David Dawson

Four Last Songs

World premiere : 21 September 2023
English National Ballet, Sadler’s Wells London
For more information visit www.ballet.org.uk

Choreography, concept and staging David Dawson
Music Four Last Songs, Richard Strauss
Libretto (Frühling, September, Beim Schlafengehen) Hermann Hesse
Libretto (Im Abendrot) Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
Design Eno Henze
Costume Design Yumiko Takeshima
Light Design  Bert Dalhuysen
Choreographic Assistants Raphael Coumez-Marquet
Soprano Madeleine Pierard

David Dawson takes us on a deeply moving journey with Four Last Songs. Richard Strauss’s song cycle is a musical masterpiece, often described as a poignant farewell to life. Underneath the heavens, twelve dancers unite in Dawson’s poetic style to the music’s lush, lyrical melodies, bringing with them a feeling of serenity, eternity and the sublime.

“It’s a huge piece of music – I’m probably not going to say anything about it that you don’t feel yourself.” He smiles, “I was introduced to it when I was 19. It has remained a companion piece for me throughout my life. Whenever I was feeling lost or defeated, it would be something I could turn to. For me it has an eternal message. It speaks to our humanity and beyond. I hear the elements and the wonders of nature in it. It feels like it’s something that is for-ever.”

He continues, “That’s maybe why I feel I can connect to it. It’s incredibly romantic and comes from that expressive place that I like to go to. It’s somehow very liberating to me because it talks about the passing of time, and a kind of journey to ascend. It speaks to the soul, to the spirit. And that’s very consoling in many ways. It has been a best friend, a guide. It’s helped me to feel, to understand what feelings could be and how big they are, and how they could be held or embraced.”

For Four Last Songs he says he had “always envisioned the dancers to be descending inside the dome of a cathedral, as if they were angels. I wanted to create a choreographic ruin in some way. To take away the sharp edges, the clean finish, to try and create something more unreadable, more expressive. It’s as if they are messengers, arriving to remind us about forever.”

Dawson’s profound connection to the music means that he is able to visualise something almost transcendental. “The ideas of life, of love and death, they’re huge subjects that we often avoid somehow. But it’s those ideas that I can connect to and embrace because of this music. I think in all of my ballets, I’m asking the same thing over and over. I want to create something that gives answers to the world we live in. I don’t understand cruelty, bitterness or abuse. I believe in beauty. I try to offer that to the world in the ultimate way.”

photo credit: Altin Kaftira

photo credit: Altin Kaftira