Full body music set to Mahler’s Seventh Symphony
This article is from 2015.
Ballet Am Rhein circles through a palette of feelings in Seven, creating full body music out of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. The Austrian composer’s work could have been custom-made for ballet, so rich is it in swooning power and tiny elegant details. Choreographer Martin Schläpfer plays these into his movements, along the way hinting at stories that emerge and vanish at various progressions in the music.
Some of the first dancers we see wear swooshing great coats, suggesting an earlier, darker time. A boisterous trio takes over the stage – the woman is hoisted aloft, straight-limbed with childlike abandon, then things take a shocking turn when one man veils a black rag over her face after she has embraced the other.
This sense of menace balanced out by a sense of play recurs again and again, chiming with the themes of dark and light in Mahler’s symphony. But really you don’t have to make sense of Seven at all to love the haunting shapes and surprises of Schläpfer’s choreography – and the way he grapples with the fiddly business of human relationships.
A woman is stretched backwards by her partner, and as her feet drag underneath she patters them gently; a duet is danced in boots that stomp. A carnal pairing melts into brutality as the woman is afterwards tossed like a rag doll between three men. In the fourth movement, two pairs of dancers take turns to stare into the distance as the others dance – you wonder if they are imagining each other.
Both music and dance here feel romantic in a giant sensual way, even if that romance is cut with awkward and sometimes horrifying details. But Schläpfer also makes physical sense of the large musical motifs in strange, delightful ways. In the final movement, a swelling of the score is matched by the clean smooth rising of a dancer’s legs as she lies beneath a stool, and it’s a glorious individual moment of triumph.
If there is one drawback to a piece so rich in image and emotion it’s that there is no overriding grasp on the thing as a whole to take away; it feels as if it begins to elude you the moment it ends, like each of its tiny relationships when they leave the stage. But throughout, Seven has a kind of intrigue that compels you to it as to a surrealist film; you might not know quite what is going on but you certainly want to know what is going to happen next.
Playhouse, 473 2000, until 22 Aug, 8pm, £10–£32 (£5–£16).