CULTURE

Inspired by life and love, John Neumeier creates

John Neumeier was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the USA, in 1942, but early on in life he chose Europe as the place to live and dance. His path was forged by great teachers, among them George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet. Neumeier emerged as a great dancer in the mid-1960s, and by his 30s he was also known for his outstanding choreography and was given the helm of esteemed companies such as the Stuttgart Opera Ballet and the Frankfurt Opera. In 1977, he took over what has now become his own company, The Hamburg Opera Ballet. For the past 25 years, Neumeier and the Hamburg Opera Ballet have been identified and synonymous with high-quality performances. Tomorrow and Friday, the internationally acclaimed dance company will be at the Herod Atticus Theater in Athens to present Neumeier’s «Messiah,» a piece based on the magnificent oratorio by Handel, provocatively mixed with the contemporary sounds of Arvo Part. Neumeier created «Messiah» in 1999 in the shadow of the war in Kosovo and on the threshold of the new millennium. Many say that this is the choreographer’s plea to mankind for peace. Taking a break from his busy schedule, Neumeier agreed to answer some questions for Kathimerini. You have presented a number of very interesting choreographies based on music of a religious nature, such as Mozart’s «Requiem» and Bach’s «St Matthew’s Passions.» What attracts you to such works? I have a need to express my personal beliefs through dance; beliefs that are reflected in works of a religious nature. I am a Christian and a dancer. My whole life, my thoughts and feelings were dance. Choreography is, in essence, my own language. Therefore, how could I not express my religious beliefs and experiences through this medium? Why did you choose to combine Handel’s preclassical music with Part’s contemporary music for the «Messiah»? Arvo Part is a musician whom I appreciate very much and with whose music I have worked frequently in the past. His music expresses eternity in a very modern manner. I was convinced that a break [in tradition] would be good. It is preferable not to remain in the same age, but to juxtapose a Baroque work with contemporary music and thus move it into the present. Now that seven years have elapsed, how would you judge the work you did on «Odyssey» in collaboration with the Greek composer Giorgos Kouroupos? It was an excellent collaboration and I am happy that soon, on October 12 to be specific, the Royal Danish Ballet will be presenting «Odyssey» in Copenhagen. For the past 10-15 years, dance theater has been flourishing in Greece. Are you aware of the developments here? I find Dimitris Papaioannou very interesting. Last time I was in Athens, I saw one of his choreographies, liked it a lot and met him. What do you look for in a new dancer? Technical proficiency is the basic prerequisite of course, but the dancer’s personality and qualities as an individual are very important to me. What he transmits plays an equal, if not greater, role. Have you tired of directing the same company for 30 years or do you see it as a challenge? It is exceptionally creative and a very intense experience to work with the same company for 30 years. This is because the company is not the same, it keeps changing and, of course, this keeps creating new challenges for me both as a choreographer and as an individual. Does art supplement life? Absolutely. To me, art and life are inseparable. Does love go with them, or is there a separation? All of it, dance, life, love, are one. One. Is love your source of inspiration? Yes! Note: This interview was translated into English from a Greek text.