Choreography of Bernd Roger Bienert
Live U.S. Premiere:
by Carmel Morgan
January 25, 2010 -- Embassy of Austria, Washington, DC
On January 25, 2010, the Austrian Cultural Forum in Washington, DC, presented films, a live solo performance, and a moderated discussion with Austrian choreographer Bernd Roger Bienert at the Embassy of Austria. Bienert, who is tall and looks much more youthful than his experience suggests, began studying ballet at the Vienna State Opera Ballet School. He danced with the Vienna State Opera Ballet and with the Nederlands Dans Theater. In 1982, he began choreographing. From 1991-1996 he served as the Artistic Director of the Zurich Ballet, and from 1999-2001 he directed the Ballet of the Saarländisches Staatstheater (Saarland State Theater) in Saarbrücken, Germany.
To begin this special evening of dance, guests of the Embassy of Austria were introduced to Bienert’s work through film, and DC dance critic George Jackson moderated a discussion with Bienert. “The Moldau,” a 1996 piece choreographed by Bienert for the Zurich Ballet, was shown first. “The Moldau,” in addition to being the title of this ballet, is the title of music by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Both the ballet and the music take their name from the Moldau River, the longest river in the Czech Republic. In this work, Bienert combined talents with Parisian architect Jean Nouvel, who did the set and lighting design. A metal lattice screen hung in front of the stage symbolized the river. The dancers wore neon-colored costumes designed by Keso Dekker. In the film excerpt, at least, despite the bright clothing, the screen significantly disrupted the view of the dance. There seemed to be some speedy, beautifully executed lifts, incredibly high leaps, and otherwise pretty classical movement. In addition to impeding one’s view, the net-like scrim gave the dance a boxed-in feeling. Rather than being triumphant and free, the dancers appeared trapped.
The second film, “Tides,” featured choreography in a pool. Dancer Karl Schreiner, utterly naked, moved through water to a soundscape by Karlheinz Essl. Bienert explained that in “Tides,” the body was a sculpture and water served as its costume. Human shadows and ripples of water made interesting shapes against the square grid of tiles in the pool. Much of the underwater movement developed slowly given the weight of the water. Often, Schreiner’s body was divided – half of him above the water, half of him under it – and this split image produced intriguing visual effects. There were wild, raw moments of desperate splashing and flinging. Playful bubbles and a somersault added lightness to the otherwise intense atmosphere. “Tides” succeeded as a daring experimentation in both dance and filmmaking.
Bienert’s version of the “The Nutcracker” for the Zurich Ballet also showed daring experimentation. In the third film, an excerpt, the audience saw two women take the role of Clara – one traditionally child-like and the other decidedly grown-up and modern. In a salute to its American popularity, the Nutcracker himself – danced by Ethan Stiefel, now a principal dancer with ABT – wore clownish red, white, and blue, with stars. Somehow, Stiefel resembled a circus performer. The grown-ups, however, looked as if they belonged in a ritzy ballroom. The women wore long black dresses. As they waltzed, they moved swiftly with graceful maturity. One could find no trace of the juvenile, saccharine holiday ballet many American audiences find familiar.
The final film was “Bolero”, choreographed to Maurice Ravel’s music. In this 2001 ballet by the Ballet of the Saarland State Theater, many dancers crowded the stage. With flesh-colored chests and dark pants and feet, which greatly elongated the leg, the dancers snappily posed and re-posed, sort of like sexy soldiers. The dancers performed powerfully in unison. Grinding hips added steaminess to Ravel’s gripping, hypnotic rhythms.
To close the program, Jonathan Jordan of the Washington Ballet performed live a solo work titled “SCHRIFTzeichnen” (“Signings”). Bienert choreographed this piece using sign language as its base. No music was used, so one could more easily concentrate on the communicative language of Jordan’s dancing. Bienert made the smaller movements of sign language, taken from actual text, bigger, and he also mixed and repeated gestures. Jordan’s entire body became expressive, not just his hands and fingers. It seemed as if every bit of Jordan was conveying a message, down to the soles of his feet as they scraped the floor. As he paused in places, it reminded one of punctuation.