La Guerra d'amore

November 17, 2001

Ensemble members perform in German choreographer Joachim Schlömer?s La Guerra d?Amore.
Courtesy Cal Performances

La Guerra d’amore

Zellerbach Hall
Berkeley, California
November 17, 2001

Reviewed by Rita Felciano

Joachim Schlömer’s choreography for La Guerra d’amore, his 1999 setting of a series of Monteverdi madrigals, looks like a line drawing response to a richly hued canvas. Simple, even minimalist, the choreography is streamlined and decidedly contemporary in contrast to the madrigals’ lyric opulence and the robust instrumental interludes (by various Monteverdi contemporaries). Schlömer doesn’t imitate the music?brilliantly performed by the nine singers and the twenty-one baroque instrumentalists of René Jacobs’s Concerto Vocale?but he is in tune with Monteverdi.

To Renaissance poets, being in love meant living in a kind of delirium, literally being out of your mind. Both artists have taken this power to unleash mental turmoil and translated it into sensuous, yet highly formal, language. For Monteverdi, this meant melismatic vocal lines and transgressive harmonies; to Schlömer, it said bodies windblown across the stage in unison or chaotic dreamlike encounters. It also told him that every once in a while, having tongue-in-cheek fun with all that high-blown passion is perfectly OK.

He set his fifteen dances on an anonymous square against a gray brick wall, with one bench and a “vending” machine that spit out labels. The singers and nineteen dancers were costumed in equally drab generic clothing. The vocabulary came from everyday movement: skipping, running, walking, falling, standing, loping, collapsing. However, buoyant expressivity and an elegance of line and form elevated these ordinary steps beyond the pedestrian. You could see shadows of baroque dance conventions: arms angled away from the body, a hand delicately resting on another, heads demurely angled, a preponderance of measured unison steps and patterns, but these echoes merely perfumed the dancers’ wholly contemporary energy.

Some of Schlömer’s kinetic responses to Monteverdi were simply delicious: Fabio Pink’s clownlike negotiation between a seductive Venus (mezzo-soprano Cecilia Diaz) and a rather pompous Pluto (bass Antonio Abete) in “Il ballo delle ingrate”; women dancers playfully flipped the male singers’ arms into the air when the vocal lines threatened to carry them away in “Zefiro torna,” or caught them in their laps when the men were about to sink into despondency in “Interrotte speranze, eternal fede” Other physical encounters had a febrile intensity that eroticized a touch of a foot or a shoulder. In “Se i languidi miei sguardi,” dancer Jean-Guillaume Weis practically set mezzo-soprano Marisa Martins aflame in anticipation of their impending wedding night.

Touching and funny was the scene in “Il ballo”?which deals with women who reject the game of love?where one of the forlorn young males, in absence of the real thing, projected pictures of beautiful, independent-looking women against the wall. The photographs were of the female dancers who, when Pluto finally brought them back, went through the paces of their ballo with all the energy of wilted flowers.

‘s war element was mostly portrayed as that of internal conflicts but also found external expression in such sections as “Ohimè, dov’è il moi ben, dov’è il moi core?”?a series of fierce duets in which lovers yanked each other around. To a chaconne by Marco Uccelini, men and women not only clashed like armies in the night but descended into cannibalism.

Not everything worked. The choreography for “Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,” a self-contained proto-opera within this quasi-operatic work, was too thin. Inexplicably also, the opening counterpoint between the singers’ slow circling patterns and the dancers’ skipping traverse lines was cut. Furthermore, since the choreography commented on the madrigals’ Italian narrative only in the most abstract manner, the relationship between music and dance was often unclear. Maybe we have come to the point where dance needs supertitles?