The idioms of dance — and their metaphorical significance — are a substantial component of Mahler’s vocabulary. Curiously, though, Mahler was known to be indifferent to the traditional art of ballet. (In fact one of the scandals stirred up during his tenure as director of the Vienna Hofoper involved a disagreement with the official ballet master over the casting of a dancer in a production of Auber’s La Muette de Portici.)
But an evening of choreography to the elusive Seventh Symphony? That’s what Martin Schläpfer designed in 2013 for the company he directs, the Düsseldorf-based Ballett am Rhein. Titled Seven, with Wen-Pin Chien conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the production is playing as part of the Edinburgh International Festival this month.
The switches of mood, the interruptions to themes, the unexpected instrumentalisation in Mahler all find visual echoes: you never know whether dancers will be in pointe shoes, soft shoes or jackboots, or which members of a group or a trio are going to go off with one another, or whether a romantic relationship is about to turn sour or a violent relationship sweet.
–Hanna Weibye, The Artsdesk
Martin Schläpfer, in his choreography for “Seven,” is clearly of the heroes-and-shipwreck school. His epic staging of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony is structured as a journey, in which dancers, shod in boots, ballet shoes or with naked feet, move through a picaresque variety of situations, the choreography’s imagery vividly shaped by the colours and rhythms of the score….But the work’s strengths are undercut by its failure to engage with the score’s deep musical structure. Schläpfer choreographs in blunt emphatic bursts that illuminate the surface of the score but not its architecture.
–Judith Mackrell, The Guardian
There isn’t an explicit narrative to Schläpfer’s vision, but themes of human relationships seem to hold centre stage. We see couples and small groups coming together to react to one another for a time, but mostly it ends in hostility or outright rejection. Partners are swapped and traded with casual indifference and, particularly in the outer movements, Schläpfer explores the impact on those rejected, most often women….Importantly, however, Schläpfer’s choreography is inherently musical. He has thought deeply about Mahler’s score and presented a sequence of movement that seems an extension of the action in the pit…
–Simon Thompson, Seen and Heard International