‘When dancers draw pictures in the room’ – press review on ‘Kopfhören’ at Moselmusikfestival

Press review by Eva-Maria Reuther on ‘Kopfhören’ at the Moselle Music Festival 2020:

‘What was presented in the small excerpt created an enormous appetite for more.’ Eva-Maria Reuther

Text freely translated by E.Schilling from German.

When dancers draw pictures in the room 
Here dance and architecture are combined: scenes from Hear, eyes, move in Trier’s Maximinkirche.
Photo: Bohumil Kostohryz
On Friday, the listeners were given an impressive taste of the Moselle Music Festival in St. Maximin in Trier.  Within the framework of the format “Kopfhören” (headphones) there was an excerpt from Elisabeth Schilling’s choreography of “Études pour piano” by György Ligeti (1923-2006).
The strict rows of columns in the quiet, powerful nave of the former Trier abbey church of St. Maximin seemed to give the movements of the dancers a foothold on the floor below. Movements that seized time and space, whirled, strove towards each other, only to break away again immediately, seeking closeness, only to distance themselves. Then again the dancers were completely on their own, turning and writhing, like sculptures that still have to experience themselves. We are talking about György Ligeti’s “Études pour piano”, for which Elisabeth Schilling is currently working on a choreography with her company.
The project entitled “Hear eyes, move” is a co-production of the Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, the Kunstfest Weimar and the Moselle Music Festival. The dance piece by the dancer and choreographer from Wittlich, who now works internationally, will be shown in its entirety at the 2021 edition of the Moselle Music Festival. On Friday there was a foretaste in St. Maximin with the Etudes No. 1, No. 4, and No. 6 as part of the new festival format “Kopfhören”. To say it right away in advance: What was presented in the small excerpt created an enormous longing for more.
The second edition of the new format corresponded to a dance studio visit. In a ‘kind of performance’, the choreographer had first delimited the stage. While the dancers warmed themselves up and, as it were, took measure of the space, the audience could walk around and take a closer look at the space and the artists. Festival director Tobias Scharfenberger informed the guests via headphones about the composer and the work before they took their seats in the chairs provided for the Dance of the Etudes. For the time being, the music was canned.
Ligeti’s 18 etudes in three volumes, the “livres”, were written between 1985 and 2001. The late work of the native Hungarian, which is in the tradition of the piano etudes by Chopin, Debussy and others, is not only one of the most important piano works, but also one of the murderously difficult ones, with its diverse rhythms and multi-layered textures, its exoticism and countless stylistic references. However, it is extremely popular with listeners because there is never a moment of boredom.
The compositional labyrinth, on the other hand, in which even the most ambitious fail because “faster, higher, further” does not help here, is a true El Dorado for dancers. Elisabeth Schilling and her five-member troupe approached the music with all their senses – in other words: with emotional penetration as well as with the analytical sharpness of mind. Dynamic, supple and precise, the dancers made the temperaments and rhythms of the music tangible. As well as their contrary movements, which at the end conclusively condensed into a structure, as in the sonata-like Etude No.4 with the title “Fanfare”.  Right at the beginning, the young artists whirled in the fulminant supposed “Désordre” (confusion) of Étude No. 1. The choreographic excerpt ended almost serenely with the slightly melancholic Étude No. 6, “Automne à Varsovie” (Autumn in Warsaw), through which impressionistic clarity shines. However, the choreographer and her company not only disposed of the spiritual and mental energies of the music, they also left it its shape, the fine concise line of the pianistic touch, the sculptural, compact form of the chord. She had first drawn sketches, Elisabeth Schilling reported at a later audience discussion. In fact, the dancers’ slender bodies and their movements looked like dynamic drawings in space. This was also a wonderfully fitting image in the unwavering security of the church, which protectively surrounded the fragile, fleeting human dance.
Incidentally, Ligeti’s artistic aspiration was for eternity. What was once time and movement should be presented as timeless, he once said about the aim of his work. The composer’s danced etudes and the old abbey church of St. Maximin form a wonderful team.

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Photo: Bohumil Kostohryz