Live stream from Festspielhaus, Baden Baden
October 11, 2020.
John Neumeier’s Ghost Light is a triumph of art over Covid-19. The ballet is a product of the pandemic, created when Neumeier confronted the new normal and prevailed.
A solitary lamp stands on stage with a pair of pointe shoes discarded on the floor beneath. This is the ghost light, rich in symbolism of hope and faith, that guards the space when the theatre is dark, awaiting the return of the performers.
During lockdown, in early May, Neumeier started working with individual dancers, composing discreet sections within the social distancing rules. The depth and variety of emotions in Franz Schubert’s piano music, performed here with intense sensitivity by David Fray, finds expression in the finely crafted choreographic episodes. The finished structure that brings all these together is fluid and coherent and a tribute to Neumeier’s mastery.
While a film will never be a substitute for the live performance, it gains in other ways especially when directed with intelligence and a keen eye. Director Myriam Hoyer has these qualities, drawing the camera in to seek out the very essence of the artists. Neumeier has an exceptional array of talent in his company, talent that he uses wisely and well.
Christopher Evans, seldom centre stage and rarely virtuosic, plays an important role in unobtrusively bonding the action. However, Neumeier uses Schubert’s Impromptu No.4 for an exhilarating duet teaming Evans with Félix Paquet in an outpouring of innovative choreography. There are meetings that almost happen. Héléne Bouchet passes him by, choosing rather an asymmetric trio with Jacopo Bellussi and Illia Zakrevskyi in shadowy half-light. Finally, it is Evans who remains alone in the lamplight as the curtain falls.
There are moments of thrilling male ensemble dance with Karen Azatyan and Atte Kilpinen setting the stage alight with their brilliance and seeming to enjoy every moment. Darker tones are provided by a passionate outpouring from Patricia Friza and taken further by Aleix Martinez, his solo, an inner struggle with anxiety and distress.
Ghosts of previous Neumeier ballets, Lady of the Camellias, Nijinsky and The Nutcracker make tangential visits to stir memories, but it is the pas de deux that centre the ballet. Anna Laudere and Edvin Revazov, dancing to Schubert’s Impromptu No.3, meld movement with melody in a glorious moment of heightened emotion.
Alexandre Riabko has a powerful solo before a flood of light reveals Silvia Azzoni. In a gentle harmonious duet, the crystal clarity of their classical lines conveys deep, unspoken emotions. Probably the most potent was the duet between David Rodriguez and Matias Oberlin. In a time when touching has become fraught with fear and danger, this sensitively crafted duet drew focus on the essential humanity expressed through closeness as bodies wrap and entwine.
The work is a collection of memorably vignettes. There is an edgy duet between Madoka Sugai and Nicolas Gläsmann, where undercurrents of anxiety never seem quite resolved. Ana Torrequebrada brings natural radiance and fine-tuned technique and is well matched with Marcelino Libao. There is so much to enjoy in this ballet of light and shade in a perfect packaging that the work is over far too soon. Thankfully it is now on tour and will be available on DVD next year.