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Heinz Spoerli - Ballett Faszination: 'In Den Winden Im Nichts'

DVD review by Oksana Khadarina

September 2006

Baroque music, with its fineness of structure and clarity of expression, has always been a fountain of inspiration for modern choreographers. George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Hans van Manen, Mark Morris, Twyla Tharp, and many other dance makers have created memorable works inspired by the music of the 17th and 18th centuries.

“My main inspiration is directly from music. I live with music. Music constantly provides me with the material and foundation for developing dance,” Heinz Spoerli, a prominent European choreographer and artistic director of Zurich Ballet once said. In the course of his decade at the helm of the Zurich Ballet, Spoerli transformed the troupe into one of the most renowned and respected dance companies in Europe.

The music of J.S. Bach has special meaning for Spoerli. “Bach is the composer who fits into any era. Anyone can identify with Bach,” says the choreographer. In 1993, Spoerli made the critically acclaimed “Goldberg Variations,” a Bach-inspired ballet set to the famous aria and 30 variations for solo piano. Three years ago, he turned to another Bach masterpiece – a composition for single cello.

Composed in the early 18th century, Bach’s “Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello” became known to modern listeners only in 1933, introduced by the great Spanish cellist Pablo Cassals (1876-1973). Since then the Suites have become “a cellist’s Bible” – one of the most popular Bach compositions. “It’s magical music and possibly biblical in the sense that it narrates stories in comprehensible language... about the immeasurable dimensions and variations of the human experiment,” wrote Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey, one of its great contemporary interpreters, about the Suites.

Titled “Bach Cello Suites – In Den Winden Im Nichts (Winds in the Void),” Spoerli’s new ballet is choreographed to Suites No. 2, 3, and 6. Bel Air Classique has recently released the Zurich Ballet’s production of this work on home video.  

“In Den Winden Im Nichts” is a three-part abstract ballet comprising 18 interlinked, fleeting dances (each lasting from 2 to 6 minutes). Like most music-driven ballets, it is pure dance without narrative. Each part has its intrinsic color: ruby-red, emerald-green, and deep-blue, respectively, corresponding to colors of the dancers’ costumes: silver-trimmed elegant leotards. A giant circle, illuminated with colored lights and adorned with vapors, is the only element of décor. The visual effect is striking, providing a dramatic background to the imagery of the dance onstage. The lighting, designed by Martin Gebhardt, creates a stunning dichotomy of the backdrop and floor with contrasting illumination. Claudius Herrmann, a cellist with the Zurich Opera House, delivers an expert reading of the Bach score, providing a beautiful live accompaniment for the dance.

The performers create a seamless fusion of exquisite dance variations as they enter and exit the stage: solos, duets, trios, and ensembles.

A solo by Arman Grigoryan, danced to the soulful sounds of the opening Prelude, sets the tone to the first part of the ballet. Mirroring slow and melancholic harmonies of the music, Spoerli crafts a very simple yet lyrically expressive prologue. It’s a showcase of the physical strength and flexibility of the soloist, with dance movements resembling gymnastic exercises.

In the duets, the choreographer explores the wide range of human emotion: grief, happiness, desire, temptation, and love. The music sets the atmosphere for each dance. Sonorous sounds of the first part, “Sarabanda,” accompany a nostalgic and passionate pas de deux beautifully performed by Karine Seneca and Filipe Portugal. The sunny Allemande of the second part brings a happy and playful mood reflected in an exuberant duet by Pilar Nevado and Akos Sebestyen. A slow lyrical Bourée inspires a love duet between Yen Han and Iker Murillo. The couple dances with romantic fervor and grace, exhibiting purity of lines and excellent partnering.

In this work, Spoerli truly excels in ensemble choreography. He has created remarkable dances infused with captivating and imaginative choreographic movements. In the opening “Courante,” a flock of ballerinas briskly assembles onstage in flamingo-like poses. Then “birds” are suddenly transformed into “mechanical dolls” with rapidly moving arms. Divided into two groups, the female corps de ballet engages in elaborate combinations of steps and permutations with astonishing symmetry and precision. The fast Prelude of the second part accompanies an energetic ritual dance performed by an all-male ensemble clad in long silk skirts – one of the most compelling dances of this suite. In the beginning of the third part, a gorgeous female ensemble forms orderly lines, only to then dissolve the order in the most intricate choreographic fashion (at times reminiscent of the signature steps of the Radio City Rockettes.) In the epilogue, the choreographer brings the entire cast onstage in a stunning spectacle of triumphant culmination.

The camera work, directed by Andy Sommer, treats the viewers to amazing close-ups, accentuating the facial expressions of the dancers and enhancing the visual perception of the ballet.

Spoerli’s ideas are based on traditional classical ballet idiom, yet he develops a unique and distinct choreographic style. His dance movements are very expressive and skillfully integrated with the music. His choreographic language, like the music that accompanies it, is eternally human.

As seen on the DVD, “In Den Winden Im Nichts” is an enchanting and unforgettable experience for Bach music and ballet lovers.

Sondereinband, Verlag: Nzz Libro (1996), ISBN: 3858236209

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