Ballet by John Neumeier | Saint Matthew Passion
Choreografie, Inszenierung, Bühnenbild und Kostüme
Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer
Since 1973 John Neumeier has been Director and Chief Choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet, since 1996 he is "Ballettintendant". He was born in 1939 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A., where he received his first dance training. He went on to study ballet both in Copenhagen and at the Royal Ballet School in London. He acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Theater Studies from Marquette University, Wisconsin. In 1963 he was "discovered" in London by Marcia Haydée and Ray Barra, leading John Cranko to engage him at the Stuttgart Ballet, where he progressed to solo dancer and created his first choreographic works.
In 1969 Ulrich Erfurth appointed Neumeier Director of Ballet in Frankfurt, where he soon caused a sensation. This was largely due to his new interpretations of such well-known ballets as "The Nutcracker", "Romeo and Julia" and "Daphnis and Chloe". In 1973 August Everding brought him to Hamburg. Under Neumeier's direction the Hamburg Ballet became one of the leading ballet companies on the German dance scene and soon received international recognition.
As a choreographer, Neumeier has continually focused on the preservation of ballet tradition, while giving his works a modern dramatic framework. His commitment to this end has manifested itself particularly in his revised versions of the classical "Story Ballets". For his new works he has created his own narrative forms, resulting in ballets such as: "The Saga of King Arthur"; a series of Shakespeare ballets, including "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Hamlet", "Othello", "As You Like It" and "VIVALDI or What You Will"; the Literature Ballets created for Marcia Haydée: "The Lady of the Camellias" and "A Streetcar Named Desire", and his adaptation of Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" to a commissioned score by Alfred Schnittke and Homer's epic poem "Odyssey" which had its world premiere in Athens in November 1995. In 1997 he created "Sylvia" for The Ballet of the Paris Opera. American Ballet Theatre gave a world premiere of his ballet "Getting Closer" in 1999 and the Tokyo Ballet, in February 2000, premiered "Seasons - The Colors of Time". John Neumeier has received particular acclaim throughout the world for his choreographies on symphonies by Gustav Mahler; to Bach's "Saint Matthew Passion", Mozart's "Requiem" and Handel's "Messiah." Other important works are "Nijinsky" and a new production of "Giselle" in 2000 and his most recent ballets "Winterreise" in December 2001, as well as "The Seagull" in June 2002, "Préludes CV" in June 2003 and "Death in Venice" in December 2003. In 2005 he created a new ballet for the Royal Danish Ballet: "The Little Mermaid", a homage to Hans Christian Andersen to celebrate the writer's bicentenary, which was premiered on April 15 for the opening of the new Opera House of Copenhagen. John Neumeier has also directed operas and musicals. At the Bavarian State Opera he directed Verdi's "Otello", at the Hamburg State Opera Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice" and Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story" and "On the Town".
The Ballet Workshop events (lecture demonstrations in which aspects of current repertoire or general dance themes are analyzed) enjoy great popularity in Hamburg. In 1978 Neumeier received the "Golden Camera" for a four-part television series recorded by North German Radio (NDR). A further four "Workshops" were produced for television in 1981. In addition German Television (ZDF) and North German Radio (NDR) have recorded four of Neumeier's ballet productions: "Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler", "Wendung" (String Quintet in C-Major by Franz Schubert), "Scenes of Childhood" and "Othello". His Version of "The Lady of the Camellias", produced 1986 by Polyphon GmbH, was awarded a gold medal at the International Television Festival in New York. 2002 a live performance of the ballet "Illusions – like 'Swan Lake'" was released on DVD. In 2004 and 2005 "Death in Venice" and "Saint Matthew Passion" were filmed by the TV station SWR at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. In 2005 "Sylvia" was filmed at the Opera Bastille in Paris with the dancers of the Ballet of the Paris Opera.
In 1975, in only his second season in Hamburg, Neumeier brought the Hamburg Ballet Festival into being a climax and end to the season: they culminate in the annual "Nijinsky-Gala" which is always dedicated to a dance-specific or ballet-historical theme. In summer of 2004 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the company under the Artistic Direction of John Neumeier, the Ballet Festival saw a retrospective comprising the most important works from the company's repertoire. The Hamburg Ballet has given numerous guest performances in Europe, Russia, North and South America and Asia.
John Neumeier has worked as guest choreographer with many companies, including the Royal Ballet in London, the Vienna, Munich and Dresden State Operas, the Ballet of the German Opera in Berlin, the Stuttgart Ballet (for which he has created several works), the Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Finnish National Ballet, Le Ballet du XXème Siècle in Brussels, the Ballet of the Paris Opera, the Tokyo Ballet, the American Ballet Theater in New York, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada and the Ballet of the Mariinsky Theater among others.
Since 1981 John Neumeier has been dancing the lead role of "Saint Matthew Passion". In 1984 Maurice Béjart re-choreographed "Les Chaises" (The Chairs), after Ionesco's play, for Neumeier and Marcia Haydée. This Ballet became part of the repertoire of both the Hamburg and Stuttgart Ballets and was performed on numerous tours in cities including New York, Zurich, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Essen, Dresden, Paris and Copenhagen.
In 1978 John Neumeier founded the School of the Hamburg Ballet. In the autumn of 1989 the school, together with the company, moved into its own "Ballettzentrum" provided by the city of Hamburg. Its facilities include nine studios and a boarding school for over thirty students. Today more than 60% of the company's dancers are graduates from the school.
John Neumeier is holder of the Order of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1983 he received the Dance Magazine Award. In 1987 he was awarded a honorary doctorate in the Fine Arts by Marquette University in Milwaukee, and was granted the title of Professor by the Senate of the Free and Hanseatic Town of Hamburg. In 1988 he was awarded the German Dance Prize and the Prix Diaghilev. In 1991 at the instigation of the French Minister of Culture he was admitted as Knight to the "Ordre des Arts et des Lettres". In 1992 he received the "Benois de la Danse" in Moscow. In 1994 he was awarded the "Medal of Honor" of the city of Tokyo, the "Carina-Ari-Goldmedal" (Sweden's highest dance award), and the Hamburg "Bürgerpreis". In 1995 he received the "Bible and Culture Foundation Prize" and in 1996 the "Nijinsky Medal" of the Polish Minister of Culture. In 1997 he received in Tokyo the "Min-On International Award for Arts". In 2000 John Neumeier received the "European Prince Henrik of Denmark Award" and the "Medal of the Knight's Cross of the Dannebrog" in gold from Queen Margrethe II of Danemark. His ballet "Messiah" was awarded the "DANZA & DANZA Magazine Award" for the best production of the season 2000/2001 and he received for his choreography "Nijinsky" the "Bayerischer Theaterpreis 2001". In 2002 Neumeier received the highest theatre prize of Russia the "Golden Mask", the first prize for best contemporary choreography at the Varna Ballet Competition 2002, the Danish "Wilhelm Hansen Prize" and was named "Honorary Member of the Semper Oper". In 2003 he received the "Medal for Art and Science", the highest cultural distinction of the city of Hamburg and was appointed to the rank of "Knight of the Legion of Honor" by French President Jacques Chirac. In 2004 he received the "Porselli Prize - A Life for the Dance" in Reggio Emilia, Italy and was appointed "Hans Christian Andersen Ambassador 2005" for Germany for the worldwide celebration of the writer's bicentenary. In 2005 he received the "SAECULUM Prize" in Dresden and in November the "Steffen Kempe Prize" in Hamburg. Neumeier's production for the Bolshoi Theatre of his "A Midsummer Night's Dream" received the "Golden Mask" for Moscow's Best Contemporary Dance Production in 2005. In May 2006 he received in Hamburg the "Portugaleser" in Silver, in December the "Nijinsky Award 2006" for Lifetime Achievement was presented to him by Princess Caroline of Hanover in Monte-Carlo and in Hamburg he was named "Citizen of the Year 2006" in recognition of his contribution to culture. In June 2007 John Neumeier will be made an honorary citizen of the city of Hamburg and on October 6 he will be receiving in Baden-Baden the "Herbert von Karajan Music Prize 2007".
In February 2006 John Neumeier established a Foundation with the aim of bringing together his collection of Dance and Ballet related objects and his vast oeuvre. The "John Neumeier Foundation" will maintain and secure for the city of Hamburg his life's work.
John Neumeier has been supporting "Hamburg Leuchtfeuer" and its hospice since its foundation.
photo: Steven Haberland