To tame the beasesand defy death, Orpheus' weapon was beauty - according to the most human of the old myths. The scenario for last night's premiere by the Stuttgart Ballet isn't that simple.
Edward Bond, the poet who conceived this "Orpheus," sees in it the whole story of mankind. He invokes themes that are not the classical ones of the bards, but the historical ideas of such thinkers as Nietzsche, Darwin, Maithus and Marx. This cornucopia of material presented a formidable challenge to composer Hans Werner Henze and choreographer William Forsythe. They met it head on and, during the course of the evening, quite often came out victorious.(FOOTNOTE)orsythe makes the story as simple to follow as classic comics. Yes, there's a pop element in the way he equates barbarism and insanity, the animal hunt and the class struggle theology and science fiction. The mass of his people move spastically, whether they are doing a tribal dance or one of fashionable society.
Hades, as he depicts it, is only a trifle worse than our world. Death's messengers move like Frankenstein monsters and Apollo punctuates classical steps like a spaceman robot. Eurydice, a neat role for Birgit Keil's long limbs, dances on points as if they were stilts and flops into adagio duets as if not fully toilet trained. Orpheus, though, moves as if he were in the act of discovering what it means to be lyrical. The choreography for this role is Forsythe's finest achievement and Richard Cragun kept it fresh to the end.
The movement and Henze's music were inseparably meshed as some of the simpler vocal and percussive sounds issued from the dancers, while the orchestral part was haunting and complex. Alex Manthey's basic box set suggests a tenement courtyard, a padded cell and a spaceport lobby - all appropriate for the scenario's themes.
Yet this "Orpheus" is not an avantgarde work. For anyone who has seen the Living Theatre's movement plays or Pina Bausch's propaganda dances it doesn't have their intensity or distillation of effects. The closest thing to it in American dance is Jerome Robbins' "Watermill," which takes the discoveries of Robert Wilson's live panoramas and relates them to traditional dance forms.
Forsythe's work is more sustained than the Living Theatre's or Bausch's, and even those in the Kennedy Center audience who had a low-threshold for the grotesque and dissonant were touched by the simple ending as Orpheus, with his broken lyre, creates a human music and Eurydice moves ever more proudly in a great circle.(END FOOT)