Peer Gynt -Première Vienna State Ballet - January 21st, 2018.
A very awaited Première, the first that I had the chance to visit in 2018 at the Vienna State Opera. If this year is going to give us such treasures, than this is going to be a very good year.
Incredibly enough, growing up in South-America, very early on my days I got to be “in touch” with this tremendous liar, opportunist and dreamer called Peer Gynt – my best friends were Swedish and I heard a lot about Peer Gynt and, most explicitly, about this very dark (and gloomy) side of the Scandinavian soul…
Fairy Tale’s writer Hans Christian Andersen thought that “Peer Gynt” was one of the most awful pieces ever written… Just imagine that this dark and gloomy story was illustrated by Arthur Rackham as a children's book in 1936...
This Peer Gynt's version from 2015 is based on the five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen published in 1867… Ibsen asked Edvard Grieg to compose “incidental music” for the play. You just read it: INCIDENTAL MUSIC… Nowadays there is a general consensus that Grieg’s national romantic music does not suit Ibsen’s Drama at all… even though the score includes at least three very well-known pieces of classic music: “Solveig’s Song”, “In the hall of the Mountain’s King” and “The morning mood”. In present theatre productions it is mostly not used at all and if so, mostly in a very ironic way. That is why I was quite surprised by Mr. Clug choice of Grieg’s Composition – even though other Norwegian composers have given their thoughts – and a much better reading - to this story: Composers as Harald Sæverud (that after WWII was the first one to have composed music that stood in a direct connection to the piece), Arne Nordheim, Ketil Hvoslef and Jon Mostad. And most notably Gunnar Sønstevold (1966) that wrote music for a ballet version of Peer Gynt.
But I am not going to further discuss his choice of music – and his inclusion of other works by Grieg to the “score” (!?!), I must only say that I do not agree to Mr. Clug's statement (during the “Introduction talk” to his piece just half an hour before the curtains went up) that Grieg's music is much better known than Henrik Ibsen. This is not only wrong but an extremely inaccurate statement. Perhaps to the music world but not to Theatre's lovers: Think of “A Doll's House” and what this play represents to all women around the world. Think of “Hedda Gabler”...
Amazing Sets (especially the very symbolic “cave”) by Marko Japelj, extremely clever costumes by Leo Kulaš could have been a bit more emphasized by Mr. Tomaž Premzl's lighting, which I considered a bit too "too gloomy". Of course I understand that this is the general idea, that this is the piece's mood but audiences want to see something.
Simon Hewett conducted beautufully and was in an extremely rapport with the dancers – in a very precise way. Miss Shino Takizawa, marvelous as always, played beautifully – by the way: am I the only one that believes that it is high time for another Concert Grand Piano at the Opera House? The sound...
Mr. Clug's choreography is no technical challenge but it is an emotional one. Somehow it gets “warmer and warmer” each second. It dazzles audiences, it “gets them”. Attention was brought to the slightest details of the story-telling – even though I somehow missed Peer Gynt's fortune being stolen from him in Morocco – before meeting Anitra, that steals his last belongings - and considered the Cairo's asylum segment a bit too long.
But his “coming home” scene was extremely well staged. No cheap feelings, no “prodigal Son-syndrome”. Just plain and cold – like we tend to judge Scandinavians “from the outside”. Somehow Ibsen's description of Peer Gynt's own fight for his soul kept coming back to my ears. He compares Gynt's soul to an onion: with so many coats but no stone... this is a very sad thing.
Strong performances by Ionna Avraam and Igor Milos as the wedding couple, Vladimir Shishov as Aslak and Nikisha Fogo as the very sensuous Anitra.
Rebecca Horner gave a very good rendition of the “Woman in green” (I cannot remember her in the play. I must read it again someday!), which confirmed my opinion, as already mentioned before in other reviews, that this gifted dancer – with a very strong character and presence on stage – needs a strong director: Yesterday she played THE ROLE beautifully. She was “in the role” and not being herself. Even though I do this very seldom, I made a point of congratulating her personally during the Première's party for this achievement. A very good performance.
“Death” played by Andrey Kaydanovsky is, to my opinion, more of an actor's role than a dancer's. Mr. Kaydanovsky exceeded in his portrayal – even though it must be said that more attention should be payed to his elocution. His (very short) text was hardly understood. And that is a shame. But it must be said that his stage Persona is one that captures all your attention and concentration.
The “Deer” - not an easy role, not at all – was BRILLIANTLY played by Zsolt Török. A dancer from the Corps-de-Ballet that has been constantly developing himself into a very strong on stage Persona.
Special attention to the “Mother” played by Franziska Wallner-Hollinek: Emotion, expression, beauty... Sitting in the audience and looking at her face, I thought: what a face, what an actress... If she would have been born 30, 40 years before her time, imagine what directors of the Nouvelle Vague (like Truffaut, Chabrol, Godard and Varda) would have made of her on the screen! This “Mother” is a beautifully emotional character of a very high dimension. Something to remember.
Jakob Feyferlik surprised me once more: this young man's capacity to “understand” roles always amazes me. He is still very young and that made me a bit unease. I did not know what to expect. Peer Gynt, this liar and manipulative person is not an easy thing to portray – and keep audiences “liking you” (he is in fact one of the biggest of all opportunists in literature)
Alice Firenze and the way she portrays Solveig's dispair – sitting all alone over “the cave”. This was sad... But here we have again Miss Firenze and her Art: in full command of her dancing and acting abilities, she never portrays her own self but gets into the role. Inside it. In a way that combines artistry – with the knowledge and understanding of how to project it, so that the audiences will “feel it”. An Artist. Yes, with a capital A!
A highly recommendable Evening. Even if you have to endure Grieg's “national romantic music”!
Vienna, Jan. 22nd, 2018. Ricardo Leitner / attitude/ www.attitude-devant.com