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DVD Review

Igor Stravinsky

Medici Arts DVD 2055728

Le Sacre du printemps

  • 2 Versions Choreographed by Uwe Scholz
Wolfgang Manz, Rolf Plagge, pianos
Giovanni Di Palma, Kiyoko Kimura, solo dancers
Leipzig Ballet
Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig/Henrik Schaefer
Medici Arts DVD 2055728 Widescreen Anamorphic LPCM Stereo Dolby 74:00 plus 91:00 documentary
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In the documentary that accompanies these twin performances of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps, choreographer Uwe Scholz, participating in a press conference in Poland, is asked about the plot of another one of his ballets, an interpretation of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony. "Plot?," he responds incredulously. "Plot?" He insists that there is no plot, but that the ballet is a Seelenlandschaften or "soulscape." This happy neologism becomes the title of the documentary, and is a good description of Scholz's work in general.

Scholz died in 2004. He was only 46. The immediate cause of death was pneumonia, but he had been having health problems for several years. Furthermore, he appears to have been completely unsparing of himself for much longer than that, so if we are to believe the documentary, the real cause of death was his perfectionism and his uncompromising artistic vision. In his short life he created more than 100 ballets – an astonishing figure when one considers that they included full-length works such as the aforementioned Bruckner Eighth, Haydn's The Creation, Mozart's "Great" Mass in C minor, and Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty.

Scholz initially wanted to be a conductor, and one senses in his work how deeply he loved music. He wanted others to love music as much as he did, and he created ballets to help them to do just that. Choreography was what he did for the music, not to it. In Scholz's ballets, the dancers' bodies and faces continuously comment on the music, and interpret it.

As a young dancer, Scholz was taught by John Cranko, but as a choreographer, he appears to have been greatly influenced by George Balanchine. His very expressive style can be described as neo-classical – familiar steps and modes of expression are stretched but not broken. One feels the influence of other choreographers, from time to time – for example, of Maurice Béjart in the second part of Le Sacre du printemps.

The main (but shorter) segment of this DVD is devoted to Scholz's Sacre, which is a two-parter. Part One is Stravinsky's complete ballet in the composer's own version for two pianos. This essentially is a ballet for a solo male dancer (Giovanni Di Palma) and a film that is projected behind and on both sides of him. The "plot," if you will (and Scholz probably wouldn't!) could very well be autobiographical, as it concerns a dancer emerging from a piano and struggling with increasing professional and personal chaos in which women, other men, and even the audience become the enemy. By the end of the ballet, the dancer is reaching into a toilet bowl and hurling simulated excrement at the projected faces of his tormentors. This is harrowing stuff, and I am not even sure that it is particularly good – it definitely isn't subtle! – but it is not easily forgotten, and Di Palma deserves an award for letting himself be put through such hell.

Part Two, which is danced to Stravinsky's complete orchestral score, seems more characteristic of Scholz, and is much more rewarding to watch. Here, Scholz roughly adheres to the ballet's original scenario, although he is far from literal about it, and much is left to the imagination. Expressive, vulnerable solo dancer Kiyoko Kimura is turned into a kind of community scapegoat; she's not dancing herself to death as a fertility offering as much as she seems to be a sacrifice to her peers' callousness and cruelty. In the ballet's final gesture, she is airlifted above the corps, although whether this is physical escape or spiritual transfiguration is not entirely clear.

Scholz transformed the Leipzig Ballet into a great ensemble, and their work here was recorded during the final dress rehearsal, and in actual performance on February 22, 2003. I've long lamented that no decent danced version of Sacre was available on DVD, and so I am glad to welcome Scholz's Part Two, even though I don't think I will return to Part One.

The heavy use of blue lighting in Part One and red lighting in Part Two does not make for a very clear or attractive picture, particularly when the camera are taking in the entire stage, but close-ups are crisp and detailed. The sound in both parts is excellent. The "Soulscapes" documentary is a very useful way of getting to know what Scholz was all about, so I would recommend watching it first, not as an afterthought. Scholz's version of Mozart's "Great" C-minor Mass might be an even better place to start, however, and that is available on a EuroArts DVD.

Copyright © 2009, Raymond Tuttle

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