Deutsche Oper am Rhein

A simple piece

This performance is no longer viewable as video-on-demand for rights reasons but other material about the production is still available.

Perpetually moving amidst the dancers on meticulously mapped out paths, a filmmaker focuses sometimes on solos, sometimes on group structures. As if out of nowhere, double the number of dancers filling the stage only to disappear at the next shot, moving with the greatest of ease between illusion and reality.

In an electrifying 30-minute choreography for sixteen dancers, Deutsche Oper am Rhein’s new ballet director Demis Volpi created A simple piece to the highly inventive vocal composition ‘Partita for 8 voices’ by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. Shot by filmmaker Ralph Goertz in a single take, the camera - and the viewer - magically become part of the ensemble on stage.


Ballett am Rhein:
Demis Volpi
Choreographic Assistant
Brent Parolin
Caroline Shaw
Carola Volles
Volker Weinhart
Carmen Kovacs
Ralph Goertz



TRAILER | A SIMPLE PIECE – Deutsche Oper am Rhein

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Behind the scenes

Ralph Goertz (filmmaker) & Demis Volpi (choreographer)

The ballet director and chief choreographer of Ballet am Rhein Demis Volpi and the filmmaker Ralph Goertz have thought long and hard about how to create a singular dance experience for the medium film. Not shying away from reworking the entire choreography of A simple piece for the recording, the camera becomes an organic part of the ensemble and takes the viewer on a unique journey.

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The story

During several days of rehearsals, the director and chief choreographer of the Ballett am Rhein Demis Volpi and the filmmaker Ralph Goertz joined forces with ballet master Brent Parolin and sixteen dancers of the Ballett am Rhein to develop an independent version of A simple piece. In it, the filmmaker moves permanently between the dancers along meticulously worked-out paths, sometimes focusing on solos, sometimes on group structures. With his camera, he magically penetrates the stage space subtly lit by Volker Weinhart and makes the deserted auditorium of the Düsseldorf Opera House aesthetically tangible.

As a special dramaturgical feature, A simple piece is shot with only one camera as a so-called one take. This means that the audience experiences the choreography through the lens of the camera in one go, without cuts or interruptions. This creates an intense film experience that suggests being live on stage.


The detail of the pattern is movement

On the choreography by Demis Volpi

Inspired by the a cappella piece ‘Partita for 8 Voices’ by the composer Caroline Shaw, Demis Volpi has created a choreography for eight dancers, which premiered on 15 October 2020 at the Düsseldorf Opera House. For the film version, Demis Volpi and the Düsseldorf filmmaker Ralph Goertz redeveloped the choreography for 16 dancers and camera during the lockdown, which began shortly after the premiere. Both artists were guided by the idea of creating a dance experience that would not have existed without the added medium of film. Simply filming the piece from the audience's perspective was therefore not an option.

A simple piece has not become a simple piece at all, but a strongly conceptual and deliberate work, behind which lies an almost mathematical system and many weeks of rehearsal. Although counting the counts is a constant companion of every rehearsal, it is particularly present here, even imperative. Demis Volpi does not only pursue the immediate emotional impressions of the music, but also aligns himself with certain musical structural principles and choreographs to a large extent with the score in hand.

In this precise work, which requires a great deal of communication between choreographer, dancers and ballet master, each quality of movement must be sought and found individually. Little by little, a pool of movement patterns emerges - material that is thought through and processed, resulting in strictly formally composed movement sequences that are linked together. A movement or gesture is broken up into counts and moves through the group like a current. In this way, the body is reflected back on itself through the singularisation of the movement and broken down into its individual parts - almost a sculptural or anatomical approach - and at the same time a powerful pull arises within the group that creates community.

‘The detail of the pattern is movement’ says a line in the score taken from a poem by T.S. Eliot, which reads like a credo. In the choreography, this animated relationship between detail and structure emerges through repetition and displacement. A ‘pattern’ that can only be fully perceived from a distance. In the Allemande, the first movement, the canon-like system is introduced as the individual steps and gestures are transported through the group - like a wind moving through the grasses, setting one after the other in vibration. This principle works well with the many fast and small-meshed movements, which are looped in a comic-like manner, while a long held arabesque is made more powerful by a synchronised moment.

Each of the four movements has its movement material. For example, while the first movement focuses on the upper body, arms and hands, in the third movement we see knees, hips, tendus (stretched legs), rond de jambes. (circular leg movements).  The musical breathing of the music is not physically mimed or doubled, but contrasted by a strict academic movement of the legs. The impression is of almost mechanical work - an association reinforced by the costumes. However, the stiff and heavy materiality of the high trousers and coarse pockets is contrasted by the visible seams and fine, net-like powdery tops. Carola Volles has created something between workers' clothing and high fashion for the dancers, inspired by Peter Lindbergh's black and white fashion photographs in the industrial setting of the Ruhr.