Company Joachim Schlömer

"La Guerra d’Amore"

Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA

November 16, 2001
By Mary Ellen Hunt

Joachim Schlömer's La Guerra d'Amore, set to the 17th century madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi and presented last week by Cal Performances in Berkeley, has been often described as tanztheater, the German expressionistic style of performance. Indeed he worked with its most famous exponent, Pina Bausch, in the 1980's and directed the Tanztheater Basel up until recently. But while there are many beautiful moments and a conceptually arresting melding of music with dance, ultimately La Guerra d'Amore possesses more of tanztheater's long-windedness than emotional bite.

One of the pleasures of tanztheater, or indeed of any work of art, is that it often impels your mind to make unexpected associations and to jump from image to image each one engendering a new thought as allusions or ideas are presented to you. Modern dance especially has the power to induce a meditative state that can be almost like dreaming in a consciously directed manner. La Guerra d'Amore, however, often seemed like abstract choreography, visualized music in the manner of his mentor, Mark Morris, rather than a meditation on any explicit topic like the nature of love.

Watching the piece brought to mind Pina Bausch's comment, "My pieces grow from the inside out." I felt that perhaps Schlömer's work was only half-grown, because despite its length (two and a half hours), whatever motivated these people in the interior was only half-shown in the exterior. Schlömer has chosen to present a stripped-down stage with only an enormous gray wall to represent a village square in Italy where people pass, meet and confront each other. The dancers and singers, perhaps in a nod to the quotidian focus of the early German modern dance form, ausdrucktanz, are garbed in "normal" street clothes. But La Guerra d'Amore lacks the emotional intensity or the startling reinvention of human experiences that drove ausdrucktanz and its offspring tanztheater. In watching this whole operation take place, the audience is shown a gamut of encounters between the various groups, but one learns nothing new about the nature of human interaction from them. They are slice-of-life pictures that we already know, without any story or glimpse of the interior of their hearts to enable us to feel for the players.

Any impact was further diluted by difficulty in finding associations, if there were any, between the madrigals and the movement. Although the program notes indicate that the madrigals were not intended to tell a specific story there was an immense desire to make connections between what you were hearing and what you were seeing. The songs were sung in Italian, although lyrics were thoughtfully provided with the program. Still, it was too dark to read during the performance, and you could only listen and wonder if there were interesting juxtapositions or commentary being made.

Which is not to say that it was badly performed, quite the opposite. A lack of knowledge of Italian was my own fault, but one could, as Mr. Balanchine proposed, always listen to the music. The effect of the continuous integration of the singers with the movers was one of the strongest aspects of the work and there were several splendid solos and superb ensemble work, in particular the richly textured performance of mezzo-soprano, Cecilia Diaz. Then too, Marisa Martins gave a fine performance which required her to both sing and dance convincingly, which she did seemingly without effort. At one point, as a group of women worked their way across the stage, Martins' voice emerged from the group in a lovely solo, giving rise to a startling impression of her voice coming from everywhere on stage at once.

Nor was the evening entirely without intellectual musings left to the audience. Early in the piece, a couple played a quick game of tic-tac-toe on the gray wall that loomed behind the action. The chalk scratchings of the game remained visible like a subtle reminder throughout the piece and some time later, I thought that perhaps it was alluding to a deeper thought. Tic-tac-toe is a game that once you learn to play it well, rarely has any winners. Perhaps Schlömer was implying that once you learn the game of love, it has few winners.

The impressive ensemble included nineteen dancers, nine accomplished singers and twenty-one musicians (who sported a notable array of authentic period instruments) led by Rene Jacobs.


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Edited by Marie.

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