Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Ballet with orchestra: A match made in heaven — and Germany

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

The Ballett am Rhein Dusseldorf Duisburg will perform artistic director Martin Schlapfer’s 7 at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) this weekend, accompanied by the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Weiwuying artistic director Chien Wen-pin.

Photo courtesy of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts

The National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) opens its portion of the 11th Taiwan International Festival of Arts (TIFA) this weekend with two performances by the Ballett am Rhein Dusseldorf Duisburg, with artistic director Martin Schlapfer’s 7.

The troupe is making its Taiwan debut with the Kaohsiung shows, might be a first-time visitor to the nation, but it is very familiar with Weiwuying’s artistic director, Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬), who moved to Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1996 to become a conductor at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, which is also home to the ballet company.

Tanz, Europe’s premier dance magazine, named Schlapfer its “Choreographer of the Year” in 2010, just a year after he took over the revived Ballett am Rhein, and has named the troupe “Company of the Year” four times, from 2013 to 2017.

The company’s appearances in Taiwan will be special because it will be accompanied by the Taipei Symphony Orchestra (台北市立交響樂團), which will be conducted by Chien.

Ballet performances in Taiwan that feature live music are a rarity: Taiwanese choreographer Allen Yu (余能盛) made a point to have an orchestra for his productions for the Chamber Ballet Taipei — later the Formosa Ballet (福爾摩沙芭蕾舞團). Visiting troupes such as the Kirov Ballet sometimes bring their own, but otherwise dancers usually perform to recordings.

Chien began working with Schlapfer and the ballet company in 2012 and the two men collaborated from the beginning on 7, which premiered in October 2013 and is set to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7.

In an interview posted on Weiwuying’s Web site, Chien said he is eager for Taiwanese audiences to see how Schlapfer connects Mahler’s piece with modern social issues.

Performance Notes

What: Ballett am Rhein Dusseldorf Duisburg “7”

When: Saturday at 7:30pm, Sunday at 2:30pm

Where: The Opera House at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (衛武營國家藝術文化中心) 1, Sanduo 1st Rd, Kaohsiung City (高雄市三多一路1號)

Admission: NT$300 TO NT$2,500, available at the center’s box offices, online at and convenience store kiosks

Additional performances: March 9 and 10 at 2:30pm at the National Taichung Theater (台中國家歌劇院) 101, Huilai Rd Sec 2, Taichung City (台中市惠來路二段101號); tickets NT$500 to NT$2,200, available at the NTT box office, online at and convenience store kiosks

Chien ranks the Swiss-born Schlapfer as one the of two choreographers he knows who have the best ears for music; the other is Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) artistic director Lin Hwai-min (林懷民).

“When they hear music, they can instantly grasp the context and development of the melody, and even predict the next note,” he said.

Mahler’s works are popular among conductors because they “have a clear sense of what the conductor should do,” he said.

Symphony No. 7 is not as well-known as Mahler’s other works, and has been sometimes called his “problem child,” with its awkward first movement, but Schlapfer used that difficult opening to create a whirlwind of activity, filled with dancers in dark costumes and a variety of footwear (or none), before segueing into calmer waters and combinations of pairs and groups, a romantic pas de deux and pointe work.

He has been quoted as saying that “the more I listen to the ‘7,’ the crazier it gets. Mahler’s music releases things in my own choreography which I did not believe I had in me.”

The ballet runs 80 minutes, with no intermission. Following his weekend’s shows in Kaohsiung, the company and orchestra will give two performances at the Grand Theater in the National Taichung Theater to open its TIFA program.

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