Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Arne Nordheim's ballets

Arne Nordheim loved working with dance, and between 1962 and 1979 as many as eight ballets were performed to his music. I say "performed to the music of" because he didn't write all of the pieces specifically for the ballet format. The ballets are:
  • Ivo Cramér: Katharsis, 1962
  • Ivo Cramér: Favola, 1965 
  • Robert Cohan: Stages, 1971, to the music of Coloraizone og Warzawa
  • Glen Tetley: Beaches (Strender), 1974, to the music of Response and Solitaire
  • Jiři Kylián: Stool Game, 1974, to the music of Solitaire
  • Jiři Kylián: Ariadne, 1977. A concert adaptation of the ballet is known as Tempora Nocits (1979)
  • Glen Tetley: Greening, 1975, to the music of the 1973 orchestral work with the same name
  • Glen Tetley: The Tempest, 1979

Cramér's Favola from 1965 is a funny piece. It is a TV-ballet, commissioned by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (the first large scale TV commission that Nordheim got), also featuring voice and electronics. The work is made in the best 1960s experimental style, trying to blend dance, music, scenography, poetry and song into one coherent aesthetical entity fitting the TV format. The funny part is that the singers actually never get screen time, while the dancers are pretending that they are singing. The work is rather experimental, and must have proved difficult to digest for most Norwegian 1965 TV viewers. An excerpt of Favola can be seen on the current Nordheim exhibition at Henie-Onstad Kunstsetner.

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The most famous of Nordheim's ballets is the Tempest from 1979. The ballet has been performed more than 100 times all over the world, first by the Rambert Ballet, and later by the Norwegian Opera Ballet. It has toured the US, has been staged at La Scala, and so on and so on. Only in 1979 the ballet sold out more than 20 shows in Norway, which is quite extraordinary in this small country. An adaptation of the ballet will be performed at Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter in November this year: http://www.hok.no/stormen-2013.5242979-30530.html

Kylián's ballet Stool Game to the music of Solitaire is also still being performed. Here are some stunning videos from a staging of the work in 2011 in the Netherlands. The dancers are Rafal Pierzynski and Martyna Lorenc.





Personally I find Katharsis and Favola as being among Nordheim's most exciting works, and it is a pity that they have never been released on CD or DVD. From my perspective Katharsis is particularly interesting, not just because it is a great piece of music, but also because it was the first time Nordheim brought electronic music up to the concert stage. I've heard excerpts, and can testify to that this is a forgotten Nordheim gem. 

I'm a huge fan of music for ballet. To my ears, composers tend to be freer when working with music for the stage rather than the concert hall. In concert works I often get the nagging feeling that the composer desperately tries to prove something. In stage works, s/he just has to write music. It might also be that the composer benefit from working with directors and choreographers. Getting external input on your work is never a bad thing.

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