John Neumeier is the Alma mater of the Hamburg Ballet. Author, creator and choreographer, he took over as artistic director of the company in 1996. Equipped with a vast knowledge of the great tradition of classical ballet repertoire, it was under his direction that the Hamburg Ballet quickly became one of the most important and prestigious companies in the world.
By Carolina de Pedro Pascual and Yukihiko Yoshida (Tokyo)
Neumeier’s works are excellent artistic creations, where the sets, costumes and choreography are evidence of the high quality of his work. He has an aesthetic and a unique narrative style that he has cultivated and perfected over his years as head of the German company. The great legacy of his genius will be his unique and almost miraculous ability to be able to transform a ballet from the most classical of repertoires into a modern work, without losing the essence with which it was created.
John Neumeier has honoured us by giving us an exclusive interview, answering questions from our collaborator Yukihiko Yoshida.
John Neumeier In Bewegung – Copyright Holger Badekow
Yukihiko Yoshida – «Die Kameliendame» and «The Little Mermaid» are your highly-acclaimed dramatic ballets, but what would you like to work on next?
John Neumeier – My next major choreography is a dramatic ballet called “Liliom”, based on the play by Ferenc Molnár. I have just begun work on the actual choreography itself. I am creating “Liliom” for the dancers in my company, and Alina Cojacaru will be guesting. I have created “Julie”, the lead female role, for her. For the first time since “The Little Mermaid”, a score has been composed for one of my ballets, by none other than Michel Legrand, whose work I greatly admire.
YY – How would you explain the «essence of dramatic ballet»?
JN – The essence for me is that the drama – which is very much based on emotions – can be understood, if not felt, immediately by everyone in the audience. There is no point in a story that is told artfully but that does not reach the heart.
YY – What is the next step, or what specific plans do you have regarding the genres of Symphonic Ballet, Religious Ballet, and Revival of Classical Works?
JN – In November, the revival of my first full Symphonic Ballet is scheduled, “Third Symphony by Gustav Mahler”. I will leave the next premiere after “Liliom”, which will be called “Renku”, to the younger choreographers in my company. After that, I don´t have any specific plans as yet. As far as Religious Ballets are concerned, I still dream of creating choreographies for the second part of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and his “Mass in B Minor”.
YY – How were you inspired by John Cranko and Marcia Haydee, and how does it affect your current works?
JN – John Cranko inspired me in the way he told stories in his ballets, as well as in the way he directed his company. Marcia Haydee inspired me as a dancer – as far as both her technique and her personality are concerned. For me as a choreographer it is most important that a dancer is both a special dancer and a unique person. The body is the instrument that allows them to express their personality and the character of a role.
YY – Contemporary ballet works are becoming more and more diverse. How do you see the future of ballet?
JN – I think, in many ways diversity is the key to the survival of ballet as an art form. However, the foundation for this diversity is ballet tradition. This tradition may not be archived only – as a museum ballet – but has to be cultivated to be kept alive. This is why it does not suffice to deal with the contemporary alone, but to incorporate the tradition of ballet creatively and thus make it contemporary. I notice that more and more companies work with a ballet director and “buy” choreographies from well-known choreographers from all over the world. It is almost like a supermarket. I am critical of this development. Instead of creating a personality and uniqueness for the company, the same works are danced all over the world. I would hope for a counter-movement to emerge, where ballet directors are also choreographers, thus strengthening the creativity of both choreographers and dancers.
YY – You have worked on Oriental themes, such as «Haiku», but is there anything you would like to work on in Asia?
JN – I have drawn a lot of inspiration from Asia and have also worked with companies there, such as the Tokyo Ballet. At the moment, I am in the process of building ties with the National Ballet of China. We met on our tour to Beijing last year. Since then, relations have intensified, and recently through the company’s guest performances at the Ballett-Tage Festival in July. I dream of working with them sometime. In addition, the second premiere of this season, “Renku”, is inspired by a Japanese form of poetry which bears the same name. However, I will not be the choreographer, but will leave this opportunity to two young choreographers in my company.
YY – «Haiku» is a form of poetry, but what other arts and talents, outside dance, have you been inspired by?
JN – There are many sources of inspiration for me. Apart from my dancers, I guess the most important one is music. It lays the foundation for my choreographic work.
YY – You are known for your researching and collecting of important material related to ballet history but, if there were an opportunity, would you speak to and share your experience with our young generation and citizens interested in the stories about your archive?
JN – I would love to have a public museum which houses my collection. At the moment my Foundation is open to academic research. Furthermore, we also loan many works of art to exhibitions around the world, most recently to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We also participated in two major exhibitions here in Hamburg, the last being “Tanz der Farben – Nijinskys Auge und die Abstraktion” in 2009. We were able to present our substantial collection of Vaslaw Nijinsky’s drawings then. In the long run, however, I would love to create a place which is accessible to all.
YY – Are there any new talents you are focusing on now that you think will create the next era? And why?
JN – Also, what new talents would you like to bring out into society?
Ballet and dance are constantly being renewed through the dancers and the choreographers. One of my projects for the “next era of dance”, as it were, is the National Youth Ballet. It is a group of eight young professional dancers – who also work as choreographers – who will build their own repertoire, which will be mostly contemporary. The National Youth Ballet will perform not only on theatrical stages, but will reach out into society on a very broad basis: They will perform in schools, museums, retirement homes, and maybe even prisons. My plan is to create a substantial platform in society for the art of dance.
Dance Critic and Dance Researcher
Carolina de Pedro Pascual and Anna Schwan participated in the organisation of this interview.
Interview published in the Nº2 of dB Magazine of Collection.November, 2011
John Neumeier In Bewegung – Copyright Holger Badekow
©2012 Danza Ballet