Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dresden: Now

This is the first of two posts about Dresden, where I spent two weeks of my recent trip to Germany. I lived there for 7 months in 2010-2011, and I really appreciated the chance to re-connect with some of the friends I made then and there. I didn't spend all of my time in the archive and library--just most of it. For breaks I enjoyed some of Dresden's artistic offerings. One night, I attended the opening of a gallery show by a friend of my hostess. The artist paints in the porcelain factory at Meissen by day and at night creates her own fantasy and floral watercolors. I wish she had a website so I could share some of her beautiful pieces.

This is the Main State Archive of Saxony, where I did a lot of work.
Another night, my hostess and I bought last-minute tickets to the Semperoper, the beautiful old theater in the Altstadt named after its architect, Gottfried Semper (1803-1879). The building was destroyed once by fire in 1869 and again by the fire-bombing in 1945; the 2002 flood also caused some damage, but it has been wonderfully restored. (The "marble" interior has always been fake, but it's quite convincing.) The ticket prices were rather steep, even at the door, so CF and I got Hörplätze. What good, you may ask, is a listening seat for a ballet? Excellent question. Our seats were in the highest section on the far right, such that the right third of the stage was obscured from view. There were still quite a few seats available on the floor, so during the first intermission, we moved down there (with the permission of the ushers). Imagine that: front-row seats at the ballet for 7.50 EU each!

Neither of us knew what we were seeing (we declined to pay for a program), but I think I enjoyed it more than CF did, who is a little older and fairly conventional in her tastes--much like the art scene in Dresden. It turned out that on the program for that night were four selections under the heading "BallteRusse: Reloaded." (Sounds like a James Bond movie title!) Each piece had been originally created for the Russian Ballet but was being performed by the local company.

The first piece, "Noces," was completely modern in music, choreography, and staging. It began in complete silence that was replaced by the stomping of the dancers and eventually by the dissonant tones of a choir. About a farmer's wedding in the country, it came off to me like a satire on love and relationships, what with the way the guests manipulated "the happy couple." CF didn't like it at all, but I at least was intrigued by the variety of shapes and forms the human body can assume.

"Faun," the second piece, was also modern, using the music of Claude Debussy to tell the sordid tale of the illicit lust of a priest for a choir boy. I think my companion "liked" this one, as it wasn't as "ugly" as the first. It didn't hurt that it involved nearly-nude male dancers, who all looked slender and buff! (By contrast, the female dancers looked scrawny and underfed from the front row.) The dancer portraying the slithering Satan did an excellent job.

George Ballanchine had choreographed the third piece, so of course it was beautiful in the sense of modern ballet. "Apollo" involved three muses dancing for the favor of the Greek god. This was CF's favorite.

After a third (!) intermission, we finally saw "Sacre," new choreography to Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring music. CF didn't like it, but I don't think she appreciated the historical significance of it, and I had insufficient vocabulary to explain to her about the riot the choreography caused at the premiere in Paris in 1913. Unfortunately, we know little about the original movements, so this year many companies will be re-choreographing Stravinsky's music to mark the anniversary of the piece. In fact, Dear Husband and I have tickets to attend such a performance here on campus later this semester. At any rate, by that point it was almost 11pm, and I had nearly fallen asleep in my chair.

Taking in a dance or instrumental music performance in a foreign country is of course easier than seeing (and understanding) a play or stand-up comedy routine. What kinds of performance art have you enjoyed while on trips in foreign countries?

Next time: a look at Dresden's past.

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