Paying homage to a master: Beethoven Project by Hamburg Ballett, John Neumeier

Opera House, Hamburg
June 24, 2018

Maggie Foyer

John Neumeier’s newest creation, Beethoven Project offers, in the first act, something of a personal link with the composer in a semi-narrative form; and in the second, an exploration of the architecture of the Eroica Symphony No. 3. However, there is nothing abstract in the evening as passions ripple continually through the dance.

In Aleix Martinez, Neumeier has found a dance artist to interpret the spirit of Ludwig van Beethoven, the classical composer who heralded the dawn of Romanticism. The popular modern view of Beethoven hovers between his god-like stature and the reality of an irascible man, thwarted in love and frustrated by his social standing. His music is not often used to accompany dance, but he recognized music as a dramatic language and the vibrant spirit that pulses through his works exposes an emotional heart that cries out for physical expression.

Martinez, a dancer of slight build and bursting with vigour, interprets, in movements sometimes gauche and childlike, the artist’s search for new ways to express his art. With the ingenuous disregard of spatial awareness of the very young, he somersaults, rolls and leaps making the space his own and only later, as life takes its toll, feeling the constraints of society. He plays with the piano like a favourite toy, hugging a piano leg for comfort and clambering over and in as though trying to physically draw out the music.

Aleix Martinez in Beethoven projectPhoto Kiran West
Aleix Martinez in Beethoven project
Photo Kiran West

Throughout the first act, music is twinned to dance. A grand piano is on stage with Michal Bialk, doing the honours. He is later joined by other players for a piano trio and string quartet. In a magical moment the orchestra assemble quietly in the darkened pit to be dramatically revealed as the lights come up and Martinez assumes the conductor role for Prometheus.

The specifics of Beethoven’s life are lightly sketched however the critical moment when deafness struck halfway through his short life is ingeniously signalled by an unnerving interruption of fierce electronic sound and a hiatus in the piano playing. His various passionate but unrequited loves are indicated as women in wedding dresses pass him by. Edvin Revazov is cast as the fantasy figure of his fears, when Martinez is bourn aloft by the admiring ensemble it is Revazov, his costume suggesting aristocratic status, who pull him down.

The slow movement of Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ trio accompanies one of Neumeier’s most haunting duets, where every contact and look touches a nerve ending. Danced by Patricia Friza, it portrays a loving, nurturing woman calming a distressed Martinez. His love for his pupil Josephine (Anna Laudere sitting pensively on the piano stool) offers meagre crumbs of happiness in his tormented life. Martinez in this forthright and extraordinarily generous performance lays his emotions bare.

Edvin Revazov and Anna Laudere in Beethoven projectPhoto Kiran West
Edvin Revazov and Anna Laudere in Beethoven project
Photo Kiran West

The first act closes on Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus, his only ballet score which was an immediate success in 1801. In the manner of classical theatre Neumeier invests a lively almost bucolic interpretation, balancing the spiritual with the earthly. In the allegorical tale Prometheus, danced by, Martinez, is a lofty spirit taking his human ‘creatures’ to Parnassus where Apollo, Revazov, and Terpsichore, Laudere, instruct them in the arts of music and dance.

The second act is in the mould of Neumeier’s Mahler ballets: large ensembles headed by soloists in duets and brief solo moments, a structured neo-classical language restrained but acknowledging the drama of the music and a finale that offers a spiritual uplift.

It has a novel opening as Martinez climbs out of the pit to an enthusiastic reception from the audience: a composer relishing his recognition. Eroica is one of Beethoven’s most revolutionary works and the fiery opening is matched in dance by Mayo Arii and Karen Azatyan. The second movement, backgrounded by a busy projection, is led by Laudere and Revazov austerely dressed in black and white in a sombre duet of contained emotions. The lighthearted scherzo finds a partner in the exuberant dance and dresses of summer hues while the finale brings on the full ensemble clothed in white.

Martinez, in modern black jeans, has not lost his child-like creativity and in his final solo he dances as though improvising in perfect correspondence to the music. It makes a fitting homage to the artist and the art.