Tuesday January 17, 2017

Wachtel On The Arts - John Neumeier

John Neumeier

John Neumeier (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

John Neumeier has been at the cutting edge of dance for more than fifty years. He's made a phenomenal career in Europe as the celebrated Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet. He talks to Eleanor Wachtel about developing a new dance language that combines classical training with modern movement and intense personal emotion.

For more than forty years, John Neumeier has been the internationally celebrated Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet  A career that makes perfect sense but that, like so many, depended on a combination of just the right thing happening at just the right time along with a certain amount of personal audacity.

Neumeier was born in Milkwaukee in 1942. His father was a Great Lakes ship captain and his mother was a seamstress and a homemaker. When he was growing up, Milwaukee had no major ballet company or dance school. But he knew from an early age that he was destined to be in ballet. And a chance encounter with a biography of Nijinsky when he was just 11 years old helped to confirm that.

John Neumeier Hamburg Ballet - Saint Matthew Passion

From Saint Matthew Passion performed by Hamburg Ballet, artistic director John Neumeier. (Holger Badekow)

At first, his parents were reluctant to let him have ballet lessons, sending him to tap and acrobatics classes instead. But then, when he was studying English Literature and Theatre at university in Milwaukee, the head of the drama department recognized his talent and connected him with modern dance pioneer Sybil Shearer in Chicago.

Before long, John Neumeier was studying at the Royal Ballet Company in London, England. There, another chance encounter landed him a contract at the Stuttgart Ballet, led by the influential John Cranko. That's where Neumeier began his choreographic career, including a short Japanese-themed ballet called Haiku.

At the age of 27, and very much to his surprise, John Neumeier was invited to become the artistic director of the Frankfurt Ballet.

Then, in 1973, scarcely 30 years old, he became Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet. And he's been there ever since.

During that time, Neuemeier has choreographer dozens of ballets, which have been performed around the world, They include narrative works such as Hamlet, The Seagull, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nijinksy, but also ballets inspired by music – by composers such as Mozart, Mahler, and Bach, including his famous Saint Matthew Passion

Neumeier's work is unique in the world of modern ballet, combining classical technique with modern movement and, above all, a personal, emotional response to the story or music.

**This episode was produced by Sascha Hastings.

Web Extra | Watch highlights from the Hamburg Ballet's productions of Nijinsky and Saint Matthew Passion