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Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, May 2009

This tribute to choreographer Uwe Scholz contains two performances of Stravinsky’s ballet for the price of one. And how very different the performances are! First is a two-piano version for solo male dancer (Giovanni Di Palma) and video backdrop. Then follows the full orchestral version with the entire Leipzig Ballet, Kiyoko Kimura, soloist. And there’s more: Soulscapes, a 91-minute documentary about Uwe Scholz, rounds out the bill.

Di Palma’s performance is a tour-de-force: one dancer continually dancing for 32 minutes, gyrating through every conceivable contortion. He also appears in the video backdrop scenes of a phantasmagorical dancer’s life. The orchestral version is an eye-filling extravaganza of complex patterns, extraordinary athletics, and erotic activities, with choreography intimately connected to the rhythms of the music as barely-clad dancers (whose bodies have never seen the sun) cavort in the extreme against a black backdrop. It’s quite a show! Imaginative. Mesmerizing.

Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, May 2009

In the documentary that accompanies these twin performances of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, choreographer Uwe Scholz, participating in a press conference in Poland, is asked about the plot of another one of his ballets, an interpretation of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. “Plot?,” he responds incredulously. “Plot?” He insists that there is no plot, but that the ballet is a Seelenlandschaften or “soulscape.” This happy neologism becomes the title of the documentary, and is a good description of Scholz’s work in general.

Scholz died in 2004. He was only 46. The immediate cause of death was pneumonia, but he had been having health problems for several years. Furthermore, he appears to have been completely unsparing of himself for much longer than that, so if we are to believe the documentary, the real cause of death was his perfectionism and his uncompromising artistic vision. In his short life he created more than 100 ballets—an astonishing figure when one considers that they included full-length works such as the aforementioned Bruckner Eighth, Haydn’s The Creation, Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor, and Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

Scholz initially wanted to be a conductor, and one senses in his work how deeply he loved music. He wanted others to love music as much as he did, and he created ballets to help them to do just that. Choreography was what he did for the music, not to it. In Scholz’s ballets, the dancers’ bodies and faces continuously comment on the music, and interpret it.

As a young dancer, Scholz was taught by John Cranko, but as a choreographer, he appears to have been greatly influenced by George Balanchine. His very expressive style can be described as neo-classical—familiar steps and modes of expression are stretched but not broken. One feels the influence of other choreographers, from time to time—for example, of Maurice Béjart in the second part of Le Sacre du printemps.

The main (but shorter) segment of this DVD is devoted to Scholz’s Sacre, which is a two-parter. Part One is Stravinsky’s complete ballet in the composer’s own version for two pianos. This essentially is a ballet for a solo male dancer (Giovanni Di Palma) and a film that is projected behind and on both sides of him. The “plot,” if you will (and Scholz probably wouldn’t!) could very well be autobiographical, as it concerns a dancer emerging from a piano and struggling with increasing professional and personal chaos in which women, other men, and even the audience become the enemy. By the end of the ballet, the dancer is reaching into a toilet bowl and hurling simulated excrement at the projected faces of his tormentors. This is harrowing stuff, and I am not even sure that it is particularly good—it definitely isn’t subtle!—but it is not easily forgotten, and Di Palma deserves an award for letting himself be put through such hell.

Part Two, which is danced to Stravinsky’s complete orchestral score, seems more characteristic of Scholz, and is much more rewarding to watch. Here, Scholz roughly adheres to the ballet’s original scenario, although he is far from literal about it, and much is left to the imagination. Expressive, vulnerable solo dancer Kiyoko Kimura is turned into a kind of community scapegoat; she’s not dancing herself to death as a fertility offering as much as she seems to be a sacrifice to her peers’ callousness and cruelty. In the ballet’s final gesture, she is airlifted above the corps, although whether this is physical escape or spiritual transfiguration is not entirely clear.

Scholz transformed the Leipzig Ballet into a great ensemble, and their work here was recorded during the final dress rehearsal, and in actual performance on February 22, 2003. I’ve long lamented that no decent danced version of Sacre was available on DVD, and so I am glad to welcome Scholz’s Part Two, even though I don’t think I will return to Part One.

The heavy use of blue lighting in Part One and red lighting in Part Two does not make for a very clear or attractive picture, particularly when the camera are taking in the entire stage, but close-ups are crisp and detailed. The sound in both parts is excellent. The “Soulscapes” documentary is a very useful way of getting to know what Scholz was all about, so I would recommend watching it first, not as an afterthought. Scholz’s version of Mozart’s “Great” C-minor Mass might be an even better place to start, however, and that is available on a EuroArts DVD.

James H. North
Fanfare, May 2009

This ballet consists of two complete performances of Le sacre choreographed by Uwe Scholz, first with the four-hand piano version, then with the original. Here are my notes, taken during part I: A man in his underwear. A style of choreography in which every musical gesture is reflected by a physical one—just the opposite of Balanchine. Alternate, more classical ballet scenes are being projected on the rear wall of the stage, suggesting the choreographer lacks confidence that his work will hold our attention (he’s right). It is the man’s life: exercises in boy’s ballet class, a hot-and-cold relationship with a ballerina. She throws him out, followed by his clothes. She poisons him (and is jailed for it). We see every detail of his vomiting into a toilet, and of his showering nude. He drinks in a bar, blood dripping from one eye. A gay tries to pick him up; a girl succeeds. He almost succumbs to the gay’s embrace, but runs off. He smears himself with excrement from the toilet, throwing some at images of his ballerina and the gay. He dies. Bloodied, smeared, he takes his bows with the one prop on stage: the toilet. The audience loves it. Okay, here’s the review: Di Palma is an athletic, powerful dancer. The two pianos are very effective in Le sacre’s quiet sections, but a dead loss at the climactic moments.

Part II, with full orchestra, is magnificent, rivaling the 1913 original, as seen in the Joffrey Ballet’s 1987 restoration. A full company—32 women and 24 men—is on stage throughout. There is no scenery; minimal costumes simulate nudity (one dancer removes her top for a brief moment). Some of the steps are based on Njinsky’s choreography, but we get a feeling of homage rather than plagiarism. The crowd movements of the large company, often with each dancer following in sequence, create stunning panoramas and wave-like patterns. Imaginative lighting adds much. Uwe Scholz is credited with (in part I, I would have said blamed for) every aspect of the production: staging, choreography, sets, costumes, lighting design, and film. The atmosphere of primeval rites is impressively achieved, the increasing isolation of the Chosen One terrifying. The many sexual couplings are not only appropriate but beautifully done. There is some stylized violence, as the head man selects, rejects, and beats individual women. Scholz’s Sacrificial Dance is not as strong as Nijinsky’s, nor does Kimura match the Joffrey’s Beatrice Rodriguez. The entire production is thrown for a loop at the penultimate moment, when she carries on a conversation on an imagined cell phone. Perhaps that was meant to distract the audience so that the final touch—Kimura suddenly hoisted into the air at the moment of death—comes as a shock. The Gewandhaus Orchestra plays nobly; the PCM stereo sound is excellent, but there are moments when the orchestra is pushed deeper into the soundstage, no doubt for balletic reasons. The video, NTSC 16:9, is bright and clean.

The bonus is a 91-minute documentary about Scholz’s life and work. Its title comes from a question at a press conference: “What is the plot of your ballet?” “Plot? Plot? These are soulscapes.” The film opens with his funeral; he died in 2004 at the age of 46, a victim of overwork and multiple illnesses. A thoroughly trained musician, he became a dancer and, at a very young age, both choreographer and director of several noted ballet companies, including Leipzig, where he turned a provincial, classical company—all Les Sylphides, Swan Lake, and the like—into a dynamic modern one. The film shows many excerpts of both rehearsals and performances from several of his major ballets, including Haydn’s The Creation and Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Much is made of Sacre I—the lone man—and we have to watch portions of it again. A ballet critic proclaims: “That lonely figure up on the stage, wandering around in despair and then plunging to his death…that was his autobiography in dance form.” Scholz appears on camera throughout much of the film (which was intended to be about his life and work, not an obituary); he seems to have been a frustrated perfectionist and a sad, lonely man. But it is also clear that he was a great choreographer, both in the scope of his imagination (Bruckner Eight!) and in his detailed work. One commentator notes that he was often criticized for “the attempt to translate every note into physical motion,” but in other ways he was very much Balanchine’s heir, in the depth of his musical understanding and in his neo-Classical choreography. One person comments on the humor in his ballets (and we are shown a convincing sample); could that cell phone merely have been mocking the seriousness of Le sacre? In any case, this DVD climbs from a disastrous beginning to fascinating fulfillment.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, March 2009

Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, beautifully choreographed by Uwe Scholz, impressively danced by the Leipzig Ballet and well played by the Gewandhaus Orchestra (H. Schafer) is wonderful to experience (2055728). Scholz, whose terrific manipulation of groups of dancers on the stage is reminiscent of Balanchine’s, is sensitive to every accent in the music, which is repeated in a dancer’s motion but always with attention to classical ballet steps. Kiyoko Kimura is haunting as the sacrificial victim; the group’s rejection of her after she is chosen is chilling, and her final dance agonizing. The DVD also includes Scholz’s choreography of the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s masterpiece, which pits a solo dancer (the excellent Giovanni di Palma) against filmed scenes featuring himself and other dancers from the company projected behind him. It is full of degrading situations and ugly images. Unlike the orchestral version, it is highly personal, and decidedly unpleasant. The ballet lasts 37 minutes in each performance. A 91-minute documentary film about Scholz (he died of pneumonia at 46) commemorates his work. It is best to view the orchestral version, then the documentary, then the two-piano version. Good sound (only stereo) and video images. A fascinating DVD, mainly for the orchestral version.

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5:07:20 PM, 28 May 2015
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