This summer, during the Year of Bergman, two important events in San Francisco gave new perspectives on the Ingmar Bergman centennial. The first of these presented a Swedish film from 2016 in which four of Sweden’s leading choreographers expressed their interpretations of Ingmar Bergman and his works. The second was an illustrated lecture and recital on Bergman’s use of classical music.

In cooperation with the Consulate General of Sweden and with a generous grant from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, Dance Film/SF presented at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center “Ingmar Bergman Through the Choreographer’s Eye.” This 51-minute film, directed and produced by Fred Stattin, demonstrated the creativity of four of Sweden’s leading choreographers: Alexander Ekman, Pär Isberg, Pontus Lidberg and Joakim Stephenson.
All the ballets were filmed during performances in a private airplane hangar on Bergman’s island home of Fårö, Sweden. Bergman’s home, called Hammar, is the namesake of the production company for this film, for which Ingmar Bergman, Jr. is executive producer together with Marie-Louise Sid-Sylwander from the Royal Swedish Ballet. All the dancers came to this beautiful island with its quiet, cold energy, to attune themselves to the spirit of the director and this place, so important to him and his films. The film was shot during two days of rehearsals and two of live performances.
All eight of the Bergman’s living children own and direct the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, which owns Hammar. The children and foundation have instituted the annual Ingmar Bergman Week, during the last week of June on the island, to commemorate their father and his work.
It was Ingmar Bergman, Jr. who thought of inviting choreographer Ekman to conceive and perform a special ballet for an earlier celebration. Unfortunately it rained and was performed aboard an island ferry. Then in 2016, they invited several other choreographers. This time, they avoided inclement weather and performed their ballets in the hangar, filmed the performances and edited the film to show at dance-film festivals around the world in time for this centennial year of Bergman.


Dance as language
The film shows the stark beauty of the island and begins with a prologue by Ingmar Bergman, pairing him as a fellow choreographer: “Throughout his films and his theatre works, one could sense his refined choreographed language – in the beautiful movement of a head, or an arm, in the blink of an eyelid – Bergman’s 'invisible hand' constantly directing the actor in a slow dance around the room.”
The first ballet was a solo performance by Alexander Ekman, an honored guest at the JCC for the panel interview. Of international repute, his works were recently performed in Australia, the Paris Opera and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. His solo was dramatic. Dressed in jeans and a sleeveless shirt displaying his physique, the film catches the dancer outside in the sunlight hoisting a rug across his shoulders. With this stretching out beyond him he approaches the hangar’s doorway, wrestles with his burden blocking his entrance until he enters sideways, whereupon he hoists and drops his load, unrolling the rug. This was somewhat symbolic: The character is confronted with a problem, seeks a solution and expresses itself.
He displayed emotions as isolation and companionship, sexual love and rejection. Then he strolled into the audience with impish playfulness that marks his creativity. And that, after all, is precisely what Bergman tried to accomplish with his films, regardless of how unusual they might be. He was always asking viewers not to merely comprehend his films but to also see how they applied to themselves and to humanity in general.
The second ballet was an unusually athletic workout by Pontus Lidberg, the choreographer himself. He rode into the hangar on a pony with an attendant walking and waiting with the animal, all part of the performance. His dismount launched him into dance, which concluded by remounting the pony and riding out into the sunlight. The ballet, which only a superbly fit dancer could perform, perhaps illustrated the great discipline and energy the director must have expended in conceiving and directing his team to perform to his demanding standards. Or the performance may have reminded us of how we placidly become involved with a Bergman character whose exertions exhaust or engage us during a film, until we are released from its spell.

Translations in dance
The third ballet’s title, Onapers, is a transposition of the film Persona, with a twinning pun that emphasizes the basic duality of this pair of dancers –although they looked nothing like Bibi and Liv in Persona’s famous bedroom scene, the dancers’ different heights emphasized the duality of their pairing, their movements as one. Of the four “acts” in this film, this one drew directly upon a specific Bergman scene.
Only two of the ballets in the film used classical music, so typical of Bergman. The second and third ballets used contemporary music composed by Stefan Levin, but the first ballet was performed to the music of Chopin; the fourth ballet, performed to a Bach sarabande, was the longest and perhaps most beautiful of all.
Descending from the wing of the lone plane in the hangar were two dancers, dressed in travel attire and looking like a young couple at the beginning of their romance. They dance their relationship with joy, tension and then reconciliation. Tentative and passionate, forlorn and ultimately joyous, they suffer the spectrum of passion in a relationship. Their longing for a child is tested, but they are carefree once again as they exit through the slit between the hangar doors and disappear into the blinding sunlight. Accompanied by Bach, they fluidly yet mutely evoked such a range of human feelings, rather as Bergman in his own films could do.

"One could sense his refined choreographed language – in the beautiful movement of a head, or an arm, in the blink of an eyelid – Bergman’s 'invisible hand' constantly directing the actor in a slow dance around the room.”

Q&A on dance
The discussion which followed the screening on the film was led by three experts: Ingmar Bergman, Jr., the son of the director by his third wife and a career airline pilot, who in retirement co-founded Hammars Drama Productions (Stockholm) to produce performing art and dance films and TV programs; Alexander Ekman, the acclaimed choreographer known for his witty and joyous choreography, music and set- and costume design; and moderator Katja Björner, who danced with the Dutch National Ballet and then the Royal Swedish Ballet until she retired in 2015. Acclaimed as Swedish “Dancer of the Year” for 2004, and recipient of several international awards and scholarships, Björner was followed for five years, from her intensive training at the Royal Swedish Ballet to international prominence, in Donya Feur’s award-winning film The Dancer (1994).
Björner began with questions for Ekman, noting that like Bergman’s own astounding fecundity and productivity of 137 theater productions (in addition to his films), this choreographer too outdistances many international rivals. But Ekman's works are distinguished by his creative wit and joy. He said that in addition to this hallmark, he believes creativity is necessarily linked to productivity. The mark of a true artist is not to be occasionally artistic. Rather, consumed by this passion, one must continually express oneself, communicating with others through your medium.
Ekman said that other than knowing of Bergman as a national icon in cinema, he didn’t understand the films he had seen as a young adult – because one needs to have experienced life as an adult and lived some, before you can reckon with Bergman. What he did notice was Bergman’s slow timing and intense focus upon characters and their reactions to circumstances. So, his study of Bergman was not one of motion as much as of emotion, with Bergman’s great emphasis upon individuals (a comment with which Bergman, Jr. agreed) and his meticulous care in staging his actors and scenes. The movement is of a different order of magnitude than in contemporary dance, where there is almost perpetual motion interrupted with brief stances. What really stood out to the dancer was that in Bergman’s films loneliness is absolute.
When Ingmar Bergman, Jr. was introduced, he explained that before marrying his mother, the cinematic icon had already fathered five children. He said he was an adult before he really knew his father, for his parents were divorced as a result of the film Summer with Monika, during which his father had a long affair with its star, Harriet Andersson.
In retrospect, he saw his father’s films as music — and indeed that is how the senior Bergman always thought of his films, as if conducting his orchestral score rather than in rehearsing a script. Bergman, Jr. remembered his father had said he needed only listen to his actors perform; he often didn’t need to see them, for their voices told him if they got the emotion in the interaction correct; if so, they would act it correctly, because of their great gifts as actors, this was all of a matter of absolute discipline with their instrument, their entire body.
Björner noted that she had previously stressed Bergman’s under-appreciated role as a writer. What was as apparent in his scriptwriting as in his directing was how personally disciplined and rigorous he was when working on any aspect of the film. Not merely was he in his element, but he also cherished this process of cinematic creation — all aspects of film making: from writing, to directing, to review and retakes, to finally editing the film.

The second interpretation and explanation of Bergman’s films relative to other art forms was the illustrated lecture and recital that Dr. Anyssa Neumann presented at the Swedish American Hall, also generously sponsored by Consul General Barbro Osher.
Neumann is a concert pianist who is also an academic expert on the film music of Bergman, having earned her doctorate in 2017 from Kings College, London, on the topic of classical music in the films of Ingmar Bergman — her topic for the evening’s entertainment.

The role of music
Most of Bergman's critics are neither musicians nor musicologists. And without that rigorous discipline, she feels many of them merely opine on his music, displaying their personal prejudices. While acknowledging his statements, she starts from the music. She is interested in how his musical choices changed and evolved. She searched for the patterns within his films and found that Bergman was an unreliable narrator (common among fiction writers), yet he was consistent upon particular themes and in the music he chose.
Throughout his life’s work in films he returns to using classical music in several ways: when the characters listen to it; when the characters are haunted by music; and when the characters perform it — which is of particular interest to Naumann.
She uncovered the basic framework of nearly all Bergman’s portrayals of performing musicians, one that belongs to the ritual of humiliation. Bergman’s memoirs document this common theme of humiliation throughout his own life. Onscreen performance rarely ends well for his characters; central to nearly every instance of Bergman’s cinematic representation of performance is an exposure of the musician before a judgmental audience. Whether amateur or professional, talented or mediocre, in public or private spaces, these musicians in the act of performance reveal their musical, physical or emotional weaknesses and thus open themselves to criticism and ridicule.
A prototypical case is the ringmaster in Sawdust and Tinsel as well as Jof in The Seventh Seal. Both are humiliated and must acquiesce publicly, so as to doubt themselves as artists and as worthy humans. They are forced to pick themselves up, somewhat disillusioned by the experience, in order to continue. They are not able to prove their own self-worth to the public. An exception to this occurs at the conclusion of The Magician, when the humiliated conjurer is publicly called upon before his tormenters to abandon the town in disgrace, only to leave them in triumph to perform by royal decree before the king, an obvious deus ex machina, a contrived device.

After a brief intermission the pianist performed half a dozen pieces (all but one of which were from Bergman films: Liszt’s Liebestraum; Schumann’s Aufschwung; a Bach Sarabande from the Goldberg Variations; Chopin’s Prelude No.2; Schubert’s Waltz in B-minor; and concluding with Dohnanyi’s Rhapsody. It was a virtuoso performance, also chronicled on a CD which she sold as a keepsake from the memorable event. Readers wishing to engage her for their own Scandinavian community events may find her information and schedule at
I found Dr. Anyssa Neumann to be as charming offstage as she is accomplished before an audience. She began playing the piano at age 3½ in Sacramento, California. While she also played other instruments in school, her moment of confidence in and commitment to the piano came at age 15 when she won her first piano competition. Thereafter she focused on getting admitted to the Manhattan School of Music’s conservatory then followed a masterful teacher to Berlin and studied there with him privately. She loved that period, for living and cultural experiences were inexpensive, but she realized more education was necessary to have a fulfilling career so she pursued a Masters degree in musicology and performance at Oxford University.
Even before all this, a fellow student a MSM had introduced her to the films of Bergman, beginning with The Silence — and from that moment she was fascinated with how the film maker used music. She felt she could write a whole paper, or even a book just on the scene of Autumn Sonata’s dueling duet between mother and daughter.
Neumann’s study in Berlin also allowed her to see many German films and familiarize herself with those from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. She was intrigued with Bergman's use of classical music as another voice in his films. And while not a huge fan of Bergman himself, she recognized she need not love him to evaluate his work and cinematic stature. Unlike some of his slavish, strident and subjective admirers, she knew her historical perspective of music allowed her to approach his work studiously. She could do so objectively. And since he died in 2007, unlike his contemporary critics, she was able to view his entire output comprehensively, with yet another decade of informed perspective.
She believes Bergman’s preference for German actors started with The Life of the Marionettes (even before exiling himself in Germany to avoid the government’s fraudulent tax case against him), because his Swedish troupe was too committed to their theatrical roots rather than to the demands of cinema. Others I have interviewed believed the contrary: that his Swedish actors were so natural on camera, indoors or outdoors, compared with U.S. film stars — because Bergman’s staging and closeups require refined cinematic skills that cannot be honed in a theater where the audience is so removed.
Neumann also considers Marionettes one of his finest films because the German actors were subtle and discreet. This film is also distinctive for his mixes of jazz, classical and film music, as well as soundtrack music (which we hear but the characters do not). By the 1960s he rejects such Hollywood-style soundtracks, though he remains enamored with jazz.

Part of the narrative
Neumann remarked that people bring their own associations to music, particularly instrumental music, since there is no text (other than possibly a title) to aid their interpretation. “The Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s Lohengrin in Bergman’s It Rains on Our Love, is used explicitly to signify the celebration of that moment in the character’s lives. Similarly, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Ninth Symphony is made to order for Bergman’s film To Joy.
As for dance in his films, two of his wives were dancers, presumably exerting a strong educational influence upon him, and one of his wives was a concert pianist, who both acted and played in several of his films, even long after their divorce. He admittedly learned much from her and was strongly influenced in his choice of music.
Neumann feels some of his choices in classical music were somewhat cliché - for both him and his audiences. However, he uses that common favoritism to his advantage. A more ambitious musical piece would likely fall on deaf ears and lose all the associations that he was angling for.
Neumann concluded with these thoughts on the function of classical music in the films of Ingmar Bergman:
… [it] demonstrates how music can be part of both the narrative fabric and the technical apparatus, functioning as structure, sound, act, presence, content, and even a kind of religious philosophy, all within the same film, [for] us as spectators to share musical experiences and musical histories with onscreen characters.

By Ted Olsson

One can arrive at a newly nuanced understanding of how music, particularly pre-existing classical music, functions in cinema by assessing the richness and significance of the role it plays in Bergman’s films.