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SINTRA, Portugal

___ Situated in the verdant hills between the Atlantic Ocean and Lisbon, Sintra is known for its spectacular palaces and quintas (mansions), some of which date back centuries, and its agreeable, Bay Area-like climate which alone draws city-dwellers and vacationers in droves. In the summer, the town hosts the Sintra Festival, comprising a number of music and dance events. This year's "ballet evenings", chosen by artistic director Armando Jorge, included the Ballet de Opera de Novosibirsk (Russia), Tulsa Ballet (U.S.), Companhia Nacional de Bailado (Portugal), and Leipziger Ballet (Germany), the latter two of which I watched on July 28 and August 2, respectively. (...) ___


___ Since 1991, the Leipzig Ballet has been under the direction of choreographer Uwe Scholz, whose path to that post was impressively dotted with stops at Stuttgart Ballet and at the Zurich Opera House. Scholz's dedication to the music is obvious from the titles of his work: the company performed Scholz's "7th Symphonie" in four movements to Beethoven's masterwork by the same title, and "8th Symphonie (Adagio)" to Bruckner. ___

___ In a genre where it is common for a program to not even list composers, it is a refreshing anomaly that Scholz is so solicitous of the music that the dance takes if not the backseat, at least shotgun. In "7th Symphonie," most of the time he illustrated the music with movement, so if there was a high note, you might have seen a lift, or a movement canon paired with a musical canon. The choreography became predictable after a bit, particularly as the music reprised. There were moments of surprising juxtaposition, however, where expectations where overturned, revealing a surprise or two. ___


___ A startlingly effective example came at the beginning of the second movement, which starts with a slow, pulsing string melody. At a glacial pace, Sibylle Naundorf pulled her leg into a passe in eight counts, lowered her foot in the next eight, and -- in the space, vacuum, really, of a breath -- flicked through a turn into a low arabesque which she hit with remarkable stillness; she was partnered by Christoph Böhm. During a monumental passage of music full of major power chord grandeur, the dancers stood in a semi-circle gazing at the light onstage, as if in hypnotic reverence to the composer/deity. The most rewarding moments came when the music -- so purely emotional -- was tested by physical restraint. These fleeting moments also raised questions about how music, such an essentially abstract form, can cause such intense pathos to the point of a visceral reaction. I'm not just referring to music played at a high volume, or with a catchy rhythm, but to the magical juxtaposition of notes in certain intervals which tap emotions like keys play notes on a piano. ___

___ For the most part though, the choreography was fairly literal and somewhat slavish to Beethoven. A weakness of this process, particularly with a composer whose oeuvre is so well-known, is that each viewer has some preconceptions about how it should be danced. It's similar to making a film of a famous book, such as "Lord of the Rings" -- it's so risky because there's a good chance its vision will clash with purists' visions. Whether one or all of the Sintra audience had any inkling of how ballet to that symphony should look is up for debate, but it's a good bet that once the familiar music began to play, thoughts were formed in agreement with, or in reaction to, the dance being performed onstage. ___

___ Roser Munoz starred in the first and fourth movements, with Sven Köhler and Vincent Gros as respective partners. Her energy was contagious as long as it flowed, conveyed through a lively gaze and quicksilver motion. However, in the challenging fourth movement, following a grand jete with almost no preparation and a repeated chain of several developpes, Munoz looked more like a gymnast after an exhausting routine, dropping any attempt to smile at the audience. (It's not that she should have smiled, but that seemed to be her preferred mode of performing.) She regained her energy in time for a tricky high ronde de jambe en l'air from front, through second, and into a back attitude. The third movement featured a charming opening allegro section first executed by Giovanni Di Palma, than Yuichiro Yokozeki, whose dartiness was better suited to the demanding, rapid sequence. ___


___ Scholz also designed the striking set and costumes for "7th Symphonie," sleek white jobs with dashes of color to match the Morris Louis-inspired backdrop. ___

___ Bruckner's "8th Symphonie" implied more of a story. In the performance I saw, it hinged on an intense, sustained performance by Kiyoko Kimura and Christoph Böhm, although its length diminished the overall dramatic impact. Kimura, passing through a manner of suffering and sickness via rebirth, transformed from closed and easily wounded (flinching to the touch) into a bold, open, redeemed optimist. Her acting was superb, with her face gradually changing at each emotional stage, and her arms and hands were eloquent. Böhm was called on to dead lift her countless times, with one unending, sustained perpendicular press, but in addition to his brute strength, he was an able emotional counterpart. ___

___ Scholz dealt with Bruckner more impressionistically than Beethoven, as if liberated from obeying the score so precisely. He employed bold visual metaphors: For instance, projected clouds darkening to black as Kimura seemed to pass from life. When the music suddenly segued into major chords, Kimura shaped a cross with Böhm, who dragged her upstage, his arms forming the crosspiece, both bathed in a milky light. Like this piece as a whole, her death scene -- while intensely powerful -- was a shade too long. ___

http://www.danceinsider.com, Sintra, August 2, 2002


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