Hamburg Ballet

February 25-29, 2004
Image from NijinskyAmerican choreographer John Neumeier has achieved a phenomenal reputation as one of the world's most powerful dance visionaries. For more than 30 years, he has been at the helm of Germany's Hamburg Ballet, a company that's causing an international sensation with its flair for outstanding drama, bold interpretations, and dazzling technical ability. February 25 through 29, Washington audiences can experience the breathtaking artistry of this breakthrough company when The Hamburg Ballet makes its Kennedy Center debut with the critically acclaimed Nijinsky.

Conceived and choreographed by Neumeier, Nijinsky is a full-length, original ballet that celebrates the tragic genius of Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the most exceptional artists in the history of dance. During his approximately 10 years as a danseur, Nijinsky set a new standard technically as well as expressively, and achieved unparalleled fame and popularity. It was as a choreographer, however, that Nijinsky established a new direction—a unique dance aesthetic that paved the way for modern movement. He created ballets that both mesmerized and shocked audiences with their raw sensuality, daring experimentalism, and controversial subject matter. Unfortunately, his life was one of misfortune and heartbreak, as his artistic gifts gave way to schizophrenia and his world disintegrated into madness.

Image from NijinskyDance Magazine has called Nijinsky "a great performance of a great of ballet's most ambitious projects." And London's The Independent says it is "gripping at first sight" from "a company whose members share in the total overwhelming effect." The ballet begins in a reconstruction of the "Festsaal" in the Suvretta-Haus, a hotel in St-Moritz, the room of Nijinsky's last performance as a dancer. It is a moment of transition...a place of memory and premonition. To show various aspects of the person and performer Nijinsky, Neumeier has boldly chosen to have several dancers represent fragments of Nijinsky's persona, including twin dancers Jiri and Otto Bubenicek, who alternate playing the illustrious dancer in separate performances.

The production's stunning set and costumes—based partly on original sketches by Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois—have also been designed by Neumeier. The music he has selected for the production ranges from Frédéric Chopin's Prelude N° 20 and Robert Schumann's Carnaval to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem Sheherezade and Dmitri Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony and Sonata for Viola and Piano.

Considered one of the leading Nijinsky experts worldwide, Neumeier was first inspired by his subject's character and destiny to create a short ballet called "Vaslav" in 1979. In 2000, for the 50th anniversary of the Polish-Russian dancer's death, Neumeier expanded his vision to create the full-length Nijinsky. Last summer, The Hamburg Ballet made dance history when it was one of only three ballet companies invited to the Mariinsky Theatre's popular summer-long "White Nights Festival" in celebration of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary. During the festival, which also hosted New York City Ballet and The Royal Ballet, the company performed Nijinsky along with two other full-length Neumeier works, all of which were met with tremendous enthusiasm by Mariinsky audiences.

Image from NijinskyBorn in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he received his first dance training, Neumeier went on to study ballet in Copenhagen and at the Royal Ballet School in London. He acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Theater Studies from Wisconsin's Marquette University. In 1963, Neumeier was "discovered" by Marcia Haydée and Ray Basra, leading John Cranko to engage him at the Stuttgart Ballet, where he progressed to solo dancer and created his first choreographic works. In 1969, Neumeier was appointed Director of Ballet in Frankfurt to critical and popular acclaim. Since 1973, he has been the artistic director of The Hamburg Ballet. Neumeier is now regarded as one of the most historically minded choreographers today—for his interest in "dance history plays," which feature restagings of dances by Limon, Tudor, Balanchine, and Jacobson, as well as for his revised versions of the classical story ballets.

Additional Resources
2003-2004 Ballet Season Biography of Vaslav Nijinsky
2003-2004 Dance Season