For the first time in Germany, in Baden-Baden: the autobiographical ballet The World of John Neumeier will be presenting excerpts from milestone works by choreographer John Neumeier.

John Neumeier and his Hamburg Ballet will be making their 17th guest performance at the Festival Hall, and the Baden-Baden audience still finds plenty to discover in the American choreographer’s rich and varied oeuvre. The Hamburg ballet director has already created over 150 works during the course of his long career, including 40 full-length ballets. And now we find a path leading through the many themes and styles that run throughout his life’s work in The World of John Neumeier, the first “autobiographical ballet gala” in the history of dance (October 8/9 2016, 7:00/5:00 P.M.). One week later (October 14-16) audiences can experience the ballet that sparked a revolution in the world of dance in the early 1970s: John Neumeier”s Romeo and Juliet.

Stylistic diversity

It goes without saying that The World of John Neumeier will be offering an evening of surprises, but the gala departs completely from the usual schema of virtuoso pas de deux and similar tidbits. The performance creates a bridge that spans the diversity of Neumeier’s oeuvre, while telling the story of the choreographer’s life in is own words, beginning when little John listens to a record of Leonard Bernstein in his parents’ living room in Milwaukee and starts dancing. “Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to dance – even before I knew what this meant,” as the choreographer recalls. The turbulent overture to Bernstein’s Candide opens the evening, hearkening back to the roots of today’s ballet director who, like so many Americans, discovered the art form through the tap dancing of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and the great musical films of the era. But soon after he became even more fascinated with classical ballet, and together with young Marie from his Nutcracker, we discover the ballet hall, barre exercises, and pointe shoes.

On the inspiration for the performance

Neumeier never viewed dance as a matter of academic technique or virtuosity, but rather as a singing of the soul – which is why religious works like the St. Matthew Passion and Christmas Oratorio play an important role in his creative output, with excerpts from these ballets also featuring on the program. “Serving dance is a passion. And each day I remember the title Gustav Mahler gave to the last movement of his Third Symphony: ‘What love tells me,’” as Neumeier writes, explaining what inspired him for this performance. These words are like an overarching theme for the gala; in 1975, Mahler’s Third was the first symphony choreographed by the young Hamburg ballet director, and it has naturally also been included in this autobiography in dance. The duo Opus 100 – for Maurice is a tribute to friendship, created for the 70th birthday of his colleague Maurice Béjart, who has since passed away, to a song by Simon and Garfunkel. The evening’s performance encompasses a remarkably wide palette of styles, beginning with the Baroque music of Johann Sebastian Bach and ranging to Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Alfred Schnittke, and George Gershwin – demonstrating the endless variety of Neumeier’s inspiration, with the diverse elements united together in his inimitable choreographic language.

Shakespeare fully comprehensible without words

From October 14 to 16, 2016, John Neumeier’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, to music of Sergei Prokofiev, will be presented on stage at the Festival Hall Baden-Baden – certainly one of the most elaborate ballets that has ever been presented here, in Germany’s largest opera house.

The American-born Hamburg choreographer concentrates Shakespeare’s story into four days, also introducing a troupe of clowns that conceals Romeo when he is on the run. Already in Neumeier’s first narrative ballet, it was all about telling stories in movement rather than combining classical steps as beautifully as possible, which was still the fashion in the 1970s. Even back then, he developed his own unique and characteristic ballet dramaturgy, and we are continually astonished at how wonderfully comprehensible Shakespeare’s famous love dialogue turns out to be, even without a single word.

Foto: (c) Kiran West