Dutch National Ballet in Forsythe, Van Manen and Arqués

Muziektheater, Amsterdam
June 14, 2019

Maggie Foyer

Dutch National Ballet’s latest triple bill features two of dance’s foremost choreographers, Forsythe and Van Manen, and representing talent in the younger generation, Juanjo Arqués, a dancer with the company until 2012 and now an established choreographer. The three works draw an interesting timeline.

Also on stage at the premiere was costume and set designer, Keso Dekker to receive a royal honour for his contribution to the international reputation of Dutch dance. A collaborator on dozens of Van Manen’s works, he was awarded a knighthood in the Order of the Netherlands’ Lion.

Sasha Mukhamedov and Nathan Brhane in Pas/Parts by William ForsythePhoto Hans Gerritsen
Sasha Mukhamedov and Nathan Brhane in Pas/Parts by William Forsythe
Photo Hans Gerritsen

Forsythe has trademarked a style of ballet that rebrands the strength of the technique in modern gear. He trims fussy details, removes conventions and gives free rein to speed, stretch and contemporary protocols. His Pas/Parts reconstructed from 1999 and set on Boston Ballet in 2018, finds a happy home in Amsterdam where it’s enjoyed by sixteen superlative dancers. Devised in twenty parts, each dancer finds a special moment and, despite being non-narrative, it bristles with personality.

Anna Tsygankova’s opening solo sets the standard. Clad in Stephen Galloway’s sleek two-tone leotard, her classicism adapts perfectly to Forsythe’s modernity while adding an indefinable essence of class that is all her own. In the multiple duets and many partner swops, Nathan Brhane moves up the ranks to admirably match the commanding presence of Sasha Mukhamedov while Riho Sakamoto, whose warmth masks a formidable technique, bring a light-hearted contrast.

There is humour as Maia Makhateli and Aya Okumura, two red-hot technicians engage in one-upmanship. Young Gyu Choi soars high above the rest and Edo Wijnen, holds the stage with his dazzling skill. Thom Willems’ score is fierce and often uncomfortable as it propels the ballet along sharply defined post-modern paths working hand-in-hand with Forsythe’s cogent structure. It’s a work of endless delights that seemed to finish far too soon.

Constantine Allen and Timothy van Poucke in Kleines Requiem by Hans van ManenPhoto Hans Gerritsen
Constantine Allen and Timothy van Poucke in Kleines Requiem
by Hans van Manen
Photo Hans Gerritsen

Hans van Manen is a master of the non-verbal communications, and in Kleines Requiem each gesture adds another word to the dialogue. The work takes its cues from Henryk Górecki’s music. The beginning and close are sombre with the middle movement, a frenzied polka, introducing comic and jazzy overtones and shifting the twosomes briefly into a homogenous ensemble. But it is the relationships within the group of seven that form the nucleus of the piece.

Bordered by waterfalls of silvery strands, the dancers clad in Dekker’s customary jewel brilliance, race across the stage with Qian Liu and Artur Shesterikov making first contact. Igone de Jongh, with her exquisite shape and expressive hands, hits just the right note, walking nonchalantly on stage to fall into Shesterikov’s waiting arms. Mukhamedov and Martin ten Kortenaar add strong accents in their duet, expertly matched and communicating eloquently through movement while studiously avoiding eye contact.

Timothy van Poucke, partners both Mukhamedov and De Jongh, but it is with the ‘odd man out’ Constantine Allen in the later lyrical movement, that he pairs most successfully. He captures the vulnerability of youth in a sensitive male duet that resists Van Manen’s sharp irony in favour of something more profound. It’s an odd and intriguing work.

Dutch National Ballet in Ignite by Juanjo Arques. Photo Hans Gerritsen
Dutch National Ballet in Ignite by Juanjo Arqués
Photo Hans Gerritsen

‘Sublime’ was the word of choice for Romantic painters seeking to thrill with awesome landscapes featuring dizzying heights, deluges and disasters. Arqués was inspired by JMW Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons to create similar emotions on stage.

Fire is represented by the ensemble led by Vera Tsyganova and James Stout while Tsygankova as Water and Choi embody Air, and draw in the other elements. With Ignite, a co-production with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Arqués works confidently on a large scale, juggling the many artistic elements.

The corps of eighteen express the speed and danger of the fire, darting across the stage, forming complex shapes and vivid movement around a central pas de deux of heightened drama. The choreography is amplified in the mirrored set and effective costumes of loose cut shirts of a flame-red silk. Aya Okumura, Edo Wijnen and Joseph Massarelli form the trio, named ‘Ignition’ and they live up to their title as Arqués exploits their virtuosic skill. Choi, too lives up to his title in choreography that takes advantage of his superb elevation in moments of airborne brilliance.

Tsygankova provides a contrasting quiet presence as she bourrées serenely across the stage and into a swirling duet with Choi. As the fire reaches its intensity, she stands motionless, silhouetted and helpless against the flames. The dying of the flames is another effective moment as the flame red shirts drop to the stage and the dancers stand in sombre grey leotards before walking back into the gathering darkness.

Kate Whitley’s commissioned score is rich in orchestral colour highlighting the onstage drama and supported by Tatyana van Walsum’s décor and costumes and Bert Dalhuysen’s imaginative lighting. The three works each require different qualities from the dancers and together they highlight the strength of this top rank company.