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A Dance of Death by John Neumeier based on the novella by Thomas Mann
Death In Venice
What fascinates me in my interpretation of Thomas Mann’s novella is the depiction of absolute love. Tadzio causes Aschenbach to confront a hidden part of himself. Before meeting Tadzio, dignity, fame and his work which has gained him an aristocratic title have meant everything to Aschenbach. At first, he fights against his emotions justifying his fascination for the young man with purely aesthetic reasoning. Ultimately he surrenders to love – turning to life and bringing about his "Death in Venice".
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner
Choreography and Staging: John Neumeier
Set: Peter Schmidt
Costumes: John Neumeier, Peter Schmidt
Lighting Concept: John Neumeier
Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, December 7, 2003
2003 Baden-Baden 2004 Baden-Baden 2007 New York, Orange County, CA 2008 Barcelona, Paris 2009 Venice, Vienna 2014 Copenhagen 2015 Madrid
I Fame and Creation
His name and fame firmly established, the great choreographer Gustav von Aschenbach begins work on a new ballet based on the Prussian King Frederick the Great. Aschenbach is the acclaimed master of formal symmetry and structure – his ballets are modern classics. But now, the artist's fear of not finishing, of failure, clouds his vision. Panic impedes creation. The "Frederick Project" should be his masterpiece, but his concept becomes more and more obscure and confused. Unconscious memories of his poetic, impulsive dead mother distract him from his work. The court ballerina »La Barbarina« and Frederick the Great, characters of his creative imagination, appear, seeming to demand choreographic form and immortality. A crisis…
II On the Brink of Exhaustion
Frustrated and exhausted Aschenbach abandons his work. An encounter with a mysterious stranger arouses his thirst for travel.
III A Sensation of swimming – The Journey to Venice
The desire to get away overcomes him. He travels to Venice. A strangely familiar gondolier brings Aschenbach across the Lagoon to the Lido.
IV The Silent Encounter – Hôtel des Bains
In the lobby, the elegant Venetian society promenades. Their glances of recognition and obvious awareness of his celebrity intensify Aschenbach's discomfort. Two effeminate young men dance outrageously with each other, then flirt with Aschenbach. Irritated he begins to leave. Tadzio, a strikingly beautiful young man, enters barefoot. The youth engages Aschenbach's attention, fires his imagination. He stays…
V In Elysium – On the Lido
The Beach. Aschenbach observes the playful activities of Tadzio and his companions. The sun seems to turn his attention from intellectual to sensory perception. Tadzio's smile overwhelms Aschenbach. Inspired by Tadzio's presence, he choreographs a pas de deux of true emotional love.
VI A Dionysian Dream
Aschenbach falls asleep on the beach. An orgiastic dream overtakes him: bodies, tumult and frenzied erotic dance. He gives himself over to the Other God. Unnerved and shattered Aschenbach awakes.
With a hairdressing gown draped over him, Aschenbach leans back in the chair: "We are only so old as we feel in our hearts and minds. A man in your position has a right to his natural hair colour" says the barber.
VIII Dance of Death – Cholera in Venice
A Street Musician gives a vulgar performance in the hotel garden. The player is brutal and bold, dangerous and relentless. Hotel guests fall ill – and die.
IX The pure sound of the Piano: Decision and Farewell
Nevertheless, Gustav von Aschenbach decides to stay. He lets go of his art, his artistry, destroys his creations. His "Frederick the Great" will remain unfinished...
Aschenbach turns from art to life – and death in Venice.