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Dance Review: La Grande Messe
Choreography, lighting, decor and costumes by Uwe Scholz


By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 June 2002 - After the success of the last two years' visits from the Leipzig Ballet, the Théâtre de Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines was completely sold out, with people begging at the door for seats. Anticipation was at its height for the French premiere of Uwe Scholz' La Grande Messe, set to Mozart's unfinished score and created for the company in 1998. Few, however, expected to see a work of such extreme beauty coupled with undertones of great brutality . Brilliantly conceived, it was an epic of spectacular intensity which moved, but also upset and disturbed.

In the first half of the ballet , where Scholz choreographed directly from Mozart's Mass in C Minor, to which he integrated some of the composer's other works, including the Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, the technical level of the company touched perfection. No pointe shoes were to be seen as the women, in fluid long white gowns designed by Scholz, mesmerised with their flowing arm movements. Soloists Roser Munoz and Sibylle Naundorf were particularly poignant.

Disciplined and harmonious, the men, in white trousers, partnered with grace and strength, while the precise geometry of the group choreographies, wonderfully fluent, was interspersed by lyrical solos and duos of great classical purity. At one moment, Scholz was actually using his dancers as musical instruments in an orchestra as they moved in constantly shifting groups of four with a surge forward or a step for every note. One after another, the dancers, each with clearly differentiated arm movements, streamed uninterrupted across the stage in two diagonals, made even more ethereal and spiritual by the flickering almost heavenly lighting effects, before they dissolved into the darkness.

Ballet of Leipzig  in Uwe Scholz'  La Grande Messe
Leipzig Ballet in Uwe Scholz' La Grande Messe
Photo: Andreas Birkigt

And then the world exploded. Pandora's box sprang open and chaos and madness were born. As mirrors and transparent plastic walls descended on stage, Mozart's score gave place to the dissonant sounds of more contemporary music : Thomas Jahn, Gyorgy Kurtag and Arvo Part, interspersed with fragments of texts, and the harsh words of Paul Celan, the German/Jewish poet. Jerky, spasmodic, more theatrical gestures from black-clad figures replaced the classical and neo-classical style as the universe was turned upside down. Humorous pieces reflecting the banalities of life tried unsuccessfully to reduce the tension, and more than one spectator sighed for that lost white world of glorious music which returned only sporadically, but which expressed those easy, comfortable emotions so much easier to live with.

After Arvo Part's Credo, a light- bulb swings down and across the stage, bringing, one dares to believe, a glimmer of hope . Soloist Roser Munoz subsequently confirmed that the solitary dancer, again in black, who ran round and around the stage after it was Scholz himself. The choreographer is no longer merely translating music into movement, but going much further , expressing the suffering of mankind in its quest for the meaning of existence.

Any reservations one might have about the work are rather pointless. Very beautiful ballets to sacred music which gladden and assuage have been made before, notably John Neumeier's Magnificat, but Scholz' Grand Messe portrays man as a pawn in the hands of man, as well as being an instrument of the divine. Black and white, light and shade, optimism and pessimism, destruction and sublimation are in constant opposition, for the ballet is a reflection of the irreconcilable, a form of spiritual torture. It is not only a feast for the eyes.

Ballet of Leipzig  in Uwe Scholz'  La Grande Messe
Leipzig Ballet in Uwe Scholz' La Grande Messe
Photo: Andreas Birkigt

During the final minutes of the ballet, as stagehands cleared the scene, the members of the company, removing the last traces of make-up, returned in their everyday clothes.

"Uwe wanted us to sit quietly on stage , identify with the audience, and listen together to the music", the dancers told me afterwards. "Even tonight, when we were listening to a recording it was very moving for us, but in Leipzig, we were surrounded by the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra and a full choir, with a soprano, tenor, and baritone on stage, and it was a very emotional experience ." "I remember him saying that he simply didn't want to choreograph anything further. The music alone was enough.", Rosa Munoz recalled.

I can think of no other classical choreographer today who possesses the richness of vocabulary, the intense musicality, plus the limitless imagination to create a work of such scope.

The ballet has won two national prizes. The"Grand Prix de la Danse du Théâtre de Bavière" in 1998, and the "Grand Prix de la Danse d'Allemagne" in 1999. Sholz' ballets form part of the repertoire of most of the important European companies with the exception of Covent Garden and the Paris Opéra Ballet.

Related: A Conversation With Uwe Scholz

Beethoven - Bruckner: Uwe Scholtz and the Leipzig Ballet

Leipzig Ballet Web Site

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

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