La Scalla Ballet – 2003

February 8, 2003

Sylvie Guillem in
Courtesy La Scalla Ballet

La Scala Ballet

Teatro degli Arcimboldi

Milan, Italy

February 8?19, 2003

Reviewed by Silvia Poletti

For some time, La Scala Opera House has endeavored to bring its ballet company up to international standards and win worldwide acclaim. In 2002, the company toured Paris, Moscow, and Spain; it was well received, and has scheduled additional tours since. More importantly, however, great choreographers are returning to Milan to work with the company, making La Scala Ballet?s repertoire smarter and more interesting for Italian and international audiences alike.

After Mats Ek (whose Giselle is a La Scala blockbuster) and William Forsythe, the company reclaimed another master choreographer, John Neumeier, with whom it recently staged a Ravel program. Neumeier?s first contact with La Scala, twenty years earlier, had been disastrous: Conductor Leonard Bernstein had suggested that Neumeier create a Stravinsky evening for the company, but when the choroegrapher arrived, he found the company unprepared to stage the production, and returned to Hamburg three days later.

Fortunately, times have changed, and La Scala Ballet?s new artistic director, Frédéric Olivieri, was able to win back Neumeier, who gave the company two ballets set to Maurice Ravel music. It was a victory for Olivieri; La Scala is the first Italian company to perform Neumeier?s refined balletic theatricality, and the choreography?s subtle psychological nuances gave the dancers a chance to demonstrate their artistic maturity.

Neumeier is a clever and cultivated admirer of Antony Tudor?s contemporary dance drama, and Neumeier?s works are based on the qualities of human relationships, with all the fears, hopes, sorrows, and joy they offer. His Daphnis und Chloé, created in 1972 for the Frankfurt Ballet (the first company he directed after leaving Stuttgart Ballet) does not follow the original Fokine libretto, which was inspired by the Greek poet Longus?s pastoral novel and populated with besotted shepherds and nymphs. Neumeier has replaced them with polite, early twentieth-century European college students, on a school trip in a wonderful sunny Greek island full of ancient memories.

The ballet?s atmosphere also recalls E.M. Forster?s novel A Room With a View. We watch as Daphnis, a very shy boy, explores his instincts and emotions, his first erotic attraction toward a sensual woman, and his true feelings for his tender companion, Chloe. The constant tension between desire and frustration is expressed by a physical stiffness in the dancers, who slowly?as the emotions take hold?open themselves and dance with fluidity and joy. Daphnis?s solo is smooth and infused with breath, suggesting that the boy feels something inside is changing. Dancer Massimo Murru gave Daphnis the psychological chiaroscuro Neumeier required.

Sabrina Brazzo, a newly appointed La Scala principal dancer, embodied energy in the jazzy echoes of Ravel?s Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, which Neumeier used for the evening?s second piece, Now and Then. Lively, athletic, and demanding, Now and Then (created in 1993 for Karen Kain and the National Ballet of Canada) is a ballet of moods. The choreographer translates the touching and nostalgic second movement into a lyrical double pas de deux, where one couple?s movement echoes the others?, creating a very interesting space construction, something like a puzzle combining itself in a new image.

Neumeier received great acclaim at his appearance onstage, although he, and his work, were not the only stars of the show. The evening concluded with Sylvie Guillem?s triumphant performance of Maurice Béjart?s erotic liturgy in Boléro.