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Hamburg ballet director gives heart and soul to stage Anna Karenina performance

March 30, 2017, 12:44 UTC+3 WASHINGTON

John Neumeier, an American ballet dancer and choreographer, is going on a tour to Moscow with his ballet company in autumn

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©  Sergei Bobylev/TASS

WASHINGTON, March 30. /TASS/. John Neumeier, an American ballet dancer and choreographer who has been Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet since 1973, is going on a tour to Moscow with his ballet company in autumn and says work on the Anna Karenina ballet is the most important thing for him at the moment. He said as much in an interview with TASS during the new Hamburg Ballet tour of the United States.

Love of Russian culture

On Tuesday, this ballet company began week-long performances on the stage of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This time the international collective of the Hamburg Ballet, which returned to Washington after a 13-year hiatus, brought with it The Little Mermaid ballet, Neumeier’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale to the music by Lera Auerbach, a composer who is well known in the West and who was born in Russia in 1973.

"Russian culture is something I feel very much attached to," said Neumeier who was born in Wisconsin and now, in his own words, has dual US and German citizenship. He recalled that the Hamburg Ballet goes on regular tours to Russia. "We will travel to Moscow next autumn for a performance of my ballet St. Matthew Passion," he added.

"However, what is most important for me at the moment is the creation of my new ballet Anna Karenina. The world premiere will be in Hamburg on July 2, but it is co-production with the Ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre and the National Ballet of Canada," the choreographer stressed. The ballet has been set to the music of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Alfred Schnittke, with Neumeier not only being the choreographer but also the costume, stage and lighting designer as well. By the way, Neumeier showed just as much extraordinary talent when staging The Little Mermaid in 2005 and some other ballets.

Sidestepping politics

Neumeier who, according to legendary Yuri Grigorovich, former Bolshoi Chief Choreographer, is "probably, the most Russian of foreign choreographers," has declined to comment in detail on the growing tensions in relations between Moscow and Washington in recent years as well as the current tone of the US political life concerning Russia.

"It honors me that you are interested in my opinion on these issues. However, I’m not a politician. I simply don’t know enough about the specific aspects of foreign relations between the US and Russia," he said. According to Neumeier, he can only answer such questions "from the perspective of an artist."

"Being based in Germany, I bring my ballets to the US as well as to Russia - without attaching a priority to one country or the other. The foundation of my art is human communication and I do feel that audiences in both countries are open for an experience concentrating on common human emotions. In this respect, my work as a choreographer as well as my work as a ballet director hopes to form a cultural bridge which fosters mutual understanding," said the choreographer who was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor in France.

Coming ‘home’ on ‘a road tour’

When asked why it took the Hamburg Ballet so long to return to Washington, DC, Neumeier explained that "it has become increasingly difficult for financial reasons to organize tours to the United States." "We have even intensified our efforts to come here during the past few years," he noted. According to Neumeier, the current US tour is the eleventh within 44 years, the period of his Artistic Directorship with the company. "The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is a very attractive venue and I am very happy to return to this theater with my company after our debut in 2004," he added.

According to Neumeier, the decision to take The Little Mermaid to Washington was actually initiated by the Kennedy Center itself, which invited the Hamburg Ballet to perform at this theater. "I believe that the international success of this production contributed to this request," he said. Indeed, having been captivated by this tragic story through the dance and music of Neumeier and Auerbach, the audience rewarded the Hamburg Ballet with a storm of applause.

When asked to reveal which country he likes to tour with his company most of all, Neumeier said that the Hamburg Ballet currently receives more invitations that it could accept. "Therefore, it would not be honest to say, we have something like a favorite city. It is always a mixture of re-invitations and the exploration of something new," he emphasized.

Future plans and beyond

Neumeier’s contract with the Hamburg Ballet expires in 2019. He did not deny that there are negotiations about the future of the Hamburg ballet. "However, the withdrawal from my current position as ballet director does absolutely not mean that I will stop working creatively," he added.

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