Ballet Legend by John Neumeier
in 7 Scenes and a Prologue
based on Ferenc Molnár
The Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, December 4, 2011
Louis, their son
The Balloon Man
A Shy Young Man
A Sad Clown
Alina Cojocaru (Guest)
für Dario Franconi
2012 Baden-Baden 2012 Costa Mesa, CA 2016 Tokyo
My aim was to tell the story of a Budapest suburb in such a simple and naive way as it might have been told by the old ladies of outer Josefstadt. I did not want to put more meaning into the symbolic figures and the celestial beings, than a modest vagabond might do, when he thinks about them.
The Child: "Is it possible for someone to hit you – real loud and hard – and not hurt you a all?"
Julie: "Yes, it is possible dear – that someone may beat you and beat you and beat you - and not hurt you at all."
At the end of Ferenc Molnár's suburban legend, mother and child, who share the same experiences with Liliom. The former showman, though adored by women, bears a hard life, but still makes others suffer, too. He turns his back on the fair milieu because of a mislead feeling of honor and is drawn to the margin of society. His child is supposed to have a better life, yet Liliom must realize that his own life's story is written on by that of his child. "The events, that happen in the course of the play, make Liliom react", says John Neumeier, who retells Molnár's play through dance.
The background for the ballet is evoked by Michel Legrand's music, reminiscent of the America of the 1930s – at the height of the Great Depression with all its social consequences. A time, when people's shattered dreams made them crave for non-committal entertainment. Their lives were fundamentally disillusioned and they were therefore in need for a kind of amusement which made them feel that life was still worth living. This aspect is musically introduced by the NDR Big Band as Oscar winning composer Michel Legrand created an orchestra score, which also includes jazz elements.
PROLOGUE – PLAYLAND IN RUINS
The Balloon Man. After sixteen years in purgatory, Liliom is allowed to briefly return to earth to perform a good deed. He brings a star, stolen from heaven, for his son Louis, who does not recognize his father and refuses the gift. Angry and frustrated, Liliom strikes his son. Louis' mother Julie appears. Like her son, she perceives Liliom's blow as a caress. Julie remembers Liliom, who was once a barker for a carousel in Playland.
SCENE 1 – PLAYLAND
The amusement park is dominated by Liliom's presence. He is employed by the owner of the carousel, Mrs. Muskat, and is also her lover. Julie and her friend Marie, waitresses in a café in Playland, visit once again Mrs. Muskat's carousel. Julie is wooed by a shy young man, but is, in fact, searching for Liliom. A drunken sailor barges into the crowd and harasses Julie, who is defended by Liliom. Ficsur, a character of the underworld, slips the sailor a knife, but Liliom wins the fight and lets the sailor free. Mrs. Muskat is jealous of Julie. Confrontation – Mrs. Muskat fires Liliom.
SCENE 2 – A LONELY PLACE
Marie and Julie are waiting on a park bench. Marie's boyfriend Wolf appears – later Liliom.
Julie and Liliom alone. They stay together – unable to confess their love.
Ficsur tries to persuade Liliom to join him in his criminal dealings.
SCENE 3 – MEN LOOKING FOR WORK
A crowd of unemployed men, including Liliom and Ficsur, compete for the few available jobs.
SCENE 4 – AT HOME
Preparations for Marie and Wolf's wedding. Liliom appears, unemployed, angry, and frustrated.
Julie and Liliom alone. Unhappy, Liliom hits Julie at the moment that Mrs. Muskat appears. She tries to persuade Liliom to return to the carousel. Liliom hesitates. Alone again, Julie reveals to Liliom that she is carrying his child. Liliom dreams of a future with his son.
SCENE 5 – MARIE AND WOLF'S WEDDING
The wedding guests celebrate Marie and Wolf's marriage.
Ficsur and Liliom withdraw from the party, while the shy young man dances with Julie.
Liliom and Ficsur naively try to commit a robbery, but the crime goes awry. Liliom tries to flee. As the police arrive, he recognizes the hopelessness of his situation and stabs himself.
Julie mourns Liliom. She professes her love for him.
SCENE 6 – IN THE BEYOND
The Balloon Man accompanies Liliom on his journey into the beyond. Liliom appears before the gate- keeper and must admit that he has struck Julie. Devils appear. In defense, the Balloon Man recalls the fight with the drunken sailor, in which Liliom, clearly the victor, did not harm the sailor.
Consequently, Liliom is not irrevocably damned. During the following sixteen years in purgatory, Liliom's son grows up.
SCENE 7 – LOUIS
Now sixteen years old, Louis lives near the ruins of Playland. Marie and Wolf, now very wealthy, are moving to a finer neighbourhood with their son Elmer. The Balloon Man leads Liliom to his son. Louis does not recognize his father. Liliom tries to give him a star, stolen from heaven, but his son refuses the gift. Frustrated and angered by the rejection, Liliom strikes Louis. Julie appears. Picking up the star, she feels Liliom's presence. It is as if he is whispering to her: "Know that I love you".