BWW Review: HAMBURG BALLET's Joyce Debut Presents a New York Premiere
The Hamburg Ballet made its Joyce debut with a six performance run of John Neumeier's Old Friends from March 21st to 25th 2017. The cast of 25, billed as the Joyce Theater New York Ensemble, was selected from the full company roster of 60. On the evening of March 23rd, I was impressed by the first rate technique and stage presence of all the dancers. They were tasked with innovative steps and lifts, which they performed with admirable aplomb. Beyond that, they had to convey Neumeier's enigmatic message about the trajectory of human relationships. Here, too, they did a superb job.
The title of the evening length ballet derives from the poignant song by Simon & Garfunkel, which was part of the musical accompaniment for the ballet along with Simon& Garfunkel's sad "Dangling Conversation" and tender "Bridge Over Troubled Water". The rest of the music was by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frédéric Chopin, and Federico Mompou. Michal Bialk was the pianist. Live music is always a welcome feature, but I found Bialk's performance less than polished. I was also distracted when excerpts from Chopin's score for the iconic ballet "Les Sylphides", sometimes called "Chopiniana", brought to mind images from that ballet as I tried to focus on what was happening onstage.
Neumeier's program note explains his rationale for pairing Simon & Garfunkel with Chopin: "There is a strange, indefinable, but for me clear relationship between the music of Frédéric Chopin and that of Simon & Garfunkel. Chopin's music unites 19th-century salon elegance with profound emotion, just as the songs of the 60s by Simon & Garfunkel link accessible sound with poetically relevant lyrics". That seems like something of a stretch to me, but I do like Neumeier's program note about his intention in creating the ballet: "Old friends? New friends? . . . Lovers past or present - nostalgia for a moment in time forever lost. . . . the present tense situations of the ballets . . . encapsulate past memories and future premonitions." Fittingly, the dancers shift relationships throughout the piece, sometimes joyously and sometimes intimating heartbreak, as they run into view or disappear into the wings.
The best moment for me was the finale, a pairing of Carsten Jung and Edvin Revazov in what was perhaps a bromance or perhaps a romance. Neumeier outdid himself with convincing, goose bump inducing choreography and the dancers rose to the challenge. In other performances during this run, Alexandre Riabko and Ivan Urban are cast in this dynamite duet.
During the curtain call, Neumeier took his bow and then - as he customarily does - joined hands with the dancers and repeatedly rushed them toward the audience for more bows. His smile was glowing with justifiable pride. What he has accomplished with the Hamburg Ballet since 1973 is indeed commendable. I look forward to the next visit of the company to our shores.