European Association for Jewish Culture 



European Association for Jewish Culture 

Spring-Summer 2002

Ghetto: a life-affirming new ballet

The premiere of Ghetto, a full length ballet performed by the Bulgarian National Ballet at the Opera House in Sofia on 16 March 2002. received a 25-minute ovation from its 800-strong audience.

The premiere of Ghetto in the Opera House in Sofia, Bulgaria

The Italian choreographer and director Mario Piazza, who had been working on the project for the previous six months, was understandably delighted. 'We have had an incredible popular and critical success here', said Piazza. 'You can only imagine how happy I am.'

The starting point for Piazza was the need to address the themes of exclusion and exile through exploration of the ghettos, real and virtual, which are born out of the fear and distrust engendered by difference; his chosen setting is a Jewish ghetto, whose time and place is deliberately unspecified.
The work mixes humour (a hallmark of this choreographer) with despairing anguish, as it shows two lovers living out their story against the teeming backdrop of the ghetto. The exuberant vitality of its inhabitants is given full rein in the build-up to the wedding, which is staged as a souvenir snapshot, the lovers transfixed and motionless, while around them the guests celebrate the wedding's significance in their communal life. Soon, the mood darkens with the sudden separation of the married lovers. The reasons are unclear, deliberately unexplained, but the audience is left with a powerful, brooding sense of the tragic events witnessed by the young bride. Once again, the mood changes and the young husband is danced out of his despair in a comic pas-de-deux with the wise old rabbi, a messenger bringing hope and renewal.

Vesa Tonova-Krustanova and Yasen Valchanov of the National ballet, Sofia

There is a happy ending, as the lovers are reunited and lives are rebuilt in defiance of all the odds. The narrative is allusive and metaphorical in keeping with its medium.

The musical score by Adriano Mordenti includes klezmer melodies and adaptation of music from Underground by Goran Bregovic, a composer of gypsy and Balkan music. The alternation of lyrical moments and fierce, liberating rhythms is an integral part of the story, providing the dancers with a vivid context for their movement, and the audience with an emotional engagement which lasts throughout.

The premiere was held under the auspices of the Israeli Ambassador in Sofia. 'It was a very emotional moment for me when the audience joined in with the mezzo-soprano Christina Angelakova in singing the Hatikva', said Mario Piazza. The ballet will remain in the repertoire of the National Ballet of Sofia, which would welcome invitations to tour in Europe. Plans are already in place for bringing Ghetto to Milan in October 2002.

'We are proud to have been a catalyst in the creation of this remarkable new ballet', said Carole Haskel, a board member of the European Association for Jewish Culture, 'and to play our part in supporting a major talent in Mario Piazza'.

Mario Piazza is a choreographer whose work has been performed by dance companies in opera houses throughout Italy. He is currently guest choreographer at the Palermo Opera House. Born in Montreal, Piazza learned modern dance at the Alvyn Alley Dance Center and the Martha Graham Dance School. Piazza has won prestigious choreography awards in Italy and abroad, including the Prix Volinine in Paris. He created choreographies for the operas Salome and Don Giovanni. Baby Doll was performed in Canada and Israel. His other choreographies including Labyrinth (music by Yas-Kaz) and Dancing With a Silent Clown - Buster Keaton received critical acclaim in Italy. After the success of Ghetto, his next production will be Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark at the Opera House in Rome.

Newsletter Home/First grants awarded for Jewish culture/
Ghetto: a life-affirming new ballet/Jingele o Maidele: a dance allegory/Personal perspectives/The Golem comes to life on a Budapest stage/Introducing the grant winners/ Calendar of performances and exhibitions/Grants for 2003