Hamburg’s Bundesjugendballett (National Youth Ballet) in Close-Up

Live stream from #lichthof_lab, Hamburg
January 22 & 23, 2021

Maggie Foyer

Germany’s National Youth Ballet founded by John Neumeier in 2011 gave us an up close and personal view of the company in action, through the rehearsal process and into filmed performance over two nights at Ballet Center Hamburg and on the Lichthof stage. It was at times difficult to identify the works as one piece flowed into another but well worth the viewing for the personal moments of creation and achievement and the commitment of the young artists. They are to be admired for launching into one of the most demanding and insecure of professions, at a time when the performing arts are in crisis. There was a mature acceptance of the mandatory physical obstacles in conjunction with a creative spirit that refused to accept boundaries resulting in uplifting viewing.

The first evening opened in rehearsal as the dancers, already equipped with strong technical skills, take the next difficult step of translating emotion into movement that will speak to an audience. Artistic director, Kevin Haigen and ballet master Raymond Hilbert bring their lifetime of expertise to guide the dancers in finding the subtleties and subtext in each move and position in a frank and sensitive exchange. Nobody is suggesting it’s easy as they try to find the same energy but without the physical touch, always on a journey towards elusive perfection.

Anna Zavalloni and Airi Suzuki (front), with Thomas Krähenbühl and Joao Vitor Santana, in Suns in LionsPhoto Silvano Ballone
Anna Zavalloni and Airi Suzuki (front),
with Thomas Krähenbühl and Joao Vitor Santana, in Suns in Lions
Photo Silvano Ballone

Natalia Horecna’s Suns in Lions was created under pandemic conditions for the imaginatively named program DisTanz premiered in Hamburg in 2020. It is an of-the-moment work blending dance, commissioned music and poetry. It was good to see this work in its entirety on the second night as the many strands in this complex work benefitted from a second viewing.

The predominant text is Kitty O’Meara’s poem, And the people stayed home, spoken by Isabella Vértes-Schütter, an actress who blended effortlessly into the piece. The words capture so perfectly that strange other world of the first lockdown and the optimism that when it is over, we would have a better, kinder world.

The dancers each create their private bubble of activity before coming together. Vértes-Schütter lies down stage and from her body, a dancer draws bands of white tape that are stretched across the space, dissecting and forming boundaries. The dancers find use for the bands in their dance, moving over, under and through in a space that suggests boundaries that are in reality illusions. The four dancers, Airi Suzuki, Anna Zavalloni, Thomas Krähenbühl and Joao Vitor Santana, each bring much of themselves to the shared environment, finding individual dynamics, notably Santana in a powerful leaping solo and Suzuki spellbinding with her quiet and very potent presence.

Justine Cramer and Pepijn Geldermann in Muted by Sasha RivaScreenshot from live stream
Justine Cramer and Pepijn Geldermann in Muted by Sasha Riva
Screenshot from live stream

Hugely impressive was Muted, an excerpt from a choreography by Sasha Riva, premiered in 2012. Dancers, Justine Cramer and Pepijn Geldermann, simply clothed in dark blue tunic and jeans, expressed a mature, multifaceted relationship. Physically the duet involved complex intertwining of limbs in unusual lifts, the underlying tensions never fully resolved and the angst shared rather than dissipated. The score by Pēteris Vasks, sparse in the opening builds in passion and depth, a perfect accompaniment to the mood and the moment.

The final work was choreographed by the dancers themselves, titled, And the people stayed home, set to the Allegretto from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The white diaphanous costumes lent a spiritual air, while the structure found unity despite the separation between the dancers. Marching together with fists raised, they delivered a message of indomitable spirit and hope before quietly, one by one, leaving the stage.

The three works ran without pause transitioned by inserts from Haigen. This company is always exciting to watch and Haigen is not marking time during the lockdown but continuing to lead in innovative paths. Hopefully, they will soon be back on stage, in Kitty O’Meara’s words to “create new ways to live and heal the earth.”