Ballet by Richard Wherlock. Music by Dmitri Shostakovich

Recommended ages: 14 and over

The protagonist of this ballet is overcome by the urgent desire to question his thought, his feelings and his entire life. After the death of his young wife he feels compelled to test new things, to transcend society’s accepted boundaries and give in to his burning need to act upon his unfulfilled erotic fantasies.  Richard Wherlock choreographs a narrative ballet based on Thomas Mann’s autobiographically influenced novella of an artist that was written between June 1911 and July 1912 and published in the «Neue Rundschau» in October 1912. It is strongly influenced by the author’s own experiences including the Mann family’s holidays in Venice and the news of the death of the composer Gustav Mahler, whom Mann had chosen as the model for his description of the character of Aschenbach.

The ballet, in common with Mann’s «Death in Venice», shows the clash of irreconcilable opposites.  We observe Gustav Aschenbach who acts rationally and strives for perfection encounter a world of emotion that holds a magical attraction for him: death and desire, beauty and decay, sobriety and rapture are closely allied and form the matrix for the choreographic treatment of the material within which the Apollonian and Dionysian meet in dance.

The richly coloured music of Dmitri Shostakovich reflects the complexity of emotion that the protagonist experiences during his trip to Venice. Shostakovich’s multi-layered compositions also reflect the 20th century in a very special way and allow the spirit of the time and its atmosphere to be grasped and felt. The composer achieved world fame during his lifetime while being harshly criticised in his homeland. One frequently believes one can sense a subtext in his music in which the author’s personal conflict flares up and he reveals his own profundity. With its broad arc Dmitri Shostakovich’s music bears similarities to a life story, a living drama of an inner world which is both figurative in dancing terms and graphic in its imagery.  Richard Wherlock, who has already successfully choreographed his ballet «Snow White» to Shostakovich is able to use his dynamic movement vocabulary to melt the music into one while placing his protagonists on stage within powerful visual images.