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MARTIN SCHLÄPFER BRINGS SWISS TOUCH TO GERMAN TROUPE

 

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 22 FEBRUARY 2013 — Much has been heard about the Ballett am Rhein on the dance scene in Europe since the Swiss-born choreographer, Martin Schläpfer, took over as director in 2009. Nominated choreographer of the year in 2010 by the magazineTanz, Schläpfer is gradually making his troupe of 48 dancers one of the most important in Germany. Consequently, their arrival for the first time in France with a double programme of two works by Schläpferhimself caused eager anticipation.

The evening began well with Forellenquintett, a fresh, light-hearted neo-classical piece set in a fantasy world. The musical accompaniment began with "Don’t be shy" by the Libertines, leading on to the main score, that of Schubert's A-Major piano quintet,  D667, better known to the layman as "The Trout". The choreography, with interesting solos, joyful duets, pas de trois and pas de cinq, was classical, but with original twists. A dancer orders a glass of wine on stage, but gets drunk, but then gives a display of virtuoso dancing. A giant-sized pair of golden boots hangs down intermittently over the scene, while the costumes, psychedelic-striped justaucorps complemented an attractive backcloth of black and white symbolizing tall trees in a forest or eye-catching computer inspired squiggles. No matter, the groupings were effective and most important of all, the level of dance was excellent, all seven dancers being soloists in their own right.


Bogdan Nicula in Martin Schläpfer's Forellenquintett
Photo: Gert Weigelt

Their happiness at being on stage and their joy of dancing was communicative and consequently the audience waited impatiently for the second piece featuring the whole company. Rarely if ever had so many dancers been seen on the stage of the theatre. For the Theatre de la Ville, this was an event in itself.

But Neither, the second work choreographed by Schläpfer, did not fulfill its promise despite the evident excellence of the troupe, and it was with an increasing feeling of disillusionment that spectators sat through a work inspired by a one act opera by the composer Morton Feldman with a text by Samuel Beckett. It was not the ideal choice of work to bring for a first time visit to the French capital.

The piece opened on what appeared to be a mad-house, with the dancers rolling around on the floor and gesticulating wildly, each in their own corner. Half of them had their mouths wide open, (does Edward Munch’s The Scream still mark the current generation?), while one woman seemed to be agonizing giving birth. Despite the sincerity of the interpreters, it was hard going for the spectators to witness yet another work on the uselessness of existence. Such works full of lost, unhappy people have been around for some years and dancers of this quality deserved better.


Ballett am Rhein in Martin Schläpfer's Neither
Photo: Gert Weigelt

But speaking to some of the dancers after the performance, they spoke of their enjoyment in interpreting such a piece. "We were actually more worried about bringing Forellenquintett to Paris, Brazilian born dancer, Marcos Menha told me. "We thought it was perhaps too classical".

For Menha, one of the most outstanding interpreters in the company, is classically trained as are all the 48 members of the troupe, composed as it is of twenty nationalities, who take class with Schläpfer every day.

"He makes us work, work, and work", Menha told me, "and we all adore working with him. He has such amazing energy coupled with warmth and generosity, and I don’t regret leaving my family in Rio too much. Of course, I miss the climate and the food, as well as my parents, but being with this company in Dusseldorf is a wonderful experience."

Swiss born dancer, Claudine Schoch, who, like Menha has been with  Schläpfer for two years, echoed his comments. "There is a great atmosphere in the troupe", she added, "and an exciting repertoire with opportunities to interpret the works of many contemporary choreographers and the 20th century masters, including Robbins and Cunningham, as well as creations by Martin. Creations keep dance alive and there is always this feeling of effervescence in the troupe".

On their return to Germany, the company opens with two works, Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, and Hans Van Manen’s Kleines Requiem as well as a creation by Schläpfer. This was to be followed by a bill including works of the brilliant British choreographer, Antony Tudor, too rarely seen today, programmed for February, they told me. Schläpfer is presenting two ballets by Tudor, The Leaves Are Fading and The Lilac Garden, together with Frederick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan. Yet another creation by Schläpfer himself completed the programme. The cast list had not been announced, but all the dancers in the troupe hoped to be part of it, whether dancing Tudor, Ashton or the new work.

It is also to be hoped that Paris will see this excellent company again soon,  perhaps with a more carefully thought out programme.

Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the young French choreographer Rachid Ouramdane. 

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