One day Mario heard a new Kylie Minogue song on the radio.
From the first day I saw her I knew she was the one. She stared in my eyes and smiled..
As the song progressed he realized this was not just another love song.
On the third day he took me to the river. He showed me the roses and we kissed. And the last thing I heard was a muttered word as he knelt (stood smiling) above me with a rock in his fist……I kissed her goodbye, said, “All beauty must die.” And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth….
Not your average love song at all!
In fact it was from the 1996 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds studio album, Murder Ballads. Nick Cave had flirted with death both with excess and in lyric so often that he and his band joked about doing a whole album devoted to the many sides of murder. Finally the running joke didn’t seem to be such a joke and they actually did it.
When Marío heard “Where the Wild Roses Grow” he immediately thought, “I have to do a ballet with this! The art world is full of murder and death.” Then he set off collecting. I talked to him the night before the premiere and he showed me one of the many thick binders heavy with research material and choreography notes. As we quickly leafed through, he told me how he had been particularly drawn to the work of Canadian artist Jeff Wall who is known for his back lit transparencies depicting entire stories in one image. The works he showed me were quite objective installation shots of what one would imagine to see before a killer leaves the scene of his crime. There were images of various kinds including the well-known Ophelia by Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.
Each song in Murder Ballads tells a story. Mario started with the music and the lyrics and then developed the concepts further to create an intellectual discourse on the nature of being human. The ballet opens with Nick Cave’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Death is Not the End”. Mario uses this time to explore fear. He contrasts the peaceful beauty of a walk in the woods to when you realize you are alone and helpless there….or at least you hope you are alone. What you know for sure is that no matter how wonderful modern technology is, were someone to jump out from behind the next tree, you’d be defenseless.
“O´Malley’s Bar” is a 14 minute number where everyone in the bar dies. The house on stage represents the brain. We’ve all experienced not being able to function because of our brain being too full. Sometimes this causes temporary or permanent death of the mind; writer’s block, loss of creativity, emotional or nervous breakdown. In the choreography sometimes we see just the “brain” on legs. Other times groups of dancers come out and express what’s happening inside our heads. Our innermost thoughts are shown by the nakedness of the dancers while the more public facades are “suited up.”
Water is used throughout. People drown, are shot, die in the trenches….and always it is there to reflect what’s playing out on stage. Mario often uses water in his work. He is a bit mystified by water as a medium. It is strong and goes where it wants to and yet it is soft and sensual. It can be the circle of birth and death.
I asked Mario how he was feeling with the dress rehearsal freshly over and the premiere less than 24 hours away. He said he had given birth to the piece and now it was time for the dancers to give life to it. I don’t think he was disappointed. One thing I really liked about the piece was there were many lead roles for the dancers to perform and although we listened and saw almost a whole album of different stories, it somehow felt cohesive. The set was minimal, yet effectively clever and took us from the woods to the prairie and back again to a dreamy snowy winter wonderland where, as Mario explains, snowflakes are like gentle kisses. I enjoyed the sometimes humorous, sometimes thoughtful and sometimes dark approach to the theme which some might have made overly dramatic.
The choreography was very dynamic. He feels his multi-genre training at Palucca Schule is the root of this. The people coming out of the school when he did are really good all-rounders. Mario spends a couple of hours a day just exploring movement that comes from within. When casting parts he looks to see how each dancer moves and gives them the choreography he thinks they would be best at. Then he has them put it on like a “suit”. The dancer then adjusts a bit to the suit and the suit is tailored a bit to them, making for a customized fit.
Happy to be back “home” in Leipzig, Mario feels he grew up here while dancing in the Leipzig Ballet. He learned so much from his mentor and friend Uwe Scholz. Now he’s here in Scholz’s old position as Ballet Director. Under hís direction the New Leipzig Ballet is becoming more and m ore accessible. Not only does he make works using modern, even pop, composers; but they are doing a series of reactive one-off site specific events around town. They’ve already been in Fitness First. Coming up are Lehman’s and the Stadtbad. And ( my favorite) after each premiere there is a party that’s open to the public where he and the dancers are there. Sound stuffy? It’s not at all. It usually ends up being like a house party with a DJ and cheap drinks…………lots of dancing and fun!
Each artist leaves a mark. Mario wants to change the world. That sounds like a monumental task until you hear the rest. He wants to help people be m ore open to their emotions and to the emotions of others. He hopes to show that we are all just flesh, thus breaking down the barriers that divide us. As we see the varied faces, obviously from here and afar, we see them move as individuals in unity and know that at least on stage his dream is being lived out. I hope this will spill over to the audience.