The Creation of the World from Music and Movement

The Creation of the World from Music and Movement

December 4, 2022 at the Kyrgyz National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet named after. A. Maldybaev the premiere of the ballet “Genesis” took place.

The ballet is staged to the music by the Israeli composer Baruch Berliner. His creative path is unusual and distinctive. A well-known economist, author of books and articles in the field of actuarial science, with a deep interest in mathematics, philosophy and poetry, began to compose music later in adulthood, being a person with a unique life experience. His musical compositions are closely connected with philosophical and moral concerns, as well as attempts to understand the foundations of the universe with the help of mathematical methods and religious worldview. At the origins of Baruch Berliner’s musical ideas was the musician and teacher Nachum Slutzker, who became not only the composer’s like-minded person, but also the producer of his projects.

For composer, the main text explaining the history of the universe and human origin was the biblical book of Genesis, and his main work was its musical arrangement in the symphonic poem “Genesis” for orchestra and narrator. Baruch Berliner tried to translate the unique knowledge that has come down to us in ancient texts into the language of music, and thereby get closer to solving the mystery of the origin of the world and man.

“I feel mathematics in music and music in mathematics,” the composer likes to repeat. Berliner’s compositions are intellectual by nature: he checks harmony with mathematics, and with the help of melody he tries to penetrate the sacred meaning of the biblical narrative. At the same time, his works are not an illustration of well-known stories, but rather an instrument of cognition. The original musical world of Baruch Berliner includes a combination of the sound of the orchestra and the text of the Holy Scripture, which the author himself reads in Hebrew, and in different countries the narrators read it in the native language of the audience. Thus, his works approach the pristine pieces of syncretic art, in which the word, music and dance were one.
In Berliner’s music, we feel the presence of “the higher power” that separated earth and water, light and darkness, created a man from the dust of the earth and spewed an endless stream of water against the human race, mired in sin and debauchery, but in the end achieved peace and harmony with the renewed after the flood humanity, saving it from destruction. At the same time, the composer-philosopher is concerned with the question of what are the boundaries and possibilities of human cognition of this higher power and its laws.

The symphonic poem “Genesis” does not have a final canonical version, it exists in several author’s versions, and as the process of cognition continues, the work on the composition continues too. The universal nature of this piece of music allows transforming it into various genre modifications. Thus, the orchestral work “Genesis” in collaboration with Eugeniy Atsapkin was transformed by Baruch Berliner into the format of a sympho-rock show, which premiered on July 27, 2022. The next stage in the transformation of the symphonic poem was the choreographic embodiment of the text of the sacred history.

Although the symphonic poem for narrator and orchestra was not originally intended for a ballet performance. The simplicity and clarity of the musical language, as well as its program connection with the biblical text, made it possible to easily adapt it for a ballet performance. The embodiment of the musical idea of the work, told in the dance with the language of the body, gave us the chance to see and experience the dramatic moments of biblical history in a new way on a non-verbal level and bring it closer to the modern audience.

The author of the libretto, philologist Olga Kuznetsova, adapted the biblical text and its musical interpretation for the choreographic visualization of the most ancient story. She divided the ballet according to the orchestral composition into seven parts, reflecting the key moments of the biblical story: the Creation of the world, the Creation of Adam and Eve, Life in the Garden of Eden, the Fall and the Expulsion from Paradise, Cain and Abel: the first fratricide, Noah the Righteous and the corrupted Earth, The Flood and the Token of Covenant.

Turning to the sacred text, the librettist, first of all, took out of the stage the biblical characters (God, Serpent, Cherub) from the world inaccessible to earthly vision. Nevertheless, the audience can feel their presence on the stage as the action of certain forces and prescriptions that guide the ballet characters or prevent them.

Each of the five biblical heroes: Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, received their own bright, understandable to the modern audience characters. So, Eve, in accordance with her feminine nature, is endowed with unconscious curiosity and a craving for everything new. Cain, who initially owns the whole world, does not want to share it with his younger brother, and even more so to recognize his superiority in some way. Noah is not only a righteous person who trusts the voice of higher powers, but also a person who stubbornly goes against the generally accepted standards of his fellow tribesmen who are mired in sins and depravity.

According to her plan, the corps de ballet has to transform into the original biblical images that create the background of the story: Earth and Water, Light and Darkness, the Garden of Eden and the Rainbow. They interact with the characters, creating a unified fabric of the choreographic action. Cain’s criminal thoughts about the murder of his brother are shown by the corps de ballet group of Darkness. The depraved human race, according to the scripture, is demonstrated by the Earth mired in vices. The Flood, punishing and at the same time cleansing the Earth, is depicted by the Water group.

While working on the ballet, the creators decided to abandon the reading of the biblical text on the stage, completely trusting the plasticity, where body language replaced verbal narration. The production was staged by Dmitry Pimonov (Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg), choreographer of a wide range of possibilities from musicals to ballets. For the performance “Genesis” he created his own plastic language and through-line of action, which is based on the unconscious or conscious choice of the characters between the principles of Light and Darkness. The musical decision of the biblical theme largely predetermined his approach to this work, the nature of the movement and the actions of the dancers in the ballet.

Pimonov managed to bring to life the idea of the world’s creation in plastic forms based on the synthesis of various dance styles and techniques. His choreographic palette is diverse and multidimensional: from neoclassical style to jazz dance, from free plastic to elements of Hasidic dances. The goal of the choreographer is not only to immerse the spectator in the sacred space of the ancient narrative, but also to bring the biblical character as close as possible to us in order to make the audience re-experience a well-known story and empathise with its dramatic moments.

Pimonov reveals and visualizes with the help of dance movements those inner motives hidden from view that move the characters, determine their behavior and actions. At the same time, the body of the performer in the hands of the choreographer becomes a sensitive instrument that obeys the melody and reacts to all the nuances of the musical accompanimen. Each of the characters has its own plastic image. So Adam, the first experience of a biblical creator, turned out to be aesthetically attractive, in the style of a Hollywood musical, and the choreographer-demiurge really admires his creation.

It is especially worth noting the well-coordinated, precise and subtle work of the corps de ballet, thanks to the collective efforts of which bright and beautiful images of flowing Water, crumbling, but plastic dust of the Earth, the opposing forces of Light and Darkness and the enchantingly beautiful groups of the Garden of Eden and the Rainbow appear.
Instead of traditional scenery for a ballet performance, 3D video projections were used, creating an image of the stage space as a place where the act of creation took place and where biblical characters live.

Stylish and restrained costumes, which the artist Tatyana Astakhova designed together with the choreographer, complete the ballet image of the main and corps de ballet characters. They look quite modern and transfer what is happening on the stage in our time. Trousers and vests for men and women’s outfits acquire a symbolic character because of nuances and accessories. A white shirt under Adam’s black vest turns him into a carefree handsome man enjoying a serene paradise existence, but Eve’s luxurious green dress already carries an element of temptation that will destroy this happy ignorance. The red trim on the lapels of Cain’s vest looks like an ominous bloody trail, and Noah’s snow-white shirt symbolizes the purity of his thoughts.

The ballet “Genesis” is a unique and innovative synthesis of music, choreography and 3D video art. The international project brought together the representatives of different countries and faiths to solve a common mystery, which is still unknowable, the mystery of the origin of the world and man.

The initiator of the production of the ballet “Genesis” on the stage of the Kyrgyz National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet named after. A. Maldybaev was its Director General Almazbek Istambayev. Young artists of the troupe were involved in the performance, among them: Azhar Ergeshova, Alina Mambetalieva, Aisalkyn Suyumbaev, Farukh Sadyrkulov, Nurbol Marlisov, Ruslan Alzhanov, Artur Mambetaliyev and Tilek Kiyizbaev. The ballet was conducted by Mikhail Kirchhoff, a long-term associate of the composer.

The premiere performance was warmly received by the Kyrgyz public, the performance was included in the theatre’s repertoire, and tours with this ballet around Russia and countries in Asia are planned in 2023.

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Photo by Anastasia Atsapkina