Mr. Neumeier is a world-leading choreographer who specializes in applying traditional ballet technique and vocabulary to maximize the potential for bodily expression and capture the details of human psychology. He has gradually combined the essence of two genres, dramatic ballet and abstract ballet, thereby raising the art to a new level.
Romeo and Juliet; The Nutcracker
Mr. John Neumeier is a choreographer who uses traditional ballet techniques and vocabulary to broaden the range of bodily expression while pursuing a penetrating inquiry into human psychology. Born in 1942 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A., Mr. Neumeier studied literature and dance before joining the Stuttgart Ballet in 1963. Inspired by the creative atmosphere of that company, which served as a spearhead of the innovative theatrical dancing of the era, his talent soon blossomed. He was invited as the artistic director to the Hamburg Ballet in 1973, where he has now served for more than four decades. More recently, he has been tirelessly creating full-length works of ballet while continuing to play a leading role in the international ballet community.
Mr. Neumeier’s oeuvre can be divided into three categories: “re-interpretation of classical ballet in the modern context,” as exemplified by Illusions—like “Swan Lake”, “adaptation of literary works,” including Lady of the Camellias and “abstract ballet based on classical musical masterpieces” such as Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler. His mastery is beyond comparison in how he transforms physical virtuosity into a way of expressing internal emotions as well as in giving insightful interpretations to the original works. His creative approach is highly intellectual, as evidenced by his sophisticated mise-en-scène including lighting effects. Underlying these aspects are intense emotions involving romantic love, empathy with the ballet characters, and a deep love of humanity. It is for these reasons that the world’s leading ballet companies and dancers are so eager to add his works to their repertories. Additionally, with his deep interest in Japanese culture, Mr. Neumeier has presented a wonderful representation of Japanese sensitivity and lyricism, and the sense of seasonal changes that forms the background to such sentiments, in Seven Haiku of the Moon and Seasons—The Colors of Time, both commissioned by the Tokyo Ballet.
Since the dawn of the 20th century, the evolution of ballet has taken two divergent paths. One is that of “danced dramas,” which make a clean break from the romantic fairy tales of the 19th century and focus on more realistic human portrayals. The other is the “visualization of music,” which is closely aligned with musical constructions.
Based on a strong conviction that dance is a unique art form that can express the full spectrum of human emotion and psychology through body movements, Mr. Neumeier has combined the essences of the two genres, thereby raising the art of ballet to yet another level of sophistication. By performing his ballets, great dancers have achieved even more artistry, and their performances help bring to maturity the entire community of ballet, including the audience. His works never fail to inspire the kind of profound meditation that serves as a creative starting point among the choreographers of the next generation. Consequently, Mr. Neumeier will certainly continue to exert a major influence on the future of ballet as an art form.
For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2015 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Mr. John Neumeier.
While recounting the stations, stages, events and experiences leading to my own development as a dancer, choreographer and artist, I would like, in my honorary address, to propose a personal definition of the art of dance as the living shape of emotion. With reference to events during my childhood and adolescence—such as the early discovery of a talent for drawing and painting, while at the same time sensing an unexplainable attraction to theatre dance and an irrepressible instinct to express feelings through my own movement—I would like to recount how these diverse strands of experience led to the realization of my calling as a choreographer and ballet director.
Fragments of early education in Milwaukee Wisconsin—both in many forms of graphic arts as well as the dance lessons taken in a small ballet school—were at first separate activities. These studies, however, provided the solid basis of knowledge and technique necessary to later unite seemingly separate art forms while following a vocation. From the beginning, the urge to express the human situation as a performer on the stage was an inborn instinct. Later, during the study of English literature and Theatre arts at Marquette University in Milwaukee, the guidance of a Jesuit priest, who became my mentor, led me to that specific path, combining painting skills, literary education, spiritual conviction and dance technique which was choreography—the designing of human movement in space and time.
At first, pursuing intensely a career as a ballet dancer, my creative urge was repressed. However, quite soon during my career as a soloist with the Stuttgart Ballet, I rediscovered the need to choreograph. The sudden and unexpected opportunity not only to make ballets but to direct a company of my own dancers in Frankfurt Germany led to experiments combining the knowledge and experience of my beginnings. Freedom in creating a unique repertoire, while training a chosen group of dance artists, combining movement, design, reference to literature, as well as an awareness and personal concern for the human condition, led to the development of a specific artistic philosophy. More than my own performing, dance creation—understood as the moment when the spontaneous invention of movement, inspired by interior feelings and enabled by the discipline of a learned technique, gives shape to deep emotions—became my primary concern. In an organized, “choreographed,” human action the physical gives form to the spiritual and is communicated to witnesses who recognize some part of themselves—our own common humanity.
The strands of education, experiment and life experience have been further woven together and constantly developed during many years of creation with my Hamburg Ballet. By creating movement designed to move people, dance continuously gives living shape to human emotion.