Dutch National Ballet’s Ode to the Master

Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 15, 2017

Maggie Foyer

If Hans van Manen was not such a no-nonsense sort of man, I suspect he would be well on his way to sainthood with all the accolades coming his way. Dutch National Ballet’s Ode the Master programme was premiered in the presence of the King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands and offered three of his larger works, an encore of Sarcasmen, (covered in our review of the 2017-18 season-opening Gala) and a bonus, for one night only, of Alltag, a 16-minute work written for his friend, Martin Schläpfer, director of Ballet am Rhein.

Alltag, written in 2014, has a biographical flavour expressed in the qualities fundamental to Van Manen’s choreography, personal and interior but fully professional. Schläpfer is shown tussling with inner thoughts as well as operating in his professional life and working with his dancers. The language of the movements is never obscure but speaks directly to the audience; at times convoluted, at times meditative and at other times outgoing and positive; a prècis of the artist’s life.

Symphony of the Netherlands by Dutch National BalletPhoto Hans Gerritsen
Symphony of the Netherlands by Dutch National Ballet
Photo Hans Gerritsen

Symphony of the Netherlands, created in 1987 when Amsterdam was Culture Capital of Europe, is set to Louis Andriessen’s composition of the same name. Dressed in snappy costumes of cobalt blue tights with black and white squared tops, it bears all the hallmarks of a military parade replete with the dynamic energy and upbeat buzz. It does not have the depth or subtlety of his smaller works but rides on the sheer energy of the dancers with a cast drawn predominantly from the younger ranks, and feeds off their obvious enjoyment.

On the Move reflects Van Manen’s love of weaving jazz rhythms into classical works. Using Sergei Prokofiev’s playful Violin Concerto No 1, he created this exhilarating work for Nederlands Dans Theater in 1982 but Het have made it their own. The Andantino opening movement showcases Igone de Jongh and Artur Shesterikov, both classical dancers of the highest order, dancing confidently in a modern key while never compromising on their beauty. Now 85 years-old, Van Manen is still creating. While his works are instantly recognisable, he never repeats himself, always finding a new texture or tone to interpret his ideas. The boisterous Scherzo brought Qian Liu and Edo Wijnen to the fore, Wijnen with sharp focus and mercurial speed, Liu bringing a touch of tenderness to the high-speed virtuosity.  And all the while the ensemble of ten couples weave and shape around the principals in inventive variations on the intricate musical themes.

Hans van Manen's Five TangosPhoto Hans Gerritsen
Hans van Manen’s Five Tangos
Photo Hans Gerritsen

The programme closed on what is probably Van Manen’s most popular work: 5 Tangos seen in companies all over the world now back on home turf with Astor Piazzola’s music played by Sexteto Canyengue under the leadership of Carel Kraayenhof. There was a sense of anticipation in the house for this favourite ballet which dispenses with stereotypes and gets to the very essence of the music.

Each dancer finds their individuality in the flash of red in the black skirts, the swagger of hands on hips, the bold statement of a pointe stabbing the floor or the haughty épaulement but when they come together in unison the power is breathtaking. In the lead, Maia Makhateli, was a cool sophisticated presence with steely precision and a smouldering interior while Daniel Camargo blazed a fiery trail. He came into his own in his solo, Vayamos al diablo, and these few minutes alone justified his principal contract with Dutch National Ballet.

Rachel Beaujean, Van Manen’s muse and one of the original cast says that when working with the master, ‘you must have an adventure’, and it’s not over yet.