On Monday, 16 April, Teatr Wielki ? Polish National Opera hosted a press conference on the Polish premiere of John Neumeier?s The Lady of the Camellias, which is due to take place this Friday. During the meeting, the General Manager of the Polish National Opera, Waldemar Dąbrowski, reminded those in attendance of the importance of Chopin?s music for Polish culture, in particular on the eve of the centenary of Polish independence. Mr Dąbrowski emphasised that Chopin universalised Polishness. In the light of the historic nature of John Neumeier?s The Lady of the Camellias, Krzysztof Pastor noticed that the new premiere by the Polish National Ballet puts the company among the rare group of theatres around the world that have been privileged to stage Neumeier?s choreography.
Also attending the conference was the master himself, and his story of the making of The Lady of the Camellias and the inspiration he drew from Chopin?s music was fascinating. Having recently turned 40 (first premiering in 1978), the ballet?s origins are tied to the eminent dancer Marcia Haydée, with whom Neumeier worked at the Stuttgart Ballet while developing Antony and Cleopatra. That premiere never came to be, supplanted by The Lady of the Camellias ? according to Neumeier, a single glance at Haydée was enough to know she would be the perfect Marguerite Gautier, the main protagonist of The Lady of the Camellias. Music-wise, Neumeier consulted a number of people, as he desperately sought a different score than the usual staple, i.e. Verdi?s operatic rendition of Dumas?s novel. One of Neumeier?s friends, who was a pianist and conductor, told him that the theme would go well with Berlioz or Chopin, and that he could use both of these composers. Neumeier opted for the Polish composer, whose music, claims Neumeier, appeals directly to one?s heart. Thanks to the appropriate temperature of the music, Neumeier was able to extract the unique mix of emotional and social levels that characterises The Lady of the Camellias: sadness, the experience of sickness, melancholic overtones, and the contrasts between them and the atmosphere of the 19th century Parisian salons. Neumeier based his ballet on the novelistic prototype by Alexandre Dumas, fils, rather than its subsequent adaptation for drama and opera (La Traviata), which he did not consider complex enough. Neumeier followed the novel in turning towards a mirror-like narrative, presenting the plot from a number of points of view, among others through the use of the epistolary formula. His selection of Chopin?s work was driven by their potential in revealing the traits of individual characters. In Act II, we only hear piano music, which reflects the departure from the world of Parisian intrigues towards the peaceful ambience of the countryside. Choreographic the respective scenes, Neumeier turned to such works by Chopin that would glue them internally and with one another, without losing the awareness of the secrecy of the lovers? romance.
Neumeier admitted that his work as choreographer always begins with earnest emotions, and that it is of paramount importance that such emotions come to surface in the work of an artist. His use of music stresses the emotional bond one develops with music, as has been the case with himself and the music of Chopin, which Neumeier sees as an inexhaustible source of inspiration. Maciej Krawiec, the moderator of the press conference, noticed that in such pieces as The Lady of the Camellias choreography becomes one with directing, as it emphasises the internal energy of performers, their looks, gestures, and intentions. Neumeier thinks it is so because the human being brings together such various qualities and levels of experience as rationality, emotionality, sensuality, and eroticism; and that movement cannot be separated from emotions: movement is moving, form is always linked to content. Ballet is a wonderful art, a demonstration of the human capacity for art, in which these various orders unite, both within and with one another. Ballet stresses the utmost importance of motivation.
Asked about the relevance of his ballet and its reception by the young generation, Neumeier emphasised that to him art (also in this particular case) is capable to appeal to anybody, at least for as long as it maintains its integrity. The choreographer stressed the role of now for ballet, along with the various human emotions that come to surface in the relations between dancers. It is their immediacy, said Neumeier, that counts the most. They express universal human experience such as guilt, forgiveness, the mistakes and errors we make (and the attendant sense of guilt), the way we love, the way we fear death, and how we die. The Lady of the Camellias lends a voice to a similar universe, and thus the issues such as the specific nature of Marguerite Gautier?s sickness, become secondary.
Neumeier confessed that to him, ballet is always connected with the labour of love, and that he develops a Platonic love relationship with his dancers.
Krzysztof Pastor emphasised the fact that working with John Neumeier is a life-changing event for dancers, as evidenced by the Polish National Ballet?s collaboration on A Midsummer Night?s Dream. Those who have worked with Neumeier often claim they have not only been transformed as performers but also as individuals.
About the performance:
The Lady of the Camellias is one of John Neumeier?s most famous ballets. It was Neumeier who associated the romantic love of Marguerite and Armand with the musical quintessence of Romanticism: the music of Fryderyk Chopin. Created in 1978 in Stuttgart, The Lady of the Camellias has been staged by the select few ballet companies. It regularly features in the repertoire of the Hamburg Ballet, while also figuring in those of Opera de Paris, the American Ballet Theatre in New York, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and La Scala in Milan. In each of those venues, The Lady of the Camellias has been presented against the backdrop of its signature scenography deisgned by the outstanding German stage designer Jürgen Rose.
In his ballet story, the choreographer uses the Chinese box narrative structure ? the protagonists Marguerite Gautier and Armand Duval meet in the opera during a performance of Manon Lescaut. It is a double wink to the audience: Manon Lescaut also tells the story of a courtesan, and the opera house itself, as a venue, is an important point on the prostitution map of various registers ? courtesans at the height of their careers displayed their new dresses and jewels there, meanwhile ballet was called at the time ?an exposition of girls for sale?. Neumeier?s choreography shows the full scale of passion ? in Chopin?s music we find both the sadness resulting from his illness, as well as the joy and frivolity of the Parisian society he frequented ? the Paris where ?pleasures pass us by, calling out to us.?
Choreographing The Lady of the Camellias, Neumeier used a number of pieces by Fryderyk Chopin, including Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor, Fantasy on Polish Themes in A major, Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major, among many others. The compositions will be performed live by pianists Krzysztof Jabłoński and Marek Bracha, accompanied by the Orchestra of the Polish National Opera conducted by Grzegorz Nowak. The Warsaw production of The Lady of the Camellias has been developed in collaboration with Neumeier and his three assistants, Kevin Haigen, Janusz Mazoń, and Radik Zaripov.
The Polish National Ballet thus adds a true gem of ballet literature to its repertoire, while also bolstering its production portfolio with another choreography set to the music of the great Polish Romantic composer.
Repeat performances will take place on 21, 22, 24, and 25 April, as well as on 21-24 June 2018.
The Lady of the Camellias
Ballet by John Neumeier in two acts with a prologue
Polish premiere: 20 April 2018
Polish National Ballet, Teatr Wielki ? Polish National Opera
Choreography and lighting design: John Neumeier
Music: Fryderyk Chopin
Conductor: Grzegorz Nowak
Stage design: Jürgen Rose
Assistant choreographers: Kevin Haigen, Janusz Mazoń, Radik Zaripov