Norway’s main adventurer mounts again on the main stage of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre. Edward Klug, head of the Slovenian National Maribor Theatre, presents his original interpretation of Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt” which sums up “the new form of the ballet narration”, as he puts it. The famous story is told in the dance language, but with a touch of dramatic thinking. That results into a penetrating and highly comprehensible performance about a talented madman losing all on his way to himself.
This performance is created in the Maribor National Theatre, which ballet company is directed by the choreographer. Russian audience saw this performance for the first time in St.-Petersburg at the “Dance Open” Festival. It was accepted to the Latvian National Opera and is soon to reach the Vienna Opera. The staging of this performance, differing a lot from the pompous premieres of the latest seasons, became possible in the Novosibirsk Theatre thanks to the artistic director of the ballet company, who joined the work with a team of lead performers. “Peer Gynt” is totally designed for the audiences, but it wins not because of its imperial ambitions and vivid straightforward action, but because of pure emotions, bold dramatic tension and high-skill storytelling. Ibsen’s play, which is not easy to read and to stage, turns out to be quite casual story.
It’s pinned with a subtle irony, pierced with self-irony, filled with a philosophical grief, spiced with a fine art metaphor, enchased with a daring, undying imagination, but still totally human and personal story, private and chamber despite the size of the stage. It’s simple and transparent regardless of what they say about ballet being aesthetically transcendent and detached from real life. Edward Klug, the directing choreographer told “Novaya Sibir” how the performance was created and why did he put the plot before the dance.
- You were born and raised in Romania, you direct the ballet company in Slovenia and you stage performances in Europe. What is the right way to describe the nationality of your choreography – Romanian, Slovenian, European?
- I was born in Romania, Transylvania region, near the Hungarian border. I moved to Slovenia at 18, with no intension to become a choreographer. I have dual citizenship. My nationality is Romanian, of course. It was Slovenia where I learned things and built my career. So you may say I am a Romanian dancer and a Slovenian choreographer. Some journalists put it this way: Slovenian choreographer from Romania. My wife is Slovenian, but we speak Romanian at home. At work I use English or Slovenian. Romanian is too mundane in this case.
- You moved to contemporary choreography from the classical one?
- I started with Russian classical dance, because Romanian ballet school is based on Russian system, so you may say I am a Soviet Union adherent. There was a bit more room in Romania, than in USSR, but not as in Western Europe. In the beginning of 1990s I met an interesting person – a theatre director, whose influence completely changed my career. He was the one who offered me to apply plastic technique to a dramatic performance. So, as a choreographer, I started with drama, not ballet. And that made an imprint on my further career.
- “Peer Gynt” is a narrative ballet, which is a rare thing in the contemporary choreography, but it seems to become significantly more popular.
- “Peer Gynt” is my first try to make a narrative ballet. We staged “Radio and Juliet” before, but it was more abstract. So it was interesting to me, whether I could make a big ballet story out of Ibsen’s play. Now it is a very important time for a narrative ballet, and I respect the modern choreographers who make this type of ballet performances. In a certain sense, this is a forced decision, because we have to come up with new approaches to contemporary choreography, so the modern audience could understand and accept this art. In case of “Peer Gynt” I wanted to put aside everything that I’ve known and seen - first of all, the classical narrative ballet.
- There is a trick about your intension: the audience, at least the Russian one, got used to match a narrative ballet to the classics and contemporary art to abstraction. How does the audience treat your work?
- In the last decade the world has changed a lot – the people, the way of thinking, the preferences. The cinematic art gets more attention and it dictates its rules. As a choreographer I can’t just tell a well-known, anticipated story – I must tell the story in a way nobody can imagine. I put down the ballet this way in November 2015. It was really well received. And each time the reaction is pretty much the same – people tend to like it. If we put aside the modern versions of Ibsen and Grieg, the performance gives you unexpected emotions. None leaves this performance indifferent, no matter where it’s staged – Maribor, Riga, St. - Petersburg, Novosibirsk or Vienna.
- Part of the audience, including the true theatre goers, thinks that “Peer Gynt” lacks the dancing part. Do you agree with that?
- People like it, when the works of two choreographers differ a lot, when the style changes from one performance to another. In case of “Peer Gynt” I had to make a step back as a choreographer – in this ballet I didn’t get too ambitious as for the dance part. The important thing was to build up a dramatic thread and to enchase it with choreography.
- The soundtrack for your performance consists of famous Grieg’s suites, piano concert and a violin concert. Why choosing Grieg, if your ballet is not tied to his works?
- I had big problems with Grieg’s music. Initially, he was writing music to “Peer Gynt” drama theatre variant. Ibsen didn’t quite like his work, he thought Grieg was too romantic for this play. And Grieg considered his music too good for Ibsen’s story. Thereto, Grieg was already a big star at that moment, and Ibsen was not so famous. They split their ways right after the premiere. Grieg created two suites based on that material, which made him incredibly famous. Nowadays most of the people know “Peer Gynt” exactly for Grieg’s music, few have read the original story. In my ballet I wanted Grieg’s music only, at the same time I was a bit intimidated by its reputation. So I decided to remove the anticipation and the pressure. I let myself use not only his suites, but any of his melodies applying them the way they change sense or bring another. I wrote the libretto by myself, I did it very carefully, trying to retell Ibsen’s story using no words at all.
- Of course it pleases me to know the artists like to dance what I’ve created. When the author gets this type of attitude, he surely will leave more space. The contemporary art itself gives you more freedom, than the classical one, which I like a lot too. Concerning improvisation, there are two different approaches – first is actual improvisation, second is making impression of improvising. The creation of a performance can be better conceived through improvisation. This option lets the dancers feel different performing already accomplished ballet.
- Who is your “Peer Gynt”?
- He’s a victim of his own ambitions. Solveig would wait him all her life and he would only come back to her at the end. Sequence of events is very important for me in this ballet. The main character leaves his village to see the world and to become the king of it. At last he gets a crown – in Cairo madhouse. Look around and you will see the guys like this everywhere. In the first act the performance is more about a fancy fairy-tale. The second one is more philosophical and self-concerned.
- Are you anything like your protagonist?
- I’m happy to be “Peer Gynt” in my work, to be an artist and a poet, full of ideas and ambitions. Unlike this, in my real life I’m nothing like “Peer Gynt” – I have two kids and one Solveig. I’m not crazy like this guy. But through this character, through this story I can externalize another part of me. I’m not a madman, that’s an artist’s vision.
- In Novosibirsk “Peer Gynt” is performed on the main stage, which is significantly bigger, than the place it was created on. Did you expect any difficulties staging it here?
- The Novosibirsk stage impressed me very much, and if speak about the scale, I had to add more trolls in the performance – twenty five instead of sixteen in Maribor. I’m impressed even more with the soloists, they are all skilled professionals. We all understood that this performance is quite different from what they usually do, but they felt comfortable working with this stuff. This is the best thing to get when you work with the new company.
- You mentioned that you like to create dissimilar performances. How will you impress your audience the next time?
- I’m composing a new story. The premiere will take place in Zurich Opernhaus. It will be “Faust” with the music by Milko Lazar who was my associate for the “Quatro” ballet. I used a completely different approach for this performance, than the one for “Peer Gynt”, because you won’t stage “Faust” using the same formula. To tell the truth, initially I wanted to stage “Master and Margarita” in Zurich, a crazy idea for sure. But in previous year, when we met with the theatre management to discuss the upcoming performance, they told me that Bulgakov’s novel is not so popular in Switzerland. They said: “If you like so much the Soviet Faust, stage the normal Faust“. And I thought, okay, that would be even easier for me. Each performance needs very careful approach. New material requires a lot of preparation. I might stage “Master and Margarita” some day, and it definitely needs to be staged in Russia.
Recorded by Marina Verjbitskaya “Novaya Sibir”