September 11, 2018
Dutch National Ballet’s first programme of the season presented a good opportunity to assess the quality of the company as the three ballets each featured many individual roles rather than the standard corps and principals, and gave opportunities to dancers from across the ranks.
Sandwiched in the middle was Alexei Ratmansky’s Serenade after Plato’s Symposium that takes its title from Leonard Bernstein’s music, both taking their theme from the symposium: a discourse between seven Athenian philosophers on the true nature of love. The score is one of Bernstein’s most elegant, densely layered and unexpectedly lyrical.
Ratmansky is a much sought after choreographer, admired on both sides of the Atlantic. His choreographic style is distinctly balletic and, unsurprisingly, he is also renowned also for his meticulous research into and incisive reconstruction of Petipa’s ballets. He translates the philosophical complexities of the discourse into dance that is similarly dexterous. Ratmansky uses the ballet vocabulary with great fluency, using an inclusive range of jumps, turns and steps, alternating lyrical with aggressively modern, as each tries to gain supremacy in the argument.
Serenade after Plato’s Symposium offers excellent opportunities to each of the seven men: Young Gyu Choi displayed his eye watering clarity of detail, Edo Wijnen and Timothy van Poucke (a rising talent although still in the corps de ballet) showed brilliant virtuosity. Constantine Allen, the new principal, and James Stout enjoyed the more lyrical moments and shared a brief duet. Vito Mazzeo was quite outstanding even in this quality line-up, looking more like a Greek god than an Athenian philosopher.
The only woman, Igone de Jong, features as the object of desire. However, in contrast to the fluidity of the male dance, her role is sketchy. Her entrance in a narrow aperture upstage and duet with Jozef Varga, while well executed, said little. When she leaves, the men get back to business imaging the object of their desires and Varga gets a snappy solo with jazz overtones. De Jong appears again on the final note, in an ending too cute and too glib that negates much of the earlier quality: an unhappy blip in a first-rate work.
Dances at a Gathering, Jerome Robbins’ lovely ballet of well-mannered dancers indulging in frictionless flirtation delights with its depth of invention. Written in 1969 when the counter culture movement was busy overturning society, it is ripe with nostalgia for a passing age. It is also a ballet that provides the ten dancers such a wealth of dance in solos, duets and trios, each with a subtle and distinctive flavour. Anna Tsygankova is the most singular of the characters, a cool solo player, while Anna Ol and Artur Shesterikov make a blissful pairing. Nancy Burer, who only graduated from the Junior Company a few years back, matched up confidently and added youthful charm.
In a sudden shift of dynamics, the dreamy romanticism is shattered as Aya Okumura and Remi Wörtmeyer rush onto the stage like a couple of boisterous kids, joyously zapping through their duet at the speed of light after which the leisurely pace returns. I feel it would be a better ballet for an edit of ten minutes or so but with such a wealth of fine dance, it’s churlish to complain.
When, in 2006, Wayne McGregor’s Chroma arrived at the staid Royal Opera House in London the effect was seismic. And even in the more adventurous house in Amsterdam, twelve years on, the effect is earth-shattering. It is one of those perfectly pitched works where each element, choreography, music and design, comes together to create a masterpiece. McGregor is absolutely at home in this post-modern world of liminal boundaries and fluid structures knowing just when to shift the dynamics, to hold a pose or where to thrust a hyperextension. The ten dancers were on top form revelling in the edgy, hard hitting moves and shirty attitude. Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo led the pack which again had a corps de ballet dancer, Nathan Brhane, dancing alongside the principals with no slip in standards.
The New Classics was a great start to the season, a programme packed with top quality dance and the dancers on top form. Ted Brandsen has assembled an fine line-up of dancers: strong individual personalities wedded to strong versatile technique; a quality cohort of principals and still space for burgeoning talent from the corps.