Grand Rapids Ballet: Choreographer Mario Radacovsky’s vision for ‘Beethoven’
By Adrienne Warber
Dance and music are two art forms that can tell engaging stories and evoke powerful emotions.Ballet is one of dance’s most artistic forms of movement, and Ludwig van Beethoven is one of history’s greatest music composers. Grand Rapids Ballet ended their 2014-15 Season on Sunday, May 17, with “Beethoven The Man and His Music: a tale of drama and conflict” by choreographer Mario Radacovsky. The ballet based on the life of the legendary music composer was a world premiere event that ran for six shows on May 8-17. The critically acclaimed production is a fitting end to a highly successful season for Grand Rapids Ballet, and creates excitement for the upcoming 2015-16 Season. Learn more about the story behind the creation of the “Beethoven” ballet from choreographer Mario Radacovsky.
Choreographer Mario Radacovsky
Mario Radacovsky is an award-winning and internationally renowned choreographer and dancer. Radacovsky began his professional dance career with the National Ballet Company of the Slovak National Theatre, where he was a principal dancer. In 1992, Jiři Kylián invited him to join Netherlands Dance Theatre, where he worked with some of the industry’s leading choreographers, such as William Forsythe and Nacho Duato. He became a principal dancer with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montreal in 1999. Over the years, he has been a guest star with many leading dance companies, such as Ballet British Columbia, Toronto, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Jacob’s Pillow. He taught at Festival of Art in Saint Sauveur from 2003-2007. In 2006, he became the Director of the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre. He now serves as Director of the National Theatre of Brno, Czech Republic. He is also a critically acclaimed choreographer, and has been choreographing for more than a decade. His works include “The Letter,” “Passage à l’eau trouble,” “Shadow and Light,” “Change,” “Warhol,” “Black Swan White Swan,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “Bolero” and “Everest.”
Grand Rapids Ballet has worked with Radacovsky on previous projects like “Black Swan White Swan,” “Romeo & Juliet,” and “Bolero,” which were all met with high critical acclaim. Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Patricia Barker has often described Radacovsky as one of her favorite choreographers to work with because of his inventiveness and great skill as a choreographer.
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Beethoven’
Grand Rapids Ballet and choreographer Mario Radacovsky have created a ballet that is as much about Beethoven’s music and his life as it is about dance. The ballet tells the powerful story of the experiences in Beethoven’s life that made him a complex man and drove his musical genius, and features some of his greatest musical works, such as Symphony No. 9. Radacovsky choreographed a ballet that captures the creative energy of Beethoven’s music and the composer’s life experiences.
Three dancers portray Beethoven in different stages of his life, with Stephen Sanford playing the lead role of the senior Beethoven in all performances. His story is told in a way that could be seen as memories or dreams of the senior Beethoven. Often there are pas de trois featuring senior Beethoven and one of his younger selves with someone significant to his life. The ballet takes place in two acts, and is two hours long with a 15 minute intermission.
It is also a meaningful ballet for both Grand Rapids Ballet and Radacovsky because dancer Stephen Sanford plays Beethoven as his final performance after a 14 year career. Radacovsky has worked with Sanford on other Grand Rapids Ballet productions, such as “Black Swan White Swan” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
Radacovsky talks about working with Stephen Sanford, “Stephen Sanford is at the same point in his career as Beethoven when he performs the ninth symphony – at the end of his career, and also at the peak of his work. This part was created for Stephen, and I gave him some freedom with the part. It’s great to work with a dancer who is mature. I’m really pleased that I am creating the last ballet in his career. It’s very special for me, and for him, I hope. He does a wonderful job, and he is stunning as a partner. He really knows how to make a woman look beautiful, especially with lifts. I’ve seen many beautiful dancers, and he is very high in my rank.”
Beethoven’s Music and Dance
For over a year and a half, Grand Rapids Ballet Artistic Director Patricia Barker, Grand Rapids Ballet Creative Director Michael Auer and Mario Radacovsky have been developing the “Beethoven” ballet. They researched Beethoven’s life and listened extensively to his music to figure out the best way to portray Beethoven’s life in dance form.
Radacovsky describes researching Beethoven for the ballet, “I did a lot of research and worked on the ballet for more than a year and a half trying to understand the music. I read about his life and I listened to almost everything he wrote. I tried to decide which pieces of his music to use, what was happening in his life when he wrote it, and about the message. I came up with a collage of his music that shows the kind of genius he was. His strength was in string work and of course, the symphony work, and the piano. I wanted to show that despite all the difficulties in his life, he was happy.”
One of the challenges of choreographing the “Beethoven” ballet was the power of Beethoven’s music. Radacovsky wanted his choreography to do justice to the beauty and strength of the music. He describes the challenge of choreographing to the music, “The music is beautiful, stunning and overwhelming, almost too much, even to some of his colleagues in that time period. It’s so powerful that it’s not necessary to put anything with it. The biggest challenge was to have the right choice of music and the movements to go with it. I hope the abstract ideas in each selection are clear. The choreography is a nice contrast to the music.”
Radacovsky’s Artistic Vision
“Beethoven The Man and His Music: a tale of drama and conflict” features classical ballet mixed with some neoclassical and modern movement. One of the great things about Radacovsky’s choreography is his way of perfectly blending classical ballet with modern movement. He mixes the strong lines and fluid grace of classical ballet with some of the loose full body movements of contemporary technique. There are numbers with traditional pointe work as well as more modern sequences where the dancers mimic orchestra instruments using their entire bodies.
Radacovsky was impressed by the complexity of Beethoven’s personality and life story, and he wants people to see Beethoven as both a man and a musical genius in the ballet. He wanted to show different phases of Beethoven’s life in the dance sequences that shape his personality. Some of the major issues that impacted Beethoven’s life will be dealt with, such as the fact that his father beat him when he was a child, he went deaf at age 26, and his one true love married his brother instead of him.
He talks about how different “Beethoven” selections tell Beethoven’s story, “In (Piano Concerto) No. 5, Beethoven is inspired by his love for the woman who broke his heart. (Symphony) No. 6 is about his love for nature. He loved nature, and he would go for long walks. He loved to walk in the rain and in thunderstorms. (Symphony) No. 7 shows the abusiveness of his father. There is a study by some doctors that suggests the possibility that his father may have caused the injuries that led to his deafness. His father’s abuse haunted him all his life. Despite all of his difficulties, he still had some happiness and romance.”
The ballet leads up to a hopeful ending despite the fact that Beethoven led such a tragic life in many ways. For even in some of the darkest periods of his life, the music was a consistent happy expression for Beethoven, even when it expressed anger or frustration. Radacovsky wants the ballet to show that Beethoven did find some happiness and peace in his life through the music.
Radacovsky comments on the Symphony No. 9 selection: “The Ninth Symphony is the most important part in the ballet to me. It is the ballet in the ballet. From 1801-1812, Beethoven created eight symphonies, and then nothing for 10-12 years. Then, he spent three years creating the Ninth Symphony. After 10 years, the Ninth Symphony was different. Music was changed forever after this. He used elements of the symphony that no one ever used before. The “Ode to Joy” poem by Schiller was an inspiration for him to create this incredible work. The work uses elements of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” to give a strong message about unity, helping humankind, being kind to each other, and brotherhood. Yet still today we have war and killing all over the world. We still have dictators. We continue to struggle. It seems we need to be reminded that we are all humans, and we should be brothers and walk together in unity.”
Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Beethoven’ and the Future
The future is bright for Grand Rapids Ballet. After a highly successful season, Grand Rapids Ballet ends the 2014-15 Season with “Beethoven,” a high caliber production that could easily grace any national level stage. Grand Rapids Ballet, under the leadership of artistic director Patricia Barker, continues to grow an impressive repertoire and perform high quality productions. It is becoming more and more common for ballet fans from all over, not just Michigan, to travel to see a Grand Rapids Ballet production. Grand Rapids Ballet is creating high art for West Michigan, and it will be exciting to see what they do next.