Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
February 11 & 12, 2017
Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National Ballet, is a master of logistics. Over this weekend, he fielded a conference, Positioning Ballet, which attracted around 30 international directors and a host of movers and shakers from the dance world. If this wasn’t enough, the company hosted two programmes of new and revived works, eight in all, and all ‘Made in Amsterdam’ as the title implies.
David Dawson, who cut his choreographic teeth in Amsterdam and is now Artistic Associate with the company, offered a world premiere. Citizen Nowhere is, in his words, a portrait about being human and a vehicle for his muse, Edo Wijnen. It also expresses his sorrow at Britain’s decision to separate from Europe, and the global shift to exclusion. In this short work, just one dancer and 23 minutes, he gives physicality to the philosophy of Antoine de Saint-Exupery author of The Little Prince in a minimal work of crystalline beauty. Wijnen’s solitary figure is dwarfed by Eno Henze’s projections on the two angled screens. Intergalactic worlds are born as neat rows of letters morph into murmurations, swirling at a giddy pace filling the emptiness with aspirations and yearnings. Snippets of texts are flashed up, ‘one only sees with the heart’, is particularly memorable.
Edo Wijnen, a young and charismatic dancer, succeeds magnificently in holding the stage for the duration. He runs with a passion that burns up the stage and his arms carve the air in Dawson’s distinctive hyperextended lines. He briefly shares the space with a video projection of Sasha Mukhamedov, dressed in red and providing a strong presence at times close up and solo, at other times her image fractured into an entire corps of dancers.
Szymon Brzóska has delivered another memorable score. He allows his imagine to run free with sounds as silvery and ethereal as a distant galaxy or providing an earthly contrast with pulsing dynamics. The perfectly timed finish comes with a blackout mid-jeté and an epilogue of Wijnen projected in close focus.
After his recent full evening ballets, Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet and Tristan and Isolde for Dresden Semperoper, Dawson has found new inspiration in simplicity and in the skilful collaboration of artistic elements: choreography, design and sounds, to create a work that delights the eye, the ear and also the soul.
The other two premieres, were by upcoming house choreographers. Juanjo Arqués’ Homo Ludens, (Playing Man), to Marc-André Dalbavie’s flute concerto, is a short thrilling work of light, colour and movement. The flute playing of Sarah Ouakrat, who is tantalisingly placed between stage and pit, sets the pace. It is picked up by Young Gyu Choi, an artist whose brilliance and accuracy is tempered by a stress-free style that makes his dancing so immensely pleasurable to watch.
His opening salvo replicates the versatility and speed of the flautist’s notes as he sets the game in motion. Five couples complete the ensemble, the men arriving on swings that arc across the stage creating another element in Arqués uncluttered stage design of screens to reflect the vibrant changing colours of Bert Dalhuysen’s lighting design.
The game is played out by competing dancers orchestrated by Choi who brings the work to a close with a commanding gesture to Ouakrat. But before we get there, Arqués creates a number of pas de deux. Suzanna Kaic, always a powerful player, is partnered by Vito Mazzeo, while Michaela DePrince and James Stout scored with an equally exciting duo. The choreography is innovative, tough, contemporary ballet, keenly structuring the elements of dance, design and music. The winners and losers in this game of chance may be ambiguous, but the work is definitely a winner.
Ernst Meisner, Artistic Coordinator of the Junior Company, has shown a particular talent for drawing out the best in young dancers however in, In Transit his newest creation, the focal duet is danced by top principals, Igone de Jongh and Daniel Camargo. It is a harmonious pairing, where a touch initiates intimacy giving the work its gentle heart. Joey Roukens’ music, from which the work takes its name, is pushy and pulsating driving a busy flow of dancers who constantly traverse the stage. Their brief encounters imitate the rushed meetings of modern life. While these short duets work well, the ensemble choreography is less successful needing firmer structure to give the chaos artistic shape. However, the performances were first rate, the younger dancers fitting in seamlessly beside their more seasoned colleagues.
Tom Simon’s Romance, made in 2014, returns with Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair newly cast alongside the porcelain perfect Erica Horwood. Set to the second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D-minor and dressed in pastel tones, this could so easily have become a sugary bonbon but not with Ton Simon at the helm. Conventions in staging dance are reinvented as the work opens with close-up videos of each dancer’s face, eyes expectant and a little apprehensive, and at the close the camera returns to catch the dancers now visibly tired but exhilarated after their performance. The duet itself is an essay in simplicity, the dancers savouring each movement and the lengthy pauses between. They work closely, intimately and sensitively but without overt emotion leaving an elusive and pleasurable aftertaste.
Another welcome repeat was Krzysztof Pastor’s Moving Rooms. Written for the company in 2008, it has proved one of his most successful works: a vigorous conversation between movement and light to music by Alfred Schnittke and Henryk Górecki. Pastor shapes classically trained bodies in edgy modernity characteristic of the Dutch School. The dancers are outstanding, each fully engaged and dancing with passion: Vito Mazzeo takes the central role while Sasha Mukhamedov and James Stout in the boldest of the duets contrasted with Emanouela Merdjanova and Clemens Fröhlich in the more organic pas de deux. It is a tightly structured work, where the energy never slacks driving to a dynamic close.
Amidst all the modernity, Alexei Ratmansky’s Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher harks back to a romantic era. It is a lightweight dalliance of switching affections and changing partners to an appealing but rarely used score by Tchaikovsky. However, despite excellent performances from the four principals it seemed a little out of place. Christopher Wheeldon’s Concerto Concordia fared better. Using Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra he creates a classical work with a mid-Atlantic flavour. It has two distinct moods: the lyrical beauty of the central duet, here danced with distinction by Anna Ol and Jozef Varga and a coquettish duo for Nadia Yanowsky and Remi Wörtmeyer. Wheeldon has created a dazzling role for Wörtmeyer who grasps his opportunity with glee in an eye-watering display of virtuosity.
In the midst of so much quality choreography, Hans van Manen’s Frank Bridge Variations still stands tall. The style is immediately recognisable, the structure impeccable but it is always the relationships between the dancers that hold the attention and create the lasting memories.
The gritty, resinous edge to Benjamin Britten’s strings are reflected in dance devoid of all false sentiment. Even the gentler of the duets, danced by Qian Liu with Wörtmeyer, has an independent air despite the warmth in the partnership. Igone de Jongh is always at home in a Van Manen work and cuts a magnificent figure while Daniel Camargo shows his command of the style in assertive solos and in the eloquent duet where every look and touch is ripe with meaning. Keso Dekker’s designs of descending screens in muted colours are just the right hue and well matched by costumes that offer style with simplicity to package a true masterwork.
Dance heritage was one of the subjects under discussion this weekend. Dutch National Ballet, younger than many of Europe’s companies, is in the process of forging its own exciting heritage based on home grown talents, notably Hans van Manen. This, combined with the nurturing of classic and neo-classic ballets makes the company one of the most exciting on the international scene.