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The Dutch National Ballet
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)

"7th Symphony" in A, Op 92 (1812) [38.11]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
Choreographed by Toer van Schayk, 1989
"Grosse Fugue" Op. 133 (Quartet #13, Op 130: Cavatina appended) (1826) [27.29]
QUARTETTO ITALIANO: Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi,vv; Piero Farulli, vla; Franco Rossi, vc.
Choreographed by Hans van Manen, 1984
"Piano Variations 2, 3, & 4," the three numbers of which are: Serge PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953) Sarcasms (5), Op 17 (1914): [11.30]; Erik SATIE (1866 - 1925) Trois Gnossiennes (1890) [7.33]; Claude DEBUSSY (1862 - 1918)
"Pose" consisting of Etudes 12, 2, & 4 (1915) [12.36]
Paul Patton, piano
Choreographed by Hans van Manen, 1983
Notes in Deutsch, English and Français
Lecture in English by Hans van Manen [25.41] explaining the genesis of "Pose."
Menu and subtitle languages: English, Deutsch, Français, and Castellano.
Picture format 4:3 PAL DVD format 9. Region Code, 2, 5. Stereo PCM 2.0
[no region 1 NTSC version currently available]
ARTHAUS Musik RM Arts 100 282 [97 minutes]


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Ever since I heard that Isadora Duncan had danced to the Beethoven Seventh Symphony, and with all the talk about the work being the "apotheosis of the dance," I’ve been hoping to see a ballet to this music. I suppose there is no record of what her solo ballet consisted of, but perhaps all dancers see somewhat the same things in the same music. I often say in my reviews, "You can’t dance to Beethoven." Like all generalisations, there are interesting exceptions, and neither I nor anyone else should take this one all that seriously. But it is true that you can’t dance to Beethoven like you can dance to Johann Strauss, and what you will not see here is a pantomime of the music with the dancers stepping or gesturing to each note or phrase in the style of a Disney Silly Symphony. They do express the mood and motion of the music in a very satisfying way, only occasionally exactly synchronising a balletic gesture with a musical one, and in general I found the dance a significant enhancement to the experience of listening to the music. The girls wear light uppers with a very small skirt, the guys are shirtless with long black skirts, which they sometimes make look like pantaloons. The orchestra plays beautifully, of course, Haitink’s tempi and dynamics are well chosen, and he gets the crucial horn accents in the first movement just right. The video direction is excellent.

I realise that all ballet dancers are supposed to be slender, but this group perhaps carry this too far. After so long looking at stringy arms, and gyrating male torsos with the ribs sticking out, and girls with nearly flat chests, I wasn’t sure whether I was watching ballet or a documentary on world hunger. In other ballet companies (e.g., Grupo Corpo, The Bolshoi, or the Paris Ballet) the dancers appear to be healthier and more athletic, yet certainly move with agility and energy.

In the "Grosse Fuge," the girls wear light tights and the guys the same black skirts, which they shed for black briefs just at the end. During the anguished sections of the music, the guys dance, then during the more linear melodic sections the girls dance, then they dance together for the conclusion. Again the musical performance, sound quality, and video direction are excellent.

With the final three works, the pianist is on stage with the dancers. In the Prokofiev, there are just two dancers, one guy and one girl. In the Satie, they are joined by four more who continually push the piano around on the stage on a moving platform while the pianist plays the music. In the Debussy we have a drill team of twelve girls in calf-length long-sleeve street dresses and high heel shoes(!) executing precision group movements observed and challenged by one guy in Levis and sneakers. This last ballet segues directly into the lecture wherein the choreographer explains what he had in mind in this ballet, giving one a good reason to want to watch it over again from the beginning afterwards.

In all these ballets the scenario is the same — boy versus girl, attraction, challenge, seduction, conflict, resolution. Spare sets, simple costumes. The battle of the sexes is what makes the world go round, but there must be something else to dance about, or perhaps I am just spoilt after reviewing four performances of the Romeo & Juliet ballet last year. In the same time that it takes to watch these ballets, I had both complex drama and great music.

The sound quality is excellent, with no impression of sound being re-recorded through speakers, but there is just a suggestion of ambient stage sound so the dancers do not appear to be separated from us by a soundproof barrier. This is necessary because at some points they slap or clap hands. Although the dancers perform on a stage there is no audience sound.

Van Manen speaks perfectly fluent English without notes and there are no subtitles during his talk. He explains the meaning of the ballet "Pose" and how he cast a kickboxer rather than a male dancer as the male lead because he wanted a particular type of gesture. We see some of his still photo figure studies (with frontal nudity) and excerpts from some other of his ballets. He explains that because he receives government money he feels obliged to "take risks" which necessarily means that on occasion he "makes mistakes." If he only went for success, he feels that would be a selfish use of the money, because groups which have to depend entirely on audience generosity for their financing cannot take risks. He explains that he takes a generalised attitude toward gender. If he produces a dance for two men, it should work just as well with two women and or a man and a woman. "Homosexuality is not a problem for me. I don’t have a message to get across." "I am not a teacher. I want only to be a choreographer, very egoistic." If you select a menu language other than English, then during the interview subtitles in that language are displayed.

Some minor cavils: The cover says "16 page booklet enclosed." But two of the pages are blank, then there are four pages giving credits, where the numbers of the Debussy Etudes used in "Pose" are misprinted as "12, 3, & 14(!)," one page of misleading boiler plate "instructions for playing this DVD," then the essay in three languages. The result is that the actual essay is three pages long in English and in German with the French version simply truncated at the end of page two. And nowhere in all this is there any mention of recording dates or locations, or of the release date of the disk. On the box, the length of the ballet part of the program is misstated as 125 minutes; 97 minutes is the correct figure.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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