As I write this blog, I’m sitting by the window in a Paris rented apartment with a wrought iron ledge. If you had told me three years ago, when I began my adventure towards pursuing an MFA, that I would be writing a blog about dancing abroad in Europe, I would have probably told you, “Ok… get off the train to crazy town and hop right back on the bus to reality.” But if I’ve learned anything from my 50 days abroad with still plenty more to come it’s that you should dream… and dream big!
When I was a child I was so imaginative, I had invisible friends, magic blankets, and made a game out of a box of tissues when the opportunity presented itself. I had dreams. Big ones! I watched the Bolshoi Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Royal Opera House in London. I saw 42nd Street on Broadway in New York City. My parents drove countless hours to countless rehearsals for limited thank yous. And still, they understood my dream and helped me every way they could! Thank you now and for the times I never said thank you!
And speaking of imagination, I feel lucky to have grown up just before the major technical revolution. I didn’t have a cell phone ‘til I was a junior in college. I didn’t have a family plan and wasn’t able to text at will for fear of the monstrous bill that awaited. I called friends when I wanted to talk to them. I wrote letters when I wanted a deeper connection. Yet here I sit in the midst of children with iPhones and iPads, gadgets and gizmos and I’m writing a blog on a MacBook in the middle of Paris keeping in touch with friends and family. So I supposed imagination is exercised like a muscle. There are many muscles and therefore many ways of increasing its tone and definition. The key however is in the variety of the exercises.
And on that note variety could certainly be the word used to describe my studies here in Europe. So far I’ve danced in three countries and seen shows in a variety of idioms. The last show I saw was called Paradiso with choreography by Jorg Mannes and performed by the Staatsballett of Hannover. In fact, I saw the world premier with an after party on the roof of the Staatsoper.
The ballet was an interpretation of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Jorg Mannes asked some interesting questions with the choreography including whether or not we could indeed find heaven on earth or if we had to wait until the afterlife. He is quoted to have said, “There is no paradise without hell.” World famous cellist Giovanni Sollima was the composer and we had the rare treat of hearing him play that night. He was incredible! At the end of the ballet he came on stage and the company reprised the finale while he played for all to see. It was a truly joyous and celebratory moment! I loved seeing the camaraderie and infectious spirit of dance and music in tandem without the separation of the orchestra pit and performance space.
The ballet itself was interesting and had some intriguing and intricate partner work. The snake choreography utilized aerialist silks and there was even some reference to German patriotism in the beach scene with black, red, and yellow towels. It was quirky and I liked the sweet and endearing nature of this section. One particular section however lacked ability and took me out of the performance. This section was a farce and intended to be humorous but because of the lack of technical ability in my opinion it fell short of the mark. The dancers, came out with hand held mics and began and melodic, operatic, religious song. But because of their lack of vocal training I ended up feeling sorry for the dancers instead of laughing at the intended farce.
What did strike me was the beautiful dancing and celebration of body type variety. Some short, some tall, there was no “one look” the company was going for. Instead, as I have been saying a lot this summer, they were people dancing and not molds or carbon copies of one another. This is truly what made the performance for me.
One of the aspects of the ballet that has since stayed with me is the quote by Jorg Mannes, “There is no paradise without hell.” The ballet, as stated above, was performed in Hannover, a city that was completely leveled during WW2. I wondered about the decision to have the world premier of this ballet in Hannover and releasing this quote to the press. The horror that the citizens of Hannover faced during that time of war must have felt like hell and the bustling city that it has now turned into must, for those who remember the war, must feel like some sort of paradise.
Taking a walk around the city we came to the ruins of the Aegidien Church. A church completely destroyed by 88 aerial bombing raids that occurred during WW2 where 90% of Hannover was destroyed. The decision not to rebuild the house of worship stands as a testament to the citizens of Hannover about the devastation of war and a reminder of its gravity. A lone church bell sits in the vestibule dedicated by its sister city Hiroshima. The establishment of the sister cities occurred on May 27th, 1983 with the signing of the Sister City Agreement. It states, “Both of our cities and citizens have experienced the horrors of war in their histories. In view of the fact that they have both been revived as major cities in their respective countries, we recognize the necessity of contributing together for the establishment of world peace and will work for the promotion of mutual exchanges in a broad range of areas in order to further increase mutual respect, trust and understanding.”
And further along the walk we came to the Rathaus. In this case, the city hall was rebuilt after the war but not without a statement of remembrance. In the foyer, models of Hannover prior to and after the war are showcased. This offers a clear picture of what 90% of destruction looks like.
Behind the Rathaus we found a pond for a little contemplation. The peaceful atmosphere pierced through like a long awaited ray of sunlight. I was thankful for the living history lesson particularly because I learned that despite the destruction and pain that this city has suffered, art continues to be a driving force. With the purchase of our tickets to the ballet we were able to commute fare-free from Nienburg to Hannover. I was utterly impressed that this was offered as an incentive and it confirmed my belief that art can be a great healer and mirror to life an idea, which Hannover upholds.