Dutch National Ballet’s Best of Balanchine

Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
April 2 & 3, 2016
Maggie Foyer

The Dutch National dancers obviously enjoy their Balanchine. They tackle the works with athleticism and precision and dance with confidence and joy. The Best of Balanchine programme was something of a step through dance history from Apollo Musagète (1928) to Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972) and a tribute to the genius partnership of choreographer and composer. Theme and Variations, his great classical tribute and the flirty pas de deux that is Tarantella rounded off the evening.

Unlike many companies, Dutch National Ballet also perform the brief prologue scene to Apollo and it is fascinating to watch how the young Balanchine (he was only 24 at the time) experimented with expressionist movement in the birth scene. However his genius lay in form and structure which becomes apparent as the quartet of muses dance with Apollo in a quartet full of leggy photo opportunities.

Sasha Mukhamedov and Artur Shesterikov in Apollon MusagetePhoto: Angela Sterling
Sasha Mukhamedov and Artur Shesterikov in Apollon Musagete
Photo: Angela Sterling

The pop-out birth of Apollo and his nifty pirouette to unwrap the swaddling bands set the self-mocking tone. However the choreography is some of Mr B’s finest. Sasha Mukhamedov has always scored on strength but her cool confident Terpsichore also allowed both charm and sensuality to shine through. The magnificent pas de deux which covers all bases, the classic, the quirky and the innovative, allows for a rich dialogue. Her Apollos, Artur Shesterikov and Jozef Varga, both elegant dancers with immaculate lines and physiques suited to god-like status, served her well with Varga adding a welcome touch of irony. The trios of muses were beautifully matched and well-rehearsed to create the iconic patterning of legs.

Tarantella is only six (exhausting) minutes long but it brings the champagne bubbles to the programme. On Saturday, Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer sparkled and fizzed in perfect unison. Two great artists shrugged off the technical challenges sharing their enjoyment with a purring audience. The following afternoon, Michaela DePrince brought her special brand of gutsy fireworks partnered with Young Gyu Choi who enjoyed playing dangerously with the rhythms. He took daring pauses then, in bursts of breakneck speed, caught up with the music, throwing in a sunny smile for good measure. Thankfully both casts moved with such speed that you barely notice the unflattering costumes.

Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer in TarantellaPhoto Angela Sterling
Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer in Tarantella
Photo Angela Sterling

Stravinsky Violin Concerto has two of Balanchine’s most intriguing duets. Mukhamedov and Wörtmeyer gave a feisty interpretation of the first aria. They spar constantly through the athletic twists and innovative partnering, their relationship tinged with sophisticated rivalry as the pair communicate obliquely. Her second performance, with Young Gyu Choi generates a rapport that is less fractious but still interesting while his laser-precision dancing is always a pleasure to watch.

The second, gentler aria was danced by Anna Ol with Shesterikov. She is the petite new principal with feet and legs that always find the perfect position. She seemed not yet comfortable in the angularity of this late Balanchine, but the gentle dialogue between the two: touching and a little equivocal was beautiful. In the other cast, Makhateli and Varga, evoked the mysterious longings in the music in sensual intertwined arms and harmonious bodies.

Maia Makhateli and Jozef Varga in Stravinsky Violin ConcertoPhoto Angela Sterling
Maia Makhateli and Jozef Varga in Stravinsky Violin Concerto
Photo Angela Sterling

The highlight of the Sunday matinee was Theme and Variations led by Makhateli and Shesterikov. For the principal couple, this ballet takes no prisoners: you are alive or dead as there is no breathing space and no comfortable preparations with each pirouette, tour or lift following on directly from the last. Makhateli took on the ballerina mantle as to the manner born. There was grandeur in the tilt of her chin, beauty in the line of her arms and brilliance in her technique. Expertly on balance, but never flaunting her skill, she sailed through each tricky variation climaxing in the pas de deux. Shesterikov matched with elegance and technical proficiency – and the male role is one of the toughest – but a touch more bravura would have been welcome.

Anna Ol in Theme and VariationsPhoto Angela Sterling
Anna Ol in Theme and Variations
Photo Angela Sterling

Ol’s cut-glass precision suits the more classical choreography of Theme and Variations. Her interpretation was delicate and whimsical than grand, but she is an enchanting dancer, never phased by the demands of the role. Varga partnered strongly, rising to the challenges in each variation with flair and style. It is so good to see male dancers who can still hack an entrechat six.

This ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s music is a something of a litmus test for the female corps who background the fireworks, a test they passed with flying colours, rehearsed to crisp excellence while managing to bring musicality and artistry to ensemble exactitude. In Stravinsky Violin Concerto where male and female are evenly matched the company spirit shines through and the final folksy movement was given a boost with Wörtmeyer’s natural sparkle.