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Amy Seiwert transforms Schubert into Imagery

Imagery in Wandering.jpg


This past weekend, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery presented Sketch 7: Wandering, a ballet to Schubert’s famous song cycle, Winterreise. Since 2011 the Sketch series has pursued and presented various balletic and theatrical challenges taken on by Seiwert and her company. Wandering, under the National Choreographic Residency award of the Joyce Theater in New York, offered the choreographer the opportunity to create a ballet that was both narrative and a full-length work.

Choosing the German Romantic song cycle as the music for the ballet aided meeting that challenge. Winterreise, which runs an hour and about 15 minutes long, tells the story of a young man who fell in love with a beautiful maiden, only to have her leave him to marry a richer man. He fell in love in May, but by winter had been rejected. Leaving her house before dawn he writes his farewell above her door and disappears into the desolate and snowy landscape.

While the storyline is rather thin, the poems, which are written in the rejected lover’s voice, are full of transparent and near-symbolic images: the weather vane tossed by wind and directionless, the lover’s tears which freeze and fall burning to incise the snow, a graveyard like an inn with full tenancy.

It is in these metaphors that Seiwert finds an artistic analog, and compounds it uniquely and abstractly.

As the ballet opens a dancer (James Gilmer) enters to put a vinyl record on a turntable. What pours forth is the inimitable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in one of the several recordings of Winterreise that he made with pianist Gerald Moore. His voice is achingly clear. The dancer, who is clothed in a long dark red robe, begins his solo. He has a powerful and muscular body, as do all eight of the dancers in this excellent and expressively skilled company.

The stage is dark except for the spot covering the soloist and four widely spaced lanterns upstage. Soon figures step out of the darkness between the lamps. These dancers cluster around the soloist. They are dressed in short light leotards decorated on the torso with black lines, a branch-like pattern weaving around the waist (costumes by Susan Roehmer). It is easy to imagine them as the winter landscape on which the lover projects his sorrow.

Seiwert uses a series of repeated gestures that are surprisingly intimate throughout the piece: a man covers a woman’s eyes, a hand is placed under a chin leads the owner of that chin forward, as if beauty can be examined only through a kind of captivity. The dancers become apparitions of the loved one as well as the snowy landscape.  

Soon the red robe is passed on to another dancer, this time a woman (Shania Rasmussen). During the course of the evening the robe will pass from dancer to dancer, and each in turn will take on the persona of the grieving and grieved lover. Rejection, it suggests, is universally experienced, as are the emotional states it provokes.

The slight shaking or waggling of fingers in an upraised hand recalls the branches of the linden tree in the wind. Just as the ensemble’s movements resemble an icy stream, or the dancers stacked on top of each other two at a time suggest heaps of snow. At times the robe becomes a character, taking on metaphoric qualities of isolation and despair. One dancer shuns putting on the robe, and runs off stage. Another is caught by it when the robe becomes a rope twisted across his shoulders.

The second half of the performance begins with a song about a raven (“Die Krähe”), in which the lover sees the approach of death in the presence of a raven that has followed him during his journey. The curtain pulls open on a stage that is like a negative of the opening scene. The black upstage light is suddenly a snow-bleak whiteness, and the costumes are black rather than off-white, the parallel lines at the torso and the winding branches also white. The lamps become the lanterns of the traveler, and a green light shining from the wings onto the legs of the dancers is reminiscent of the green fields through which the lover and his beloved walked in May.

Like all of Seiwert’s choreography this is a meticulous and original piece, emotionally evocative, engaging both mind and heart.

– Jaime Robles


Photo: Jackie Nash, Tina LaForgia and the Imagery company in the world premiere of Amy Seiwert’s Wandering. Photo by Chris Hardy.

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