Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
June 11, 2016
The Transatlantic title is justified in celebrating the inclusion of Het Nationale’s first Justin Peck ballet. However, the mainstay of the programme is the revival of David Dawson’s Overture written for the company in 2013. Amsterdam is where Dawson cut his choreographic teeth and this company, together with Dresden Semperoper, are probably the best exponents of his work.
Overture is inspired by lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets: the ‘not known’, ‘through the unknown’ and finally coming to ‘know the place for the first time’. It is a choreographic exploration of ideas that operates at the limits of endurance, pushing barriers to reach Nirvana or whatever is the dancers’ heaven.
Dawson skilfully structures the dance to Szymon Brzóska’s complex rhythms shaping the patterns and numbers, shifting the dynamics from lyrical – the women, kneeling in a line, creating calligraphy in hand patterns in the air – to the fiercest of male aerial competition. But Overture dispenses with clichéd gender divisions as each individual finds their strength.
To see Sasha Mukhamedov skid across the stage on the edge of her pointes is to see ballet driven at high speed into the twenty-first century. Ballet, where the beauty so often finds expression in poise and constraint, is let off the lead. The beauty is still there, but now constantly in motion, off-centre and edgy. The physical prowess of the dancers is eye watering; Michaela DePrince hits a classical position in the midst of an athletic leap, Edo Wijnen extends an arabesque beyond the possible and Jingjing Mao and Vito Mazzeo were simply gorgeous. The cast featured dancers from principals to first year Junior Company members, all pulling together with no visible joins.
Eno Henze’s set comprises 16 LED tubes starting in horizontal lines like neon ceiling lights and finishing vertical, replacing the dancers in neat corps de ballet lines. In between they float and fly, through many variations on themes of order and chaos matching the dance. The monochrome set finds a brilliant contrast in Yumiko Takeshima’s neon hued geometric tops, it is a ballet that fires on all artistic cylinders.
Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit is as appealing as its fluffy namesake. This young choreographer, he was only 25 when he wrote the work in 2012, has a strong NYCB pedigree and has obviously learnt from the master as the ballet is expertly structured and draws on a broad dance vocabulary. Added to this, he brings a new perspective to old routines finding interesting links between the many diverse sections, leaving endings and beginnings fluid and informal while giving plenty of opportunity for the dancers to shine.
Remi Wörtmeyer, never one to miss a trick, positively scintillates in his brief solo and together with Anna Tsygankova, who can make poetry out of a developpe, they enjoy a modern off-key duet. A gentler twosome for Erica Horwood and Jozef Varga was performed with great warmth by the pair and softened with wrapping arms. Horwood has a distinctive quality: tender, unsentimental, and appealing just right for the role. Qian Liu takes on the role of joker in the pack bursting with enthusiasm and loving Peck’s quirky humorous style. The music by Sufjan Stevens also has modern appeal and together with neat blue costumes, complete a very successful package. What’s not to like?
Ernst Meisner’s Merge was one of the delights of the evening. The coupling of Igone de Jongh, who holds the unquestionable position of leading Dutch ballerina, with the rising talent of Martin ten Kortenaar fresh from the Young Company, was always going to be interesting but Meisner made this brief duet so much more. In the structured relationship between the pair, the space between the two bodies tells at least as much as the contact does. This is Hans van Manen territory but Meisner makes it his own and finds his true voice. It’s gentler, not without its own irony, and the result makes very rewarding viewing.
The costumes, by top fashion designer, Jan Taminiau, were startlingly original. A fashion dress for De Jongh and something nearer dancewear for Ten Kortenaar but they worked surprisingly well. Ten Kortenaar was on brilliant form and de Jongh, cool and sophisticated, was perfect. It will be interesting to see how it works with a different cast.
English choreographer, George Williamson teamed up with Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy to take ballet to an industrial wasteland in Crane. The look is grey and gritty; metallic unitards, with harsh mask-like makeup adding to the alienation. After a strong opening, and possibly because of the grey smoky atmosphere, the ensemble work seemed chaotic and lacked clarity, despite interesting partnering. However, it found a stronger voice in the smaller groups of twos and threes. In a strong cast Suzanna Kaic made her mark: a powerful and dynamic dancer who is hard to miss while Jessica Xuan brought welcome warmth. It was a tough call for a young choreographer to be in this high power programme but another positive step in the learning process.