Supported by Esplanade Arts Benefactor Patek Philippe, the ballet production of Lady of the Camellias will perform for the first time in Singapore.
"Patek Philippe has been supporting Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay since it first began presenting world-class acts in the performing arts in 2002. We share a common goal to instil the appreciation for art and culture in the next generation," explains Ms Deepa Chatrath, General Manager of Patek Philippe SEA.
"At the start of 2020 and a new decade, Patek Philippe as Arts Benefactor of Esplanade is delighted to be supporting the Singapore premiere of Lady of the Camellias. Both Patek Philippe and the Hamburg Ballet share the experience and ingenuity of generations that safeguard and breathe life into an art form, continuing the preservation of art and culture for the future generations to come."
Accompanied by the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra, the shows will be directed by none other than the creator of the ballet, John Neumeier, in his role as the Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet. In addition to the outstanding choreography and the compelling portrayals of the characters' psychology, the highly-decorated maestro continues to fine-tune the ballet to keep it relevant more than 40 years since he unveiled it.
Written by Alexandre Dumas fils, the son of famed novelist Alexandre Dumas, the novel was published in 1848 and tells the tale of Marguerite Gautier, a character based on the real life courtesan Marie Duplessis (1824 - 1847) whose charm, intelligence, discretion and beauty made her a highly sought-after courtesans of her time. Known to all as 'the Lady of the Camellias' because she is never seen without her favourite flowers - she wears a white camellia when she is available to her lovers, and a red one when she is otherwise indisposed - she leads a glittering life of endless parties and aristocratic balls, with the richest men in France flocking to her boudoir to enjoy her company.
Dumas tells the tragic story of her love affair with Armand Duval, a young man from a bourgeois family. After a visit from Armand's father, Marguerite steps away from this relationship for the benefit of Armands' reputation and his future. Soon afterward, she dies of tuberculosis at the age of 23, heartbroken and impoverished.
This landmark publication has had in turn inspired other artistic renditions ranging from Verdi's opera La Traviata (1853) to the Oscar-winning musical Moulin Rouge! (2001).
Fast forward 130 years later, John Neumeier in 1978 created a three-act ballet based on the 19th century novel, for Marcia Haydée, then prima ballerina of the Stuttgart Ballet. The music score was drawn from the works of Frédéric Chopin, who was in all likelihood frequenting the same salons as Duplessis did at the time, and incidentally had also died from the same dreadful disease. Sparsely-designed sets allow the dancers to take centerstage, who are complemented by lush costumes put together by Juergen Rose.
John Neumeier has helmed the Hamburg Ballet since 1973, and amongst those joining him in Singapore from the dance company are Anna Laudere and Edvin Revazov - each reaching the epitome as principal dancers and winning the coveted Dr. Wilhelm Oberdörffer Prize in 2008 and 2007, respectively - who have been tasked to bring to life the ballet's gripping dramaturgy as well as masterful choreography, including one of the most sublime pas de deux in 20th century. In real life, the dancers are a married couple.
Performed by a leading pair of principal dancers, the pas de deux is often considered to be the pièce de résistance and bravura highlight of a ballet. The technical challenges of this dance composition range from moving in perfect synchronicity, to lifts by the male counterpart, and finally to achieving positions and moves by the female dancer that she would not have been able to achieve on her own. All this requires the highest mastery of the craft by both dancers.
We had a chance to speak to Anna and Edvin ahead of the staging of The Lady of Camellias in Singapore.
Anna, you joined the Hamburg Ballet in 2001. Edvin, you in 2003. What took each of you respectively to this company?
Anna Laudere: The company of the Hamburg Ballet for me is one of a kind!!! And very first what makes it so special, is of course John Neumeier! His beautiful ballets, the time of creations and the time spent with an absolutely unique person from whom one can always learn! From whom I can learn not only professionally but life wisdom as well! The first two years before I joined the Hamburg Ballet, I was studying at the School of the Hamburg Ballet, where I started to be more introduced to John Neumeier’s works. When I was accepted to the company, one of the first things I was absolutely fascinated by, was John talking about how less is more and how one has to truly believe what one wants to express on stage! How he was creating and guiding each dancer very individually! I very much wanted to be one of them! That’s how my beautiful journey with John Neumeier started! I do feel privileged to be here!
Edvin Revazov: I have started my ballet education in Moscow. Watching the Bolshoi Ballet at that time, it was mostly classical, traditional ballet which I had a hard time to relate to. I always felt dance is more than that! When I came to the Hamburg Ballet school, we did a school performance where I was fortunate that John created a little solo for me and I got to work with him so closely. It was a very special experience for me and I felt I have found what I was looking for.
Tell us about how each of you progressed from soloist to principal. What has been the journey like?
A: For me, this is hard to answer. I have always loved to work. John Neumeier gave me new roles, new challenges and I tried to do my best to learn and get better – step by step.
E: For me, it has never been about the title. It has always been about work, learning and trying to improve. And most importantly, the joy of the process of creations with John.
Anna, you book-ended a decade impressively with the Dr.-Wilhelm-Oberdörffer-Prize in 2008, and then the Positano Award for Dance in 2018 with Edvin. In 2019, you were awarded "Benois de la Danse, Massine Price" in May and "Cultural Excellence Award of Latvia" in November. What an impressive 12 years it has been. Can you give us some insight into he different challenges are performing a solo role vs. a pas de deux?
A: Each role is different. All the feelings human beings can have, we all have. They are just balanced differently for each of us. So, I try to find them in me and explore what is needed for a particular role. For me, it does not make a difference, if it is a solo or a pas de deux – as long I know and feel, what I want to say.
Anna, did you ever imagine you would be performing on the stage with your husband? As a couple in real life, do you feel you bring an added emotional dimension to the performance, especially with The Lady of the Camellias being known for bringing out the psychology of the characters?
A: I am very happy I share the stage with Edvin! I am happy we both like to spend most part of our free time being in the studio and working on ballets we are performing. A dancer’s life is so short that it’s great to be able to take as much time as possible! For me, it is important to be able to talk about roles at home as well! And we hope we project the story and make audiences believe and feel with the characters we are at that moment.
Edvin, both of you have worked individually with John Neumeier. As a choreographer yourself, tell us how John’s widely-acclaimed body of work is aspiring? Does he do anything differently? What lessons can you draw from him to better your own craft?
E: One of the most inspiring things, among many others, is John’s dedication to his art and work. Always to challenge yourself. What I love about John’s choreography is that steps have an emotional meaning, and that’s what I try to follow, when I choreograph. One of many things I have learned is that as a dancer and young choreographer, the premiere is not the final result. It is rather a journey which should continue to improve.
John has been known to tweak and update the production since its first performance more than 40 years ago. What subtle changes can you share with us?
A and E: For us, it is fascinating how John has always some new idea and view! How some new detail, what John adds or takes away (as an example, it can be a new step or less of a step, or simply an extra glance), creates a new meaning for that moment or simply makes the situation even stronger. How he makes his ballets, speaks to you in present time and relates to each person in the audience personally.
Lady of the Camellias at Esplanade - Theatres by the Bay
21 to 23 Feb 2020 (Fri to Sun)
Sat: 3pm & 8pm
More information here