Biting Baroque: Nico and the Navigators in Berlin's Zionskirche

What does the Protestant humility of Bach have to do with secularised modernity? The theatre company Nico and the Navigators look into in this question in their staged concert “Cantatatanz”. The Navigators do not shy away from a rather audacious face-off with the venerable maestro: contrasted with the merry dance music of his contemporary Marais, played on the viola da gamba (Jakob David Rattinger), the titan of baroque looks to be stilted and out-dated. But thanks to a large pepper mill and all the fun of dancing and performing, the Navigators add a good pinch of piquancy to the heavy fare.

"Nico and the Navigators" delve into the classic Bach repertoire with wit and panache. The Berlin-based theatre ensemble have created a staged concert in the style of a baroque pasticcio: director Nicola Hümpel turns popular arias and instrumental works of the saint of the festival into spellbinding images. Oliver Proske's stage, which is filled with church pews functioning as mobile pieces of the stage scenery, intensifies the special atmosphere of the sacred building, allowing the original historical context of the Bach cantatas to come to the fore and initiating a precise reading of the text.

The director also draws many a lighter moment out of this tribute to Bach, caricaturing for example the pianist's severe tutor and the vocal exercises adopted by singers. The metaphorical images, slapstick and farce mean the production has a twinkle in its eye that lends this staged concert an enormous vitality. In this way Hümpel is able to illuminate different facets of Bach's oeuvre and develop an exciting concert-drama in which the on-stage action grips the audience without ever detracting from the musical quality. With her striking facial expressions and a captivating physical expressiveness, Yui Kawaguchi lends the production a playful freshness. The stylised lighting illuminates singers who perform the arias convincingly, beautifully interpreting the emotions and showing a flair for a quite charming dissonance. Terry Wey pleads with intensity in "Have mercy, my God", as the baroque violinists intone sighs on their instruments – this production manifests a profound understanding of Bach and the courage to take on an unconventional approach.


Nantke Garrelts, 25.06.2011


© 2011-2018 Nico and the Navigators