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Ballet: SHIFTING SYMMETRIES, Vienna State Opera, 27 December 2023 - 19:00

Event details

  • Category: Operas
  • Date/Time: 27 December 2023 - 19:00
  • Venue: Vienna State Opera
  • Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Wien / Vienna (Map)
  • Other Dates: Show alternatives


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»Choreography is a language. It is like an alphabet, and you do not need to spell words that you already know. The meaning of a language is determined by the context in which it appears. The most important is how you speak this language, and not what you say.« What William Forsythe says here about choreography articulates a view of dance that applies not only to his own works, but is equally valid for artists such as Hans van Manen and George Balanchine. The American presents himself along with them in the premiere of the Vienna State Ballet’s Shifting Symmetries – a triple bill of three master works linked by the common factor that their creators have each confronted ballet as an art from in a way that is both rigorous and thrilling.

Hans van Manen created Concertante in 1994 for Nederlands Dans Theater 2 to Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante – music whose wealth of expression, dynamic rhythms and forceful character inspired him to choreograph a ballet in which eight dancers become momentarily attached to and detached from each other again like the pieces of a puzzle; at times joyfully, at times bristling with eroticism, at times filled with aggression, always full of surprises and yet following their own inner logic. Like a crime drama, complex structures within the space and strictly defined sightlines build an unresolved tension, through which the dance broadens out into an encounter between people of whom Hans van Manen said: »However close to each other you may become, ultimately you never know exactly what someone else is thinking.«

With In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated – created by William Forsythe in 1987 in response to a commission from Rudolf Nureyev for the Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris – a work that fundamentally revolutionised ballet joins the Viennese repertoire for the first time. To the powerful, stamping electronic sounds provided by his long-term artistic partner Thom Willems, Forsythe drives classical ballet to the level of absurdity with breath-taking virtuosity, using the pattern of theme and variation and the techniques of deconstruction and manipulation in an atmosphere of eccentric coolness: physical configurations aspiring to harmony are destabilised, symmetries are shifted, classical movement sequences are taken apart and reassembled, and a new stability emerges from the battle against gravity. As the tension builds, the level of difficulty increases until the demands exceed anything experienced in ballet before – while the dancers confront each other with an irreverent cold-bloodedness but also an uninhibited theatricality in the hope that they might be able to win the golden cherries elevated on the ceiling of the theatre, after which the piece was named.

George Balanchine adopted a suggestion from Igor Stravinsky’s assistant Robert Craft to take on the Piano Quartet in G minor op. 25 in the sumptuous orchestral version that Arnold Schönberg arranged from Johannes Brahms’ composition in 1937 and proudly claimed as his »Fifth Symphony« when he was looking for a large-scale work for his new venue – the New York State Theater – in 1964. The Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet eventually received its world premiere in 1966 – not only to celebrate the magnificent proportions of the Lincoln Center stage, but also as a homage to an incomparable company that appeared in a 55-strong ensemble whose different qualities were displayed in four miniature ballets to match the movements of the composition: full of elegance in the Allegro, full of romanticism and lyricism in the two central movements, and exhibiting an intoxicating virtuosity in the »alla Zingarese« finale with its elements of folk dance. Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet is not one of Balanchine’s experimental works: it is a thrilling celebration of dance and the orchestra, suffused with echoes of a grand Austro-Hungarian musical tradition that is heard through Brahms and Schönberg as well as reminders of the marvellous divertissements of Marius Petipa, where the roots of Balanchine’s neoclassicism originated.

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