dance is not for everyone. Richard Wagner, for example, considered it “the most real of all art forms”. But apart from the Bacchanal in “Tannhäuser”, movement artists have hardly anything to do with his works. An exception remained the choreographer and director Ruth Berghaus, whose grandiose productions of “Parsifal” or “Tristan und Isolde” wrote opera history in the late 20th century.
Lately, it has primarily been choreographers from Israel who have brought the dance sphere and the Wagner cosmos closer together – despite or perhaps because of the anti-Semitic propaganda penned by the composer. In 2012, Saar Magal undertook the first such venture with “Hacking Wagner” in Munich’s Haus der Kunst, and now the Wagner wave has reached the Salzburg Easter Festival: Emanuel Gat, an Israeli resident in southern France, and his fourteen-strong ensemble assemble beautiful “dreams” in the Felsenreitschule. Titled after the fifth and last of Wagner’s “Wesendonck-Lieder”, the hour-long piece transforms the already magical place into an art cathedral.
Two velvet sofas glow in the semi-darkness of the wide-screen stage. A figure rests on one, the robe as red as the fabric of the furniture. Man and material seem to merge in a completely earthly way, while an angel figure appears in the arcades of the back wall and begins to speak: “Nothing is made in history, everything makes itself.” And the white seraph strides through the archway towards the stairs, where he is joined by a dozen other heavenly messengers. They stand as if on Jacob’s ladder, wanderers between the sublime realms of art and the all-too-human existence: the life of instincts, into which they will soon immerse themselves.
Just like the outright narcissist Richard Wagner did more than a century and a half ago. In exile on Lake Zurich, he honed his writing “Art and the Revolution” and chatted under the eyes of his wife Minna with Mathilde, the wife of the host Otto Wesendonck, who offered the couple, who had fled from Saxony, free board and princely lodging.
In 1857/58 Wagner set poems written by the lady of the house to music for those five “Wesendonck-Lieder”, which Emanuel Gat’s choreography interprets rather than illustrates. While a love duet remains at a distance – Milena Twiehaus recites Wesendonck’s lyrical “Treibhaus”, Michael Loehr passages from the text of the revolution – the dance resembles an associative stream, from the depths of which moving sculptures, diagonally arranged body friezes or choral expression clusters grow. In general, the expressive moment, the esoteric note, forms the subsoil, so to speak, on which these “dreams” thrive like intertwined water plants.
The Israeli Emanuel Gat is one of the best contemporary choreographers
Until, in the second part of the evening, the actors slip out of their white costumes and return in rustling taffeta robes. From the off, the “Wesendonck songs” roll in like waves, a recording with Julia Varady from 1998 unfolds the melodies into dramatic mountains. In the pauses in between, the clothes rustle, as if crinolines and long trains were being gathered.
The majority of the dancers immediately sit down on the sofa to watch the theatrical goings-on of the two, three, four others who ensnare and embrace each other like flowers. Or defy until the man has conquered the woman and a storm of emotions takes hold of everyone and sweeps them away. Like a hurricane, the music drives the dancers into a spiral and finally back onto the stairs. There they stand, a dozen people and the mirage of the royal couple: two heads, two bodies in the center of the room, modeled by flickering light until the double organism dies out in the dark.
Emanuel Gat is not only one of the best contemporary choreographers, but also an accomplished photographer. His talent for the sensual, for perceptions that go beyond the usual templates, is also concentrated in the choreographies that the fifty-two-year-old creates for his own company. He sees himself more as a stimulus and supervisor, announcements are not his thing. Most recently he has “Lovetrain2020” and with it the eighties sound of Tears for Fears chased through all of Europe – what fascinates him now about Wagner? The answer comes promptly: “Regardless of what else Wagner did – as a composer he was groundbreaking. A revolutionary.”
Gats “Dreams” are also doing pioneering work. Because with them Nikolaus Bachler, director of the Salzburg Easter Festival, brought dance into the program for the first time. Which turns out to be an excellent idea. Continuation recommended.