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Zurich Ballet on Reminiscences from the Realm of the Dead

Posted on November 18, 2010


Thomas Hauert’s new Il giornale della necropoli (Newspaper of the Cemetery), created for the Zurich Ballet, had its premiere at the Opera House in Zürich on October 30.

Dance, music and set have an equally important role, as all play an active part in the performance. Twelve dancers, six men and six women, appear in a line at the edge of the orchestra pit. They are clad in white, long-sleeved, one-piece suits, each adorned with a streak in a bright colour. Thierry Rondenet and Hervé Yvrenogeau’s costumes suggest both the beginning and the end of life.

At first, the dancers make quarter turns on the spot in unison. Almost imperceptibly, they split into three groups, each doing their own movements and spreading out over the whole stage. The music groans from the pit. The ballet’s name comes from this piece, written for orchestra and accordion by the Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino. It sounds like fragments of a once-complete score, played by musicians returned from the dead with fleshless fingers and lips, quietly trying to force the once well-known notes from the instruments. Accordion player Ina Hofmann sits on stage. Sometimes she lets the accordion breathe heavily; sometimes she plays thrilling musical phrases.

The music functions as a unifying force. At intervals a euphonious phrase is heard, calling the dancers back to a starting position, a circle or a certain formation. From here they begin to meander out in different directions, some in groups, some following a leader, some alone in what seems to be a genderless world. They all move differently, until the music calls them back to their starting point. Movements range from classical jumps, port de bras and poses to walking and running, or to mechanical movements, as if the dancers were toy figures.

Hauert usually works with his own company Zoo, which he founded in 1998. He has the idea and sets a frame, but lets his dancers develop the movements through improvisation. The dancers also improvise during the performance, though it doesn’t look like it.

The set is a painting by the Belgian artist Michaël Borremans, titled The Greatness of Our Loss. It is projected onto the backcloth in fragments, evoking landscapes or showing small figures with long shadows. It suggests that time is passing. The fragments move across the stage with the dancers or in the opposite direction, creating a nauseous feeling of speed.

It is probably more fun to do improvisations than to watch them. Nevertheless, Hauert has created a “Gesamtkunstwerk” that keeps your thoughts preoccupied long after you have left the theatre. It feels as though you have witnessed a group coming together to commemorate a deceased person. The music, like a voice, makes everybody focus their attention. Then they drift into their own reminiscences. Pictures from the life of the departed float by in the background. It is as if the ballet visualises what people remember when someone dies.

The programme also included Jirí Kylián’s Falling Angels, danced to Steve Reich’s composition Drumming, Part I. It was superbly performed by eight strong women, bringing the choreography alive in crisp, clear lines. The evening concluded with Le Sacre du Printemps, Stravinsky’s music choreographed by company director Heinz Spoerli. It revealed that this company has very capable male dancers, with amazing ballon.


The programme will be danced throughout the 2010–11 season. Visit for further details.


Jeannette Andersen


Olaf Kollmannsperger, Bryan Chan, Galina Mihaylova in Il giornale della necropoli. Photograph: Peter Schnetz.

Jeannette Andersen is a Danish dance and art writer currently living in Munich. She works as Cultural Correspondent for the daily Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten. She also writes for various Danish and international magazines, contributes to the ballet programmes of the Bavarian State Ballet, and makes radio programmes for Deutsche Welle, a radio station producing programmes from Germany for Denmark. From 1985 to 1991 she lived in New York from where she reported on dance and the art scene for different Danish newspapers.

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