Live Stream from Opera House, Amsterdam
December 19, 2020
Amsterdam has long been my Christmas destination, so viewing the live stream of the Dutch National Ballet’s Christmas Gala brought both the pleasure of seeing the dancers in action as well as the pain of separation. The company were in fine form, faces glowing with happiness at being on stage again, the Ballet Orchestra under leader Matthew Rowe were raring to go but the shock of the bows, taken in total silence to an empty auditorium, was like a douse of cold water. It hit home the chaos this pandemic has inflicted on live theatre.
Artistic Director, Ted Brandsen presented a well-balanced programme that gave both the ensemble and soloists their chance to dance. He introduced two world premieres, a handful of ballet gems and, naturally, closed on excerpts from The Nutcracker & The Mouse King.
Associate Artist, David Dawson, working by Zoom from Berlin created Metamorphosis 1, to music by Philip Glass. The mood is quiet and intense, two dancers simply dressed in white enter at opposite corners of a darkened stage, coming together to work through a complex relationship in finely crafted choreography. Anchored in the entwined contact of bodies, the contrast comes in high swept lifts and is recharged as the dancers run in free circular patterns before returning to a close embrace. Anna Ol and James Stout plumb the emotional depths to express their feeling in the technical extremes that Dawson’s work demands. Like a deep dark pool, it offers reflection that linger long after.
Newly appointed Young Creative Associate, Wubkje Kuindersma, created the second premiere, Echoes of Tomorrow, a neo-classical duet on a theme of shared memories. Kuindersma has a gift for crafting images of lyrical beauty and movement that flows seamlessly. It is an expression of inner thoughts, subtle subtexts visualised in restrained colours and elegant silhouettes, interpreted with sensitive insight by Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke.
Hans van Manen’s Solo is always a treat. The three male solos coordinate like a relay race, the furious pace set by J.S.Bach. The speed never slackens as the baton passes from one virtuoso soloist to the next before finishing in an insouciant line up of the trio, all winners. It’s a joyous display of competitive brilliance by three contrasting personalities Remi Wörtmeyer, Sho Yamada and Daniel Silva. A further splash of technical bravura came from Artur Shesterikov in the short male solo from Van Manen’s 5 Tangos.
Rudi van Dantzig’s Romeo and Juliet is part of Dutch ballet’s DNA, and Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko gave their all in a searing Balcony Pas de Deux. Into the twenty-first century and the stripped back modernity of Wayne McGregor’s Chroma duet was given a fierce interpretation by Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo while Anna Tsygankova and Costa Allen savoured the beauty of Maurice Ravel’s music in Christopher Wheeldon’s gentle Duet created for the company in 2012.
For sheer technical perfection, Jessica Xuan and Jacob Feyferlik’s performance in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique would be hard to match. Like a dressage course the work is full of challenges which the pair mastered with breath-taking ease. Beautifully proportioned and matched, they add distinctive clarity to each classical line. It’s been a long time since I have seen such precision in batterie as Feyferlik brought to his entrechats and brisés. Xuan sailed through the killer diagonal of relevés in her solo then moved up a notch with a faultless series of turns in the coda. It was a textbook showing delivered with great charm.
Also outstanding was the final pas de deux from John Cranko’s Onegin. Dramatic scenes extracted out of context are difficult enough in normal times but the intensity of this performance, to an empty auditorium was a credit to Anna Ol and Jozef Varga. The urgency of Cranko’s choreography with its despairing lifts and throws encapsulates the high passion as the dancers entered fully into the complexity of the characters making the moment alive and real.
Who Cares? is a proven favourite, blending Balanchine’s cool classicism with Broadway pizzazz as the master’s musical genius syncopates the batterie and brings swing to ports de bras. The company were in their element led by Martin ten Kortenaar, suave and sophisticated with a trio of ladies. In Gershwin’s iconic ‘The Man I Love’, Jessica Xuan, lyrical and lovely, brings heart to classical form and Ten Kortenaar eagerly responds. Riho Sakamoto in scarlet tunic, delivers a virtuoso solo followed by Nina Tonoli’s sassy sophisticate and concluding with Ten Kortenaar’s ‘Liza’. It’s ballet enjoying a night on the town, wrapping up in true Broadway tradition with a vibrant chorus number.
Ted Brandsen’s, Classical Symphony, provides a vehicle for the company’s excellent male dancers. With a cast of twenty-five it gives the male cohort an opportunity to display the full range of their ballet technique. Beautifully rehearsed, with clean lines and synchronised movement, it is a satisfying and rewarding work.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without The Nutcracker and the female dancers had their turn to shine in the Snowflakes. Toer van Schayk ‘s rich costumes and set enhanced the folklore dances culminating in the Grand Pas performed by Maia Makhateli and Young Gyu Choi. It is one of Tchaikovsky’s most beautiful and Makhateli was in true ballerina mould well matched by Gyu Choi. Their confidence and joy are infectious, and the sparkling finale lifted spirits in the run-up to a very odd Christmas.
Dutch National Ballet’s Christmas Gala is being streamed again on December 27, 2020 at 11am (UK). Visit www.operaballet.nl for details and tickets.