“The spirit of freedom”
Choreographer Martin Schläpfer about Gustav Mahler

Discovering a composer is something you always have to do for yourself. It is a process which can take years, especially with someone like Gustav Mahler, whose music I know very well or at least have listened to very intensely in phases. I was a great lover of Mahler for a while – then I forgot him for years. As a dancer I did not encounter him very often. Heinz Spoerli choreographed me in my first lead in “Wendung” to the “Rückert Lieder”. That was during the1978/79 season. One or two years later he reworked a longer solo for me for an appearance at the Old Vic in London: “Do not look at my songs” and “I breathed a gentle fragrance”. Then at the end of my dancing career I was able to dance the part of Rudolf Nureyev in Maurice Béjart’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” in a revival by Jorge Donn. That was 1989. In the Seventies and Eighties it was very fashionable to wallow in the music not only of Mahler but also Richard Strauss and Benjamin Britten – at least among my friends at the time. However, I didn’t know the 7th Symphony then. When I did happen to come across it listening to the radio a few years ago I was thoroughly moved by it. A genuine Mahler and yet a different one from the one I know seemed to stand before me in this music. Sometimes the sound seems to be coming from a fairy tale a long way off, for example in the fourth movement – and then it’s entirely present again but without telling us “This is how we compose now!” This spirit of freedom is something very special. When you work with a piece of music as a choreographer, that is a chance to dig deep down inside it and ultimately to really experience what kind of artist someone was, how independently he worked and how unique he is. The more I listen to the Seventh, the crazier it gets. Mahler’s music releases things in my own choreography which I did not believe I had in me.

© Ballett am Rhein Düsseldorf Duisburg. Program booklet – b.17.
Season 2013/14, Düsseldorf, October 2013.
Colorado MahlerFest XXIX – Reprinted by permission.