Death in Venice — the Ballet

Death in Venice at BAM

Thursday night I went to see Death in Venice, performed by the Hamburg Ballet and choreographed by John Neumeier, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I loved it so much; it was really one of the most beautiful contemporary ballets I’ve seen. It was really just my thing: a ballet based on a modern, relatable, familiar story, told beautifully through movement. Based on the novella by Thomas Mann, its theme is the opposition between the intellectual and the sensual and the inner conflict that produces for the artist who must inhabit both worlds in order to create meaning from lived life. And of course underlying that theme is the implicit motif of societal repression and oppression of homosexual desire.

Funny, Sloan went to see it opening night, the night before me, and posted her thoughts in the Winger, which of course I read enthusiastically upon returning from BAM (because, badly, I often surf the net at midnight on a work night…). Was so excited I had to comment like a nutter on her post, leaving me with little to say now! What’s interesting to me though, is how dancers notice so many of the small details that make up the overall production and dance-going experience — subtleties I never would have seen– such as the sets, the lighting, the choreographer’s use of the stage, the music, the theater itself. I mostly notice only the dancers and how well I think they convey their roles. So, visit the Winger for all of those aforementioned interesting details, as well as some more lovely photos, and even a little tidbit on audience celebrities!

Anyway, I’d never seen this ballet before and when I received the flyer advertising it, I thought how in the world are they going to convey through dance a writer stifled by over-intellectualizing his work? Well, Neumeier does that by making his Aschenbach, Mann’s protagonist, into a choreographer. Lloyd Riggins compellingly depicts the tormented choreographer, while Tadzio is portrayed by this stunning Russian dancer named Edvin Revazov. I attended a pre-performance discussion between Neumeier and dance critic Anna Kisselgoff, and Neumeier related that he’d found the dancer at the Prix de Lausanne, a huge ballet competition in Switzerland. Apparently, Revazov did not do very well in the classical part of the competition, but then totally blew everyone away during the more modern improvisational portion. You could definitely tell in Revazov’s dancing that he excelled at modern. And one thing I loved about this ballet was that it incorporated both classical and modern, sometimes danced side by side, very dramatically, very beautifully. The beach scenes when Aschenbach first sees and becomes enamored with Tadzio were choreographed just beautifully, as were the pas de deux between those two men and the pas de trois between Aschenbach and other males — so gorgeously sensual. Revazov completely captivated me whenever he took the stage, and, gorgeous Russian man though he was, he captured the essense of the frivolous, playful, carefree 14-year-old to a tee. There’s also a scene where cholera grips the city, and the dancers’ jerky smasmodic movements were strikingly disconcerting. There were a few moments of corniness (the dancers wear these animal-skin prints during an orgiastic dream scene; I thought nude-colored clothing would have been more sensual, not to mention subtle, and later in the cholera scene, two agents of death are made up as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from the 70s rock band, KISS), but overall it was just so sublimely realized.

Funny, though — there are so many beautiful, beautiful men used the ballet, that I (and another blogger) kept imagining how ABT dancers would interpret it. I imagined Jose Carreno as Aschenbach and either David Hallberg (as if I really need to link to him :) ) or Jared Matthews as Tadzio. Ahhhh, wishful thinking, as I’m sure ABT would probably find it too risky to touch, unfortunately. Come on, Kevin, take a chance, pleeeasse!!!

I also kept thinking I was seeing Evan McKie (of Stuttgart Ballet, and the Winger :)), as one of the dancers on whom Aschenbach was trying to choreograph at the beginning. But, alas, it was just the German connection … and my fanstasizing about someday being able to see him dance… :) Reading his Winger posts (and eyeing his gorgeous pics), he sounds so fun, so goofily charming, and Stuttgart fascinating (I do think the Winger is not just bringing audiences closer to ballet, but sometimes creating stars itself!) Evan, btw, also happens to have the most brillant MySpace page I’ve ever seen :)

Anyway, I posted this too late and now Hamburg has left NY, so if you missed it, you’ll have to wait till they come around with it again … hopefully, hopefully in the not too distant future!

4 Comments

  1. thanks for the link tonya! and…your review was beautifully said. i also think that Angel Corella would make a great Ascenbach or Tadzio. Marcelo is more of a Tadzio I think, although I think he could also pull of Aschenbach.

    But I do think it’ll be difficult to surpass Lloyd Riggins’ acting skills, he was so believable and every movement was so calculated and true to his character. Breathtaking.

  2. Thanks Jennifer! Angel would be perfect in either role — that man can do ANYTHING brilliantly! Ha ha — I hadn’t even thought of Marcelo (odd for me?! — was focusing on the blonde hair I think), but he would make a great Tadzio — he would be ideal for that part, actually! I think we should lobby Kevin…

  3. If you’re thinking blonde, u can also add Ethan Steifel & Maxim too…

  4. Ha ha — there are too many possibilities in ABT!

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