Friday night my wife and I joined the southbound weekend getaway traffic to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa to watch the Hamburg Ballet perform its interpretation of The Little Mermaid. American-born John Neumeier, Director and Chief Choreographer of the ballet company, in collaboration with Russian-born American musical composer Lera Auerbach created the play to commemorate the 200th birthday of the beloved children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen who was a contemporary of English author Charles Dickens.
“Having directed the Hamburg Ballet for nearly 40 years, it is a very special, nostalgic moment for me, as an American, to present two of my most important works [The Little Mermaid and Nijinsky] in the United States,” says John Neumeier, the world’s longest director of a ballet company.
Mr. Neumeier is an honorary citizen of Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city and Northern Germany’s prime maritime location and cultural hub. Neumeier is Hamburg’s most important representative, promoting the city’s outstanding cultural landscape. The start of the company’s US tour is also accompanied by Hamburg’s Senator of Culture, Prof. Barbara Kisseler: “In the year of John Neumeier’s 40th anniversary in Hamburg, I am very happy to join him and the Hamburg Ballet on a visit to his home country and to our sister city Chicago. The Hamburg Ballet performances in the Harris Theater Chicago mark a wonderful starting signal for another upcoming anniversary: in 2014 we celebrate 20 years of sister city relationship with Chicago.”
Just before the performance, my wife and I were thrilled to meet Mr. Neumeier who explained his fascinating angle to this complex romantic ballet. Unlike the animated Disney story, Mr. Neumeier focused on the darker emotional tension of the characters which he believes was closer to the original tale. Based on his research, Mr. Neumeier figured the author had a deep attraction for his best friend Edvard Collin and Hans was crushed and abandoned when Edvard got married. This was the backdrop and the beginning of this modern interpretation about unrequited love. Just as the little mermaid, who gave up everything, could never be part of the world of the prince, Hans could never be a part of Edvard’s world again. In fact, Hans, the author, played a major character who warns the mermaid not to fall in love but even his own creation had a will of her own. What a masterful concept. The dance movements were modern and expressive, the costumes were influenced by the Japanese Kabuki design, the music was haunting and the minimalist sets were stunning.
Curiosity about the origin of the play prompted me to do a little research and I found some information about John Neumeier and Hamburg.
John Neumeier has been officially appointed as cultural ambassador for Hamburg — a city that boasts Europe’s longest-standing People’s Opera, top-class museums and an exciting creative and music scene. For example, Hamburg is currently developing one of the world’s most spectacular, daring architectural projects: the Elbphilharmonie concert house in the heart of Hamburg’s port district. But not only lovers of classical music find a home here. After all, Hamburg is the place where the Beatles launched their career more than 50 years ago and where the Reeperbahn Festival every year in September celebrates Europe’s newcomers in pop music. In short, the city offers a various cultural landscape where the HAMBURG BALLET and JOHN NEUMEIER play a vital part.
Virtually anything not nailed down firmly has been traded at Hamburg’s most traditional market since 1703. From dusty porcelain coffee pots to a quacking family of live ducks, anything can be acquired down here in the shadow of the former fish auction hall. Every Sunday morning, night clubbers from the Reeperbahn, clutching fish rolls and hot coffee descend on the waterfront and hope that it will give them a second wind. For early risers, bargain hunters and tourists alike, brunching to jazz, pop or rock music in the historic building is a popular option.
Architecture in Hamburg
For over a century, Hamburg has been renowned for its bold urban planning. Such striking architectural designs as Chilehaus, dating from the 1920s, or today’s HafenCity Hamburg are setting the bar for living and working in a big city. Much has been done in recent years to make the city centre between the Alster and the port even more inviting. In the 1970s, the first spacious shopping passages were built there. Today, the new Europa-Passage and the new layout for Jungfernstieg are in the same spirit. The ambitious architectural scene in Hamburg is unique in Germany and Europe.
HafenCity: InfoCenter in the Kesselhaus
The Kesselhaus, a former boiler house, hosts a vivid exhibition on Europe’s largest urban development project. Located inside the Kesselhaus, the HafenCity InfoCenter presents an 8 x 4 meter model of the development site as well as layout drawings and informative events.
Growth of Tourism in Hamburg
Hamburg’s tourism industry has been growing since the city started staging musicals in the middle of the 1980s. Generating annual revenue of around 7.4 billion euros and 108,000 jobs, the tourist sector is one of the biggest drivers of the city. A record result of 8.95 million overnight stays was achieved in 2010, 750,000 (9.2 percent) more than in 2009. There are also around 111 million day-trippers to Hamburg – coming for an excursion, a one-day business trip or merely to go shopping. No other German city has witnessed such an increase in the number of overnight stays as Hamburg – up 88 percent since 2001. On a European scale, this puts Hamburg in 11th place in the city destination ranking, behind Amsterdam and ahead of Dublin.
One day my wife and I hope to join the record tourist members and visit this fabled home of John Neumeier. The modern lifestyle and architecture of this port town is a far cry from its humble origins around 1835 when a depressed Hans Christian Andersen penned his story of woe.