Sometimes when you see and hear a new piece of work your response is instant, and you either like or dislike it immediately. Sometimes, however, your response is neither and you realise that there is so much going on in the work that you just need to go away and process it a bit more and probably experience the performance again to try and understand the work better and examine it more closely. Seven, the ballet set to the music of Mahler’s Symphony No 7 is definitely in the latter case for me.
Like many, I am familiar with bits of the music such as “Nachtmusic”, but not with the overall work, so tonight’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No 7 with Wen-Pin Chien conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra was also introducing me to new sounds at the same time that Seven the ballet by Ballet am Rhein Dusseldorf Duisburg (with choreography by Martin Schlapfer) was introducing me to new visuals (and often new sounds too). The two are going to take a while to process properly and I suspect the key is to listen again to the music of Mahler more closely to understand better some of the more subtle points of the ballet.
Seven the ballet is an amazing marriage of movement to a piece of music that was never intended for this purpose, and it is a very complex piece of work that is at time very dark, heavy and almost nightmarish in the world that it depicts. It is also at times very light and uplifting. The two different worlds are also interestingly contrasted by the footwear of the dancers and the rhythms that that different footwear makes as we shift back and forward from heavy boots, soft ballet shoes, ballet pointe shoes and bare feet. The stark almost monochrome set and costumes only add to this feeling at times of being somewhere in the night.
One of the first things that you also notice as an audience about this ballet company is that it is a large company of dancers, and this is what helps make Seven such a powerful piece of work as there is at times just so much happening on stage sometimes. At other times though there are wonderful smaller pieces of work with only a few dancers.
Seven has many shades and styles to it as the dancers reflect the many shades of Mahler’s music. There are edgier modern pieces of work here contrasting with classical ballet and somehow it all does stay together and work. The very stark sets, costumes and carefully used lighting also let an audience focus with no distractions on the power and grace that a ballet dancer has.
Seven is a very odd piece of work for me. There were elements in it I thought were wonderful, other elements that were good and some that I just did not like much. The strange thing is that as I am writing this revue and thinking more about the performance, I am actually liking the performance as a whole much more. Maybe that is the sign of an great piece of work…it makes you go away and think about it more.