Ballet Nice Méditerranée, under the direction of Eric Vu-An, opens the 2018-2019 season with three diverse works from some of the 20th century’s most notable choreographers – Uwe Scholz, Rudi van Dantzig and Robert North.
The programme includes Scholz’s Oktett, set to Mendelssohn’s lively and lyrical String Octet, Quatre derniers Lieder – a setting for ballet of Richard Strauss’ gorgeous Four Last Songs by Rudi van Dantzig – and Troy Game, Robert North’s satirical commentary on the sporty male, with a Brazilian-style score by Bob Downes.
Uwe Scholz (1958-2004) had dreams of becoming a conductor, but at the age of 13 he gained admission to the Stuttgart Ballet School and, nurtured and mentored by Marcia Haydée, his artistic career took shape. In 1976 he created his first choreographic work, Serenade for 5+1, to a score by Mozart, was later granted a scholarship by the Balanchine School of American Ballet, graduated from the John Cranko Academy in Stuttgart and joined the Stuttgart Ballet as a dancer.
At the age of just 26, Scholz became artistic director and chief choreographer of the Zurich Ballet, and after 6 years returned to Germany to build and shape the Leipzig Ballet until his untimely death in 2004, at the age of just 46. During his career, Uwe Scholz created more than 100 ballets, for companies in Europe, Canada, Israel and South America.
Scholz wrote Oktett for the Zurich Ballet in 1987, with sets and costumes by Karl Lagerfeld. For the score he selected Mendelssohn’s String Octet – written in 1825 when the composer was just 16, and considered to be worthy of classification as a full blown symphony. The first and last movements are given to the interplay between the dancers, the second is a romantic pas de deux, and the third movement provides an opportunity for the men to show their technical expertise.
Rudi Van Danzig (1933-2012) was one of the most influential choreographers in the Netherlands – if not the most influential – and he left an indelible impression on the Dutch National Ballet and the dance world in the Netherlands in general, having been artistic leader of the company for 20 years. He became resident choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet in 1961, was artistic co-director from 1965 to 1971, and then held the position of sole artistic director until 1991.
Van Dantzig – who also became an author and identified closely with social issues – was the creator of over 50 ballets, many of them in collaboration with set and costume designer Toer van Schayk. Some of his best known works include Vier Letzte Lieder, Monument for a dead boy, Under mijne voete and his interpretations of Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake. To this day, the company has Van Dantzig works in its repertoire.
His Vier Letzte Lieder (Quatre derniers Lieder or Four Last Songs) was created to the hauntingly beautiful music of Richard Strauss, who was greatly inspired by setting poetry to music. One of his earliest examples is his setting of Oscar Wilde’s Salome in 1905, followed by a collaboration with poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal on Elektra four years later. His Four Last Songs, written in 1948 – when he was 84 years old – were described by Interlude as “…. a musical last will and testament”. It is not a bitter farewell, however, but a crystalline world delicately hovering between light and darkness. A work of artistic purification and refinement …… The first three movements were settings of Hermann Hesse’s poems – Spring, September and When I Go to Sleep – and the final movement was set to Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff’s At Sunset.
The final work in the programme is Troy Game, by Robert North, a founding member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre, which was established in 1967, and of which North was appointed associate choreographer in 1975. As a guest choreographer, he has worked for companies such as Ballet Rambert, Stuttgart Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet, and also choreographed for the commercial stage, opera, film, theatre, and television. Robert North has taught contemporary dance at the Royal Ballet School, and has held the positions of co-artistic director of London Contemporary Dance Theatre, artistic director of Ballet Rambert, ballet director at the Teatro Regio in Turin, artistic director of the Gothenburg Ballet in Sweden, ballet director in Verona, and artistic director of Scottish Ballet. After a period as a freelance choreograph – between 2002 and 2006 – he was appointed artistic director of the Krefeld Mönchengladbach company in Germany.
Troy Game is one of over 70 works created by Robert North, which has been described by Australian online site Artfilms as “a dynamic satire of the machismo attitudes inherent in sports”. The music, by Bob Downes, is based on the Batucada, a Brazilian style of samba, and costumes were designed by Peter Farmer. Featuring an all-male cast, Troy Game was originally written for London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and premiered on 3rd October, 1974, at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool. Since then it’s been revived for several companies, including Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, and Sarasota Ballet.
Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents the first triple bill of the 2018-19 season at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur for six performances, running from 19th to 28th October. Tickets may be reserved online.
Lead image: Troy Game – Photo: Dominique Jaussein