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Review: Hamburg Ballet Presents ‘Old Friends’ Using a Mix of Musical Styles

By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, March 27, 2017

The internationally acclaimed Hamburg Ballet made their Joyce Theater debut this past week when they presented the New York premiere of Old Friends (An Evening of Ballets). I always enjoy attending performances at the Joyce where every seat has an excellent view of the stage, and I appreciate the artistic mission of the venue for consistently showcasing an incredible variety of choreography and dance styles through presenting some of the best domestic and international companies on the scene today.

Old Friends is choreographed by John Neumeier, the company’s Artistic Director, who also designed the lighting and costumes. Neumeier is an American-born choreographer who’s been associated with various dance companies in Germany since the 1960s. The music is a pastiche of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frédéric Chopin, Federico Mompou and Simon & Garfunkel, using both previously recorded music and also performed live on the piano by Michal Bialk.

The first section, Ouverture, is in the classical style, and showed off the fine training of the dancers. Even intricate or quick steps were accomplished with clarity and ease, as if they had all the time in the world to incorporate the movements within the complicated musical phrases of Bach’s Suite No. 3. The costumes are in shades of orange, rust, and peach, and the lighting was sunny and bright.

The mood and the style changes drastically in Old Friends 1 (Chopin Dialogues). A snippet of a Simon & Garfunkel recording plays, and then the music switches to lovely Chopin played with feeling by Michal Bialk on the piano. The set is a room with two clear-acrylic chairs. A very long pas de deux ensues between a woman in a red dress and a man in dark tights. The choreography is modern and angular, with cantilevered balances, intricate cat’s cradle-like twisting combinations and acrobatic headstands, but seems to be at odds with the music instead of supporting it.

After the intermission, there was Dangling Conversation (Nocturnes). The set is a darkened room with a large moon-shaped disk in the background and an arresting tableau of people posed, not moving, some holding teacups. The acrylic chairs are there, along with the couple from the previous pas de deux and a variety of individuals in versions of typical street wear (v-neck sweater; sweater-vest with tie; afternoon dresses). The scene again begins with a recording of Simon & Garfunkel, and then Chopin plays on piano. As the music progresses, two or three individuals break out into interesting, synchronized patterns, occasionally handing over teacups. A teacup shatters (life is fragile, like teacups?). Then there are several, intense pas de deux, similar to the one in the previous sequence. In fact, they all seem similar enough that my interest flagged. Following is Old Friends II (Opus 100 – for Maurice), which includes a rousing sequence joyfully danced by men. Finally, the entire piece ends with another pas de deux between two men.

The program notes describe the ballets as being about “past memories and future premonitions.” Perhaps it was too philosophical or metaphysical for me. I admired the fine dancers who ably performed the difficult choreography with concentration and conviction, but I never felt fully engaged. I may have been in the minority because at the end of the performance many in the audience stood and shouted their approval.

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Hamburg Ballet presented at The Joyce Theater, March 21-25, 2017. Artistic Director, John Neumeier. Old Friends choreography, costume and lighting design by John Neumeier; Music: Old Friends 1 (Chopin Dialogues) Federico Mompou (Variations on a Theme of Chopin, excerpts) and Simon & Garfunkel (“Theme and Overs” from Bookends); Dangling Conversations (Nocturnes) Frédéric Chopin (Nocturnes), Simon & Garfunkel (“The Dangling Conversation”); Old Friends II (Opus 100 – for Maurice) Simon & Garfunkel (“Old Friends” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water”).

Principal Dancers: Carolina Agüero, Silvia Azzoni, Leslie Heylmann, Anna Laudere, Karen Azatyan, Carsten Jung, Edvin Revazov, Alexandre Riabko, Lloyd Riggins, Alexander Trusch; Soloists: Mayo Arii, Florencia Chinellato, Xue Lin, Christopher Evans, Marc Jubete, Aleix Martínez; Corps de Ballet: Giorgia Giani, Greta Jörgens, Emilie Mazoń, Lucia Ríos, Madoka Sugai, Jacopo Bellussi, Matias Oberlin, Pascal Schmidt, Thomas Stuhrmann.

Cover: Members of Hamburg Ballet in “Nocturnes” from John Neumeier’s ‘Old Friends;’ photo: Holger Badekow.


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