Forty years of the School of the Hamburg Ballet

Opera House, Hamburg
June 25, 2018

Maggie Foyer

As part of the annual Hamburg ‘Dance Days’, in Eerste Schritte (First Steps), the Ballet School had their hours of glory on the second night. Founded in 1978, five years after he assumed the directorship of the Ballet Company, the school was a priority for John Neumeier, who wisely saw the nurture of young creative artists as essential to future development.

The family resemblance between school and company is striking. Neumeier’s distinctive style that finds the drama and expression through the movement with little reliance on virtuosity can be seen most prominently in the female students who are definitely not the stereotypical ‘ballet bunhead’ but serious dance artists.

Bach Suite 2, is a perfect vehicle to display the style; an ensemble of pliant bodies, simply dressed in blue dresses or white unitards, the choreography contemporary classical as Neumeier breaks the rules in his distinctive elegant way. It hit all the right notes, an excellent showcase for the training and the burgeoning personalities. It was led by Airi Suzuki and Alessandro Frola, two dancer of exceptional technical and expressive quality and the latter one already in command of a strong stage presence.

Airi Suzuki and Alessandro Frola in Bach Suite 2Photo Kiran West
Airi Suzuki and Alessandro Frola in Bach Suite 2
Photo Kiran West

The opening numbers showed the pupils at both ends of their training. The first piece had the very tiniest pre-school classes dressed in bright leotards and having fun with rhythm: clapping hands and wood blocks in umpteen variations. It made a highly entertaining work as simple patterns were multiplied, overlaid and expertly rehearsed, the enthusiasm still evident within the perfect symmetry.

The next work was performed by Theatre classes VII and VIII, the finishing level. Shifting into a postmodern unbounded space and introducing contemporary and jazz moves the dancers ready to step onto the professional stage expressed, in voice as well as dance, their self-awareness in a spirit of exploration.

The pas de trois from The Nutcracker is an unforgiving, hard-hearted piece of Petipa choreography that did the students few favours but the Paquita pas de trois was given a stylish showing with an excellent solo from Francesco Cortese. Neumeier’s On the Town to Leonard Bernstein’s melodies performed by the Theatre classes was suitably chilled and off duty, with evidence of theatre as well as dance skills.

School of Hamburg Ballet in On the TownPhoto Kiran West
School of Hamburg Ballet in On the Town
Photo Kiran West

The second half was given over to a neat choreographic idea of 40 Dances for 40 Years as Neumeier continued on the Beethoven theme in a succession of very short dances that overlapped and intertwined with plenty of chances for the young performers to display their talents. Beethoven’s love of the English contradanse, evident in these pieces, was described by his contemporary Friedrich Schiller as ‘the most suitable emblem of the asserted self-freedom’ and it certainly gave this opportunity to the dancers.

It was the male students who came to the fore, from the gang of little guys getting away with being mischievous, to the older students with top level variations. The school has some exceptionally talented boys, but it was more difficult to assess the talent amongst the female students as their opportunities were more limited. The partnering was handled with confidence, always the sign of a top ballet school, and the performers, at all levels, showed they were on track with a vision of clear professional goals. For Gigi Hyatt, the pedagogical director and her team, it was an evening to celebrate.