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Dance magic on the Rathausmarkt

Probably not even John Neumeier would have believed it if he had been told in 1973 that he would be ballet director in Hamburg for fifty years.

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Dance magic on the Rathausmarkt

Probably not even John Neumeier would have believed it if he had been told in 1973 that he would be ballet director in Hamburg for fifty years. Almost 200 choreographies later, on Saturday evening he himself was the narrator in "The World of John Neumeier" on the stage in front of the Rathausmarkt - at the start of his 50th season in the Hanseatic city. Before the start of the free open-air event, Mayor Peter Tschentscher praised Neumeier's extraordinary career and the Hamburg Ballet's international reputation, which he owes to him, in a few short words of welcome.

The 83-year-old artistic director let himself be whirled by the corps de ballet onto the transparently roofed stage on the Rathausmarkt. Then he told the 3,000 spectators on the completely occupied folding chairs and the approximately 2,000 visitors behind the barriers about his life and work - from child dancers to today.

The excursion into the magic of dance lasted almost two hours, not clouded by a drop of rain, only the increasing coolness of the evening made things difficult for one or the other visitor, while the dancers didn't tremble even with their bare chests, unless of course it was part of the piece.

On stage, the first soloist Christopher Evans played Neumeier's alter ego, practically dancing through his life, marveling at his own creations. The range of pieces from which excerpts were danced ranged from Neumeier's "Bernstein Dances" to "Ghostlight", which was created during the lockdowns of the pandemic. However, the pieces were not shown in the order in which they were created.

With "I Got Rhythm" there was first a homage to Gene Kelly, whom the young Neumeier admired in the cinema, followed by "The Nutcracker" as the best example of a Neumeier ballet in the classical tradition.

Up to 40 dancers simultaneously realized Neumeier's visions on the stage without backdrops, to music from three sets of loudspeakers and in wonderful moods thanks to the lighting control that was possible in this context. Always in the highest perfection. Under these circumstances, focal points with a few pas de deux and matching pas de trois as in “Death in Venice” were appropriate.

Neumeier only explained briefly what the following excerpt in his work stands for, so that it went quickly from piece to piece. "Ghostlight" was followed by "Christmas Oratorio I-VI", a piece that reflects the fact that the human soul is reflected in dance. An excerpt from "Nijinsky" about the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), who constantly fascinated and inspired Neumeier, could not be missing.

The big pas de deux from "The Lady of the Camellias" followed. Again and again, the audience applauded spontaneously after particularly touching performances. Those who sat a little further back could see live images on two large screens on the sides in addition to what was happening on stage. The camera made it possible to take close-ups of the soloists, thus enticing viewers sitting in the middle to look sideways. Neumeier choreographed two more pas de deux for the songs "Old Friends" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water", which tell of his friendship with the French choreographer Maurice Béjart (1927-2007).

At the end there was an excerpt from the sixth movement of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony, which gave the ballet the title "Third Symphony by Gustav Mahler". It is also on the schedule for Neumeier's 50th season. Standing ovations and long-lasting cheers rewarded the Hamburg Ballet and its artistic director for the successful evening.

As the last premiere in his directorship, Neumeier announces “Dona nobis pacem” (“Give us peace”) to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for December 4th and says as a reason “It would be unimaginable for me to do a ballet with B minor -Messe with another company.” Even with the ballet of the Bolshoi Theater or the Paris Opera, this would not work, the choreographer explains, “Something like this is only possible with a familiar ensemble, like the dancers in my company are unique.”

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