John Neumeier creates Ghost Light, a new ballet respecting social distancing

David Mead

Along with several other German companies, Hamburg Ballet was among the first companies to return to its studios after the lockdown. With a comprehensive hygiene regime in place, there have been ten daily ballet classes in small groups since April 29.

Almost immediately, artistic director John Neumeier developed the idea of creating a ballet observing and structured according to social distancing. At the beginning, it was not certain, when, where or if this ballet might be publicly performed. The work was an exercise in creativity out of necessity for the choreographer and his dancers.

Rehearsals started on May 11. Now, four weeks into its creation, the work now has a title, Ghost Light, danced to solo piano music by Franz Schubert. That title draws on an American theatrical tradition. A single lamp on a metal post is switched on and placed centre stage after rehearsal or performance signifying that no artist is allowed to use the stage. The ghost light burns through the night until the stage comes alive again.

Neumeier’s concept involves all 60 dancers of the company. To respect social distancing, the work is being created in separate parts with small groups of two to eight dancers. He explains, “Ghost Light is an ensemble work that I am developing in fragments. It is like the separate instrumental lines of a symphony or a traditional Japanese meal: a sequence of carefully arranged, hopefully ‘delicious’ miniatures. How the separate parts will unite to create a complete work, will depend on the moment we are allowed to come near and touch each other again.”