Dramatic shifts in music and mood characterised Mario Schröder’s new ballet, Solitude, which focused on the scourge of loneliness, made more virulent through the worldwide pandemic. It is a ballet of episodes, mostly overlaid by a mournful ambience, starting with the ensemble dressed in the uniform of our age – white, hooded, hazmat suits and face masks – performing anonymously to the beautiful, sorrowful singing of countertenor, Yuri Mynenko.

Solitude
© Ida Zenna | Solitude

The hour-long ballet is a tapestry of contrasts, both musically and in terms of the danced performance. The segregation of the large group into a set of individuals began with each performer occupying their own rectangle of space, a grid having been lowered from the flies, marked out uniformly across the stage like plots on a campsite.  At first, the performers posed in thoughtful mode and then danced independently while gradually stripping away their hazmat uniforms to embark on a long period of their arms cycling in unison. Then after a frenetic female solo, the group continued in twitching, staccato actions to the opening movement of Vivaldi’s hymnal Stabat Mater before leaving the stage.

The second section brought a change of costume to match the choreographic change of mood in three consecutive duets to interpret Mynenko’s luscious singing: firstly for two men, then a mixed-gender duet (beginning with the two dancers crawling onto the stage, one backwards, one forwards, the crowns of their heads pressed against each other); and finally a female pairing (leaving the stage in the same head-to-head arrangement). Schröder’s flowing choreography possesses a gentle, understated musicality that interprets the sonorous music superbly.

Solitude
© Ida Zenna | Solitude

One female duet led into another – the two women in white slips – to the painfully sad Musica dolorosa by Pēteris Vasks, written in tribute to his sister (a young victim of cancer), the solitude of the two women marked by dancing at opposite sides of the stage, each lit from directly overhead. A rich variety of camera angles added to the reflective melancholy of this mesmerising section, with the women filmed from front, side and above; in close-up and from afar. The film direction also often superimposed dancers against the orchestra or faded one sequence in against another. 

Movements 4-6 of Stabat Mater (musically repeating the first three sections) brought the first sequence of uplifting, even occasionally frivolous, movement, enhanced by the dancers’ smiles and another costume change: to loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts (eclectic costumes designed by Paul Zoller). Several dancers took turns to appear out of the background blackness (the centre section is dimly lit throughout with just individual dancers and their reflections on a black stage being visible). A male/female duet continued this more joyful theme leading into a section of fast, fluid contemporary movement with several dancers performing simultaneous solos that concluded with a woman held horizontally by a man in a continuing spin against the fading light.

The whole ensemble of 25 returned in military formation, a square of five rows of five dancers, each occupying his or her own pool of downward light, performing in close unison until spinning away at the end to leave a male soloist to pick up hip-challenging choreography. This section ended with four dancers balancing, in silence, across a strip of light at the very front of the stage overlooking the orchestra pit with light and shadow playing against their torsos as they gradually sunk to the ground, writhing and stretching as if reacting to slow poison.

Solitude
© Ida Zenna | Solitude

The finale brought the most dramatic musical shift with Galina Ustvolskaya’s discordant “Amen” Symphony (no.5) with its strident male voiceover in Russian and heavy drumming on a wooden chipboard cube (designed specifically by the Russian composer, then in her 70s, for this symphony). The contrast in style, if not in sentiment, to the earlier music by Vivaldi is extreme and Schröder marks this with a very different choreographic style for his dancers, now wearing black trousers and mesh tops. Each dancer’s solitude continued to be marked out by separate squares of light. This 15-minute apotheosis is so different in style it could have followed an interval, particularly when the musicians suddenly appeared behind screens at the rear of the dancers and in relation to the hammer-like insistence of Ustvolskaya’s percussion. The ballet ended in silence with the curtain falling after the dancers (but not the musicians) had left the stage.  

It is more than 15 years since I last saw Leipzig Ballet perform, then just recovering from the tragic death of its director Uwe Scholtz, aged 45. This was a great introduction to Marco Schröder’s idiosyncratic style of choreography and to a company that is clearly in very good form at that critical interface between classical and modern movement.  


This performance was reviewed from the Leipziger Ballett live video stream

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