John Neumeier, in Salt Lake City to make a dance for Ballet West, is a dark, intense man, with a hint of Svengali masterfulness.
An American who has made a big name in Europe as a choreographer and artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet, Neumeier was here to set his piece, "The Age of Anxiety," using music of Leonard Bernstein's Second Symphony, which has the same subtitle. "And I use one piece that isn't in the symphony - `Ain't Got No Tears,' which was cut from Bernstein's musical `On the Town,' " he said.This 40-minute dance will fulfill Ballet West's commission for a work to be danced at the Kennedy Center Oct. 8-13, where the company will open the Center's 1991-92 dance season. Five other U.S. companies (Houston, San Francisco, Pacific Northwest, Boston and Pennsylvania Ballets) have similar grants for ballets to be produced by all-American teams and performed in Washington next season. Funding for the Kennedy Center is through a National Endowment for the Arts Challenge III grant.
Neumeier's piece is based on the W.H. Auden poem, as reflected in Bernstein's score, though the music is a more important partner to the dance than the poem, he said. "Bernstein was a very good friend of mine, and it's especially significant for me to do this revival to honor him just now.
"Basically, it's about four lonely people who come together to listen to the war news (World War II) in a bar. But it's not a narrative piece, like `Romeo and Juliet'; it's more about inner emotional states.
"When he wrote his poem, Auden was studying Jung, who divided human psychology into four elements - emotion, intuition, intellect and sensuality. Those are the four main characters of the dance.
"After a realistic opening, they look into their lives, remember and interpret their childhood experiences, their first love, the death of their own innocence. They take a surrealistic journey through anxiety and loneliness, into the realm of the subconscious.
"They arrive at an illusion of security. Auden called this the `colossal Dad,' symbolic of a leader who gives love and brings order. The dance is nebulous - not a story, more like a dream. After a dirge, and a masque for distraction and escapism, the dancers find themselves back in the bar, where they try to escape their loneliness and anxiety by physicality, to an extraordinary piece of music, Bernstein's jazzy 5th movement.
"In the epilogue, dawn begins to show, and the dancers are drunk, but they breath the clean air, see the fresh scene. For a few hours, the characters touched each other; their anxieties are not resolved, but they helped each other through one day. Young lovers passing by see this, and you feel that a new day is beginning. The dance leaves a positive message - that there's always a new day."
Neumeier owns that psychological dance is his specialty, because of dance's power to do what nothing else can - express, without words, emotions that cannot really be put into words.
"It's fascinating to dance not only on the level of aesthetics and virtuosity, but to tell something about our existence," he said. "And there must be tension in a work, something happening. In my versions of the classics, I like to make the dramatic level a little more prominent."
He was raised in Milwaukee, and didn't think of a life exclusively in dance. "I studied painting at Marquette," he said. "In 1963 I went abroad and danced with the Stuttgart Ballet, then directed the Frankfurt Ballet for four years before going to Hamburg 18 years ago. In the 1970s I staged works for the American Ballet Theatre, during the era of Erik Bruhn and Makarova." He also has works in the repertories of the Royal Danish Ballet and National Ballet of Canada.
Neumeier considers Europe his home, and he's very satisfied in Hamburg, with its beautiful Ballettzentrum containing nine studios. "I would live wherever my work lives and progresses," he said."In Hamburg I can be more experimental than in America. I must earn money, which I do through touring, but there are no restrictions on my work."
Hamburg Ballet is not a German company for Germans; Neumeier has 18 nationalities in his company. "That's changing a little since we opened the school eight years ago," he said. "It was never a condition that I take Germans into the company, but that is my wish as much as I can. They are changing, becoming more flexible, since exposure to the American dancers."
- VISITORS TO BALLET WEST during February included others involved in the Kennedy Center project.
Sheldon Schwartz, director of dance programming at the Center, arrived to finalize plans for the company's repertory. Accordingly, the variety program at Kennedy will include Peter Anastos's "Gilded Bat," a comedy hit last season here, and Divertimento No. 15 by Balanchine, as well as "The Age of Anxiety."
Also on hand was Paul Reade, composer for the company's projected "Byron." However, "Byron's" production has been postponed until sufficient funds can be raised for its completion. In its place, Ballet West will take its full-evening "Anna Karenina," with choreography by Andre Prokovsky and music by Tchaikovsky, to Washington, D.C.
Both programs will be presented in Salt Lake City in September, prior to the Kennedy Center engagement.
Zack Brown brought for final approval his designs for sets and costumes for "The Age of Anxiety." The New York designer has impressive credits in ballet, opera, theater and television, with such companies as American Ballet Theatre, Washington Opera, WNET/Dance in America and the Kennedy Center. He is also currently working on a production of "On The Town" with Neumeier in Hamburg.
- ANATOLI KUCHERUK, guest artist in Ballet West's recent "Sleeping Beauty," will join the company as a principal artist for the 1991-92 season. He will return to Salt Lake City in early June to begin work on next season's ballets.
Kucheruk is a former premier danseur of the Kiev Ballet. He trained at the Kiev State Choreographic School, and began his career performing with the Ballet of Lvov, Ukraine. He is the winner of silver medals in both the Varna, Bulgaria, international ballet competition of 1980, and the Moscow Competition of 1981. In 1989 and 1990 he made several tours of the United States as a guest artist with the Ballet of Los Angeles and the Stars of the Bolshoi. He will rejoin the latter aggregation for another U.S. tour between now and June.