Mozart's Requiem Preview

'Mozart's Requiem' couldn't be resisted

By David Lyman • Enquirer contributor • March 22, 2010

There's an unwritten rule among choreographers that when you select music for a new dance, you avoid masterworks.

Adam Hougland thinks that's absurd.
"Life is short - why not use music you love," says Hougland, who Friday debuts as Cincinnati Ballet's resident choreographer with the world premiere of his "Mozart's Requiem."
"I like big music. I like great music. And I like a challenge. Mozart is all of that," Hougland says.
Indeed, the three previous pieces that he has created for the company have used well-known staples of the musical canon, works by Ralph Vaughn Williams and Beethoven and a sonata by Mozart.
But "Mozart's Requiem" is different. It is a mammoth work, one that many feel defines Mozart's career, despite the fact that no one is absolutely certain who completed it after his death.
"That's part of what I find so fascinating about it," Hougland says. "It's his most famous work. But it's also the most controversial."
Interestingly, when company artistic director Victoria Morgan first discussed the project with Hougland more than a year ago, she proposed that he use Handel's "Messiah."
"It's a popular and familiar piece of music," Morgan says. But it was, she says, just a suggestion. The most important consideration was that he try to find a full-length piece that employed both orchestra and chorus.
"In the past, our audiences have really responded to ballets that are performed to choral works. The dancers do, too. When we did 'Carmina Burana,' it was incredibly inspiring for the dancers," Morgan says.
Hougland liked the idea of using choral music. But he wasn't convinced about "Messiah." So he started exploring. About the same time, the 33-year-old choreographer was preparing to begin rehearsals for "The Rite of Spring" with the Louisville Ballet, where he is resident choreographer.
"I was listening to Stravinsky all the time and trying to figure out all these bizarre phrases and counts and dissonance," Hougland says. "So when I finally listened to the 'Requiem,' it was so lovely and straightforward in comparison that I just couldn't resist it."
But there was also a more profound consideration. For Hougland, dances have to be about something. Not that they have to be literal narrative tales like "Sleeping Beauty" or "Swan Lake." But for him, dance needs to be more than an exercise in abstraction.
"Dance is a theatrical art form," Hougland says. "It's dance. But it's theater, too. Audiences need to know what's going on. There have to be recognizable emotions and relationships on the stage. For me, there has to be a sense of a journey. Otherwise it's just nonstop dancing for an hour. So what?"
With Mozart, he found his journey. At the outset of the piece, there is an emotional darkness, inevitable in a work that is about impending death. But somewhere in the course of the hour-long work, it takes a dramatic turn.
"The music claws its way into the light," Hougland says. "I think it even becomes very joyous at certain points. In some ways, the 'Requiem' is about the journey of healing, of letting go of the fear of what is ahead. It's about accepting the inevitable and living in the moment ... and I find that very inspiring."
But it is complex and demanding dramatic territory. That's where Hougland's background with the company has been so helpful.
"There is an intimacy that develops when you get to work with same dancers over and over again," he says. "There is a bond that develops. This is the fourth time I've worked with them. So these are dancers I know."
"I can't tell you how important that is in ballet today. Choreographers, dancers, dance companies - we all have to engage with people in a way that is authentic. If the emotions are genuine and connect with audiences, then they will keep coming back to the theater again and again. And ultimately, that is what we all want."


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