Grosses Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, Germany
November 24, 2006
Reviewed by Horst Koegler
Edvin Revazov and Kiran West in John Neumeier’s Parzival—Episodes and Echo
Photo by Holger Badekow, courtesy Hamburg Ballet
At almost 65, John Neumeier, director of the Hamburg Ballet, returned to Camelot, where 25 years ago he set his ballet Artus-Sage. But with his two-part Parzival—Episodes and Echo, he does it at a different place (Baden-Baden, the famous spa in the Black Forest), and from a different perspective. Though not—as a superficial reading of the title might suggest—a dancical of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, it is credited as “after Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach,” the same source from which Wagner’s libretto derived. However, it is set not on the Master of Bayreuth’s music but mainly on several pieces by John Adams and Arvo Pärt (with the Vorspiel of Wagner’s Parsifal serving only as a musical cue). And if the name John Adams reminds one of his opera Nixon in China, so Neumeier’s ballet could be dubbed Parzival in Camelot.
Parzival goes there not in search of the Grail but to be knighted at King Arthur’s court. And thus he escapes from the solitude of the forest, where his mother, Herzeloyde, in vain tries to protect him from the attractions of the outside world. Lured away by three angel-knights, he is on his way in search of self-fulfillment. There he encounters the Red Knight, whom he slays and robs of his armor; has his first amorous encounters with ladies; and pursues his path to the king’s court. Despite lessons in chivalry, he then continues his career as a ruffian and murderer, leaving a graveyard of heroes until he meets the Fisher King, who suffers from indescribable misery, and a hermit, who teaches him humility, mercy, and compassion. In a vision (the echo) he conjures up the people he has wronged and undergoes a Christian transformation, to renounce and heal rather than fight and murder.
After three long-winded hours, one leaves the theater dazed, crushed by the enormity and ambitiousness of the project. Is Neumeier, who has already balletized Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Handel’s Messiah, and Mozart’s Requiem, finally emerging as the Billy Graham of ballet? Trying to figure out who is who in the labyrinth of the cast list, one feels doped rather than elated or even in a state of bliss. Still, one cannot but admire Neumeier’s superhuman tour de force as author, choreographer, director, costume and lighting designer, and chief of a company of roughly 60 dancers plus staff. Admire him, too, as a visionary of 14 contrasting choreographic tableaux that scale a stylistic spectrum from danse d’école steps and outrageous borrowings from all that moves on earth. See www.hamburgballett.de.