John Neumeier: Leading Light
The father of Milwaukee-born John Neumeier was a sea captain. “Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m attached to this port city of Hamburg,” says the choreographer, who has been director of the Hamburg Ballett since 1973. It could also be due to the aura of Gustav Mahler, who was Kapellmeister here, and Thomas Mann, a native of nearby Lübeck; both were inspirations for his ballets Death in Venice, Third Symphony and The Song of the Earth. Neumeier also loves to revisit classic fairy tales, setting them in the present. He directed Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, asking Lera Auerbach to compose the music. “I create each ballet in context, for each particular body, because dance is a living art,” he explains. In Hamburg, he assigned the role of the mermaid to Silvia Azzoni, who is in her forties yet as lithe and graceful as a dolphin. Never mind convention: here, pointe shoes and the avant-garde are anything but oxymoronic.