Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mahler the Ballet - Snow White !

Mahler liked Des Knaben Wunderhorn. One of the tales associated with folk culture is Snow White (or variants thereof). Mahler didn't write opera or ballet. Ergo, Snow White the Ballet to music by Gustav Mahler !  Special screening on Sky Arts 2 TV on Saturday, May 21st to commemorate Mahler's anniversary of Angelin Preljocaj's 2008 ballet Blanche-Neige.

Obviously, never judge anything on the basis of youtube clips. This kind of mélange is a soft target because it's so odd. so it's easy to play safe and slam it. Read this review HERE, from Canada. But such things are so often muddled gibberish, and it might well be an abomination. But balletomanes operate in a completely different artistic universe, where expressive dance is primary, music secondary, hard as it is for music lovers to grasp.  But it works when the result is artistically valid in itself and makes a coherent statement that says something with real meaning. 

Preljocaj wanted to create "une parenthèse féerique et enchantée".....Je suis fidèle à la version des frères Grimm, à quelques variations personnelles près, fondées sur mon analyse des symboles du conte. Bettelheim décrit Blanche Neige comme le lieu d’un œdipe inversé. La marâtre est sans doute le personnage central du conte. C'est elle aussi que j'interroge à travers sa volonté narcissique de ne pas renoncer à la séduction et à sa place de femme, quitte à sacrifier sa belle fille. L’intelligence des symboles appartient aux adultes autant qu'aux enfants, elle parle à tous et c’est pour cela que j'aime les contes." (link here to the company site) The subject is oblique and lends itself to impressionistic and lends to abstract interpretation. And no delusions about "setting" Mahler.

Mahler has been used in ballet for ages. Anthony Tudor's Dark Elegies (1937) for example. I can't stand it because it purports to be a realization of Kindertotenlieder but misses the whole point of the original. It worked because audiences weren't familiar with Mahler and had no means of assessing the music in its natural context. A bit like Henze's Elegy for Young Lovers at the Young Vic which London audiences think is a camp comedy about Irishmen.  Like a Christmas tree star represents the galaxies. Tudor's choreography, however, is more interesting on its own terms.

And then there's Dracula : Pages from a Virgin's Diary.  That was Mark Godden, presented by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet about 20 years ago. It wasn't a telling of the Dracula story itself but a completely original exploration on the deeper psychological issues. Blood, and the mixing of blood, sinister strangers from the East, sex and miscegenation.  All only too relevant considering that Canada, like the US had laws against mixed race marriage until fairly recently. and subscribed to myths of the Yellow Peril. It was a compelling and serious creation. The fact that the music was Mahler's Symphony no 3 was largely irrelevant. Like the vampire concealing himself as a bat or aristocrat to penetrate the defences of society, Godden concealed the powerful message in his work behind music and dance so it infiltrated more effectively than, say, a documentary.At the time, audiences were shocked that Canada had a racist past. But Godden dealt with it in a penetrating way.

I've got no idea what Blanche-Neige will be like, but the question is whether it expresses something real in itself, as opposed to mere styling. Costumes by Jean-Paul Gaulthier so "styling" in that sense alone might be OK. I won't hold my breath as there is so much rubbish about. Dracula : Pages from a Virgin's Diary was such an improbable success because it was original and well thought through. Not everything is.

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