The Hamburg Ballet is a vehicle for the work of John Neumeier, who’s been at its helm for 25 years. The New York engagement comprised an evening of his choreography to Mahler (with whose music he’s obsessed) and an evening of his take on Leonard Bernstein, part biography-via-innuendo, part – Jerry Robbins, where are you when we need you? – revue. Neumeier’s work is self-indulgently long, banal, unmusical both in its choice of scores and in its response to them, intermittently pretentious and uncertain in tone. This is a choreographer, mind you, who is beloved by his European audience and idolized by his dancers. Though he’s American-born and -bred, Neumeier speaks to a European taste many American dance fans, myself among them, don’t share or even comprehend. The foggy high-mindedness, the tedium, the lack of a rhythmic pulse simply do us in.
The current Hamburg dancers, who’ve been drawn into the Neumeier orbit from all corners of the world, are technically competent – the repertoire doesn’t require anything more – and individually personable. The Russian Ivan Urban, for example, beams his sweetness out at the audience as if he were volunteering to be each viewer’s personal archangel. The current roster also includes a trio of world-class stars: Elizabeth Loscavio (formerly the glory of the San Francisco Ballet), who did not appear in New York because of injury, the American Lloyd Riggins, and the Danish Rose Gad, the latter two the best the Royal Danish Ballet had to offer after Nikolaj Hübbe defected to the New York City Ballet. No doubt all three are relishing the adventure of leaving their artistic home bases and working for a guy with an impassioned vision; everyone needs a little excitement in his life. Still, in terms of their development as dancers, it’s hard for me to see how Neumeier’s choreography is going to enlarge their scope.