Ghost Variations was composed by Robert Schumann in 1854, the last work he ever wrote, just prior to being committed to an asylum for insanity. Schumann believed he was being haunted by composers from the grave who were dictating the theme to him—forgetting he had already written it himself. The work was dedicated to his wife Clara, who guarded this final score and would not allow the theme and five variations to be published until finally they appeared in 1939.
This ballet to the same title weaves Robert Schumann’s “ghost” theme and two of the variations with Clara Schumann’s own piano compositions: her Andante movement from Three Romances and her Scherzo No. 2 in C Minor. The final movement of the ballet is a lieder entitled Mondnacht, written by Robert and arranged for solo piano by Clara, marking their indelible collaboration of life, love, and music.
Ghost Variations was created in August 2020 during the global pandemic. Keeping to the protocols of two pods of four dancers, donned in masks, physically distanced, and never touching (unless cohabitating), sometimes behind plexiglass, with covers on Zoom in other studios, this is a ballet created for the stage with costumes and theatrical lighting. It was my intention to create a ballet for the stage that was filmed and broadcast as opposed to making a “dance film.” Even though our only way to experience the world premiere was on a screen, now Ghost Variations seamlessly transfers to the stage for live performance as we finally gather in theaters again.
Program notes by Jessica Lang.