reflecting his own deep unhappiness It seems highly likely that Mahler
wrote what became known as Song of the Earth there, in a small
wooden cabin overlooking the low-lying hills and grassy slopes in the
grounds of his more imposing home. With only wild rabbits for company, and
more grandiose mountain scenery a good half hours walk away, a walk he was
forbidden to undertake, the Austrian composer put all of his personal
anguish and resignation into his music, music first performed in November,
1911, six months after his death.
John Neumeier, a Mahler specialist, and one of the most musical of
choreographers, has created a one and a half hour, one act ballet with the
dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. It is his third creation for the French
company who already possess several of his other works including Lady
of the Camelias and the highly popular Midsummer Nights
Dream. He knows the dancers well and it was no surprise to discover
Laetitia Pujol and Mathieu Ganio as the central couple. Both were
in John Neumeier's Song of the Earth
Photo: Ann Ray
The ballet began with a remarkable pas de deux
for two male dancers, where Ganio, full of grace, lightness and purity was
partnered by a more prosaic Karl Paquette, whose blond good looks
contrasted well with the darkly handsome Ganio.
It was hard to tear ones eyes away from Pujol, an exceptional
ballerina who inhabits whatever role she interprets, and in Song of
the Earth, she dominated the stage with her charismatic presence.
Each time she glided on stage epitomizing loneliness and the fear of
death, tension mounted. She did not belong to the group of mindless young
people who led their lives totally unaware of their own mortality but
remained a being apart, knowing her fate is out of her
John Neumeier's Song of the
Paris Opera Ballet
Photo: Ann Ray
The orchestra and two singers, the tenor, Nikolai Schukoff and baritone
Oddur Jonsson, as well as the Orchestre de lOpéra National de Paris,
brilliantly conducted by Patrick Lange, ensured that, musically emotion
remained at its height throughout the evening. It was not until the final,
superbly choreographed and sublimely interpreted pas de deux
beween Ganio and Pujol that dance became supreme. John Neumeier
translated each nuance of the music into movement, evoking the fatality
and nobility of the human condition and bringing the promise of renewal in
death. The girl loses her lover to death while the curtain came down on
two, silhouetted, still dancing figures, a moment of pure grace.
The scenery and costumes, both minimalist yet most effective, were
designed by John Neumeier.
Based in Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the
dance editor for Culturekiosque.