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HISTORIC BALLET OF NUNS IN BERLIN OPERA.

HISTORIC BALLET OF NUNS IN BERLIN OPERA

BERLIN STATE OPERA STAATSOPER UNTER DEN LINDEN BERLIN, GERMANY MARCH 11, 2000

On November 21, 1831, Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable launched the era of grand opera--that spectacular mix of big-scale opera, ballet, decor and stage wizardry at the Paris Academie Royale de Musique. It also marked the beginning of the romantic ballet movement with its so-called Ballet of Nuns, staged by Filippo Taglioni, with his daughter Marie as the ballerina in its eerie climax. The pas de cinq in the second act was performed as a divertissement to entertain the assembled guests at a tournament. The Ballet of Nuns, however, materialized as an integrated piece of the action to conclude the third act: In a moonlit, ruined cloister, the diabolical seducer beckons the lapsed nuns to rise from their graves to charm poor Robert in an orgy of unabashed, though strictly classically based, voluptuousness. That sensational lechery became the talk of the town, and half a year later Taglioni premiered La Sylphide, to be followed in 1841 by Coralli and Perrot's Giselle.

One of the most popular operas of the nineteenth century (with 750 performances during the next fifty years at the Paris Opera alone), Robert fell quickly out of grace after World War II. It has had only two representative productions since: in 1968 at the Florence Maggio Musicale (choreography by Ugo dell' Ara) and in 1985 at the Paris Opera, when Andre Prokovsky's parody of the Ballet of Nuns caused more outright laughter than knowing snickers.

In its latest excavation on March 11 at the Berlin State Opera, Robert triumphed musically, with Meyerbeer anticipating all those evocative sounds we know so well from ballets like Giselle, Le Bayadere, and Don Quixote (but dwarfing them all by his much more imaginative instrumentation). But overall, its production by Georg Quander, general manager of the house, hardly rose beyond routine pageantry with some film insertions.

In Berlin, the pas de cinq divertissement was replaced by the pas seul, which Meyerbeer composed as an additional piece for Marie Taglioni when she appeared in the Berlin production of Robert in 1832. The former solo is now performed as a pas de trois, danced in slippers by Barbara Schroeder, Dietmar Jacob and Ralf Stengel in an exotic, acrobatic style with flowing movements with some slight Indian overtones.

Choreography for the pas de trois was by Verina G. Hayes, a Canadian by birth, who has worked as a dancer, ballet mistress and choreographer at various German theaters since 1984. Hayes was artistic director of the ballet company at the Schwerin State Theatre from 1993 to 1996, and since 1997 she has been a professor of dance and choreography at the Hamburg State Academy of Music and Performing Arts.

The Ballet of Nuns, also choreographed by Hayes, was given uncut as a great tableau with a corps of twenty-four, plus Schroeder as the ballerina, three soloist nuns and three male attendants. On a somewhat nightclubbish set by Ruth Schaefer, the nuns, in their traditional outfits, lifted their naked legs in high-heeled red boots stretched like a V in the air. After this erotically appetizing invitation they first performed their nuptial rites in coy processions, then shed their cloaks and exhibited themselves in their corseted strappings with languorous and enticing movements designed to dazzle poor Robert. There were no toe shoes and no references to the danse d'ecole. Instead, Hayes used steps from the vocabulary of revue and musical formations, with a lot of synchronized parading of legs in Radio City Music Hall style, performed strictly in line but hardly very titillating. At least, Robert appeared little impressed by their provocative invitations.

This changed, however, when a table descended from the fly gallery, with a dancer leaning erotically against its center post. No remembrances of Marie Taglioni at all; instead Schroeder practiced the usual nightclub exhibition routines, wriggling around the rod, wooing and caressing it like a fixed vibrator, then finally starting her slow-motion striptease. While Schroeder shed her lingerie piece by piece, Robert (the Korean tenor Jianyi Zhang) grabbed for her and tore off her last scrap of coverage, revealing her in full frontal nudity; but at that moment the curtain fell and the orgy was finished. Berliners of today seemed little impressed by that act of soft porn, and their applause hardly rose beyond medium level.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:KOEGLER, HORST
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Words:729
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