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CHIEN Wen-pin on Choreographer Martin SCHLÄPFER and 7

CHIEN Wen-pin on Choreographer Martin SCHLÄPFER and 7

For the audience of Taiwan, the combination of ballet and the music of Gustav MAHLER is indeed a novel concept. Although SCHLÄPFER is not the first to create ballet pieces set to the works of MAHLER, from the perspective of his old comrade at Oper am Rhein, CHIEN Wen-pin is eager for the audience to witness how SCHLÄPFER connects the work with social issues and expresses the concerns of the human soul.
A Choreographer with a Good Ear for Music
 “Of all the choreographers that I have met, Martin SCHLÄPFER and LIN Hwai-min have the best ear for music”, said CHIEN. Both SCHLÄPFER and LIN Hwai-min claim that they cannot read sheet music, but when they hear music, they can instantly grasp the context and development of the melody, and even predict the next note. “Geniuses!”

In 2002, CHIEN Wen-pin and National Symphony Orchestra collaborated in presenting Tosca with LIN Hwai-min as the director; that was the first time CHIEN witnessed LIN’s outstanding perceptiveness towards the emotion and tension in music. In 2012, CHIEN observed this similar ability in Martin SCHLÄPFER when working with Ballett am Rhein. Together, CHIEN and SCHLÄPFER adapted the classical works of Johannes BRAHMS, Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART, Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI, and Gustav MAHLER. SCHLÄPFER’s instinct towards orchestral interpretation presented itself every time they were choosing between different performance editions, allowing the music and dance to work seamlessly together.

“He is very open-minded when choreographing and believes everyone has different qualities, which is why he never demands that every dancer should leap to the same height or that the postures should be neat and identical. He does, however, request that the dancers should experience and respond to the music. He is always irritated if anyone tries rigidly memorizing the dance moves!” CHIEN said.
On Combining MAHLER with Ballet
CHIEN laughed as he commented that MAHLER was a composer who also conducted and worked as an artistic director. MAHLER’s works “have a clear sense of what the conductor should do.” The works of MAHLER are popular among conductors and challenge the limits of musical instruments, providing great satisfaction with each performance.
Of all MAHLER’s symphonies, Symphony No. 7 is less known. “MAHLER is known as the ‘Composer of the final movement’, which refers to the fact that all of the best qualities in a piece are gathered and concentrated in the final movement.” CHIEN Wen-pin states that Symphony No. 7 is different in that the first movement is the most exciting, creating a sort of “imbalance,” which is why many conductors shy away from this piece for fear that they would not be able to balance the work.  

However, CHIEN Wen-pin believes that the addition of ballet creates balance for the entire piece. As the weight of the music becomes lighter towards the end of the work, the ballet on stage compensates for the vacuum of emotions and provides a new perspective for appreciation. This collaboration also gave birth to new insight and possibilities, allowing a refreshing performance for when 7 is showcased individually in the future.


Photo:Martin SCHLÄPFER

The Collaboration between Choreographer and Conductor
Compared with Taiwanese dance companies, which often use recorded music during performances, dance companies in Europe prefer live orchestral performances. SCHLÄPFER has always had high standards towards music and conductors. Despite having worked together for many years, CHIEN and SCHLÄPFER still went through an adjustment period. Sometimes their different opinions on issues lead to ideas being rejected.

“Our collaboration process often goes like this: selecting the music version, seeing the dance rehearsal, discussion on weaving music and dance together, then orchestra rehearsal, and finally, the performance.” CHIEN mentions that for instance, his would suggest versions from his perspective, which often times come from his collection of mostly recordings done before the 1960s, less than 1/5 of his collection comprise of recordings after the seventies. CHIEN’s suggestions on music were often rejected by SCHLÄPFER, “My dance is often intensely emotional, the acoustics are extremely important. Theses analog recordings cannot suffice.”

CHIEN Wen-pin has something to say about the requests on “emotional expression”. It was precisely because of SCHLÄPFER’s remarkable ear for music that he is able to notice the subtle noise of the recordings, such as the crisp chime of the triangle or the sound of the double bass. SCHLÄPFER would say with joy: “Yes! This sound is what I’m looking for to match the emotions and moves of the dancers!” CHIEN Wen-pin would then have to explain to SCHLÄPFER that the sound of the triangle and double bass would be much weaker during the live performance, completely different from what he heard on speaker.

CHIEN Wen-pin observed that SCHLÄPFER is always searching for music that allows him to fully immerse into his work when choreographing. SCHLÄPFER does not require concrete narrative structures and instead focuses on the daily strive of modern people. This unique quality gives CHIEN Wen-pin a refreshing feeling every time he is conducting.
“Some people explore themselves in the creative process; others use it as a form of expression. SCHLÄPFER is apparently the latter.” CHIEN Wen-pin recommends that audiences arrive at the performance without too much previous research and open the senses to experience how SCHLÄPFER uses dance to convey his thoughts. With help from the music, audiences may be pleasantly surprised.

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