Saluting Dutch talent: Dutch National Ballet’s Gala

Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 7, 2016

Maggie Foyer

Dutch National Ballet start their season in top gear with a Gala which, this year, was threatened by overkill: not just in the glamour of the frocks and copious quantities of wine but the wealth of celebration. It was an evening to salute Dutch talent personified in ballerina Igone de Jongh, celebrating 20 years with Het, and renaissance man, Toer van Schayk who turns 80 this year. A dancer, artist and choreographer, he was part of the triumvirate with Rudi van Dantzig and Hans van Manen who left an indelible mark on Dutch dance. However, his big night is next week in the Dutch Masters programme.

Igone de Jongh’s genetic make-up is perfect ballerina DNA: from her strongly arched feet, through long, finely muscled limbs to a face of classical beauty. Hans van Manen says, “When I choreograph, I have only the music and my intuition,” and in de Jongh he found his muse, “With Hans, I’m at my best.” In the works of van Manen she defines the modern Dutch school: the wide assertive arm positions, flexed hands, thrusting hips and singular attitude. A true Dutch National Treasure (if this no-nonsense nation ascribed to such things).

Sasha Mukhamedov and Daniel Camargo in La BayaderePhoto Altin Kaftira
Sasha Mukhamedov and Daniel Camargo in La Bayadere
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The company too, accommodates the switch from classical to modern with ease. The opening fragment from van Manen’s Kammerballett, featuring de Jongh surrounded by former colleagues was followed by the Grand Pas d’Action from Natalia Makarova’s La Bayadère which returns to the repertoire later this season. Led by a vibrant Sasha Mukhamedov, a supremely confident Gamzatti and newcomer Daniel Camargo, the duplicitous Solor. There seemed some unease in the timing of the pas de deux, but he came into his own in his solo gaining tremendous height and power in the jumps. The company, especially considering they had only just returned from holidays, gave an impressive showing but I couldn’t help wishing that someone would burn the hoary old sets and costumes and give van Schayk a free hand to redesign them!

Qian Liu (right) and Young Gyu Choi in Episodes of Fragments by Tor van SchaykPhoto Altin Kaftira
Qian Liu (right) and Young Gyu Choi in Episodes of Fragments by Tor van Schayk
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A new duet from van Schayk, Episodes of Fragments, showed him still at the top of his game. His choreography is less about dance and more about what it is to be human and this was brought out in the relationship between the performers; a relationship as fractious and harmonious as we expect in our modern age. The music, Extase by Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe was played by violinist, Jeroen van der Wel and pianist, Michael Mouratch with dancers, Qian Liu and Young Gyu Choi (recently promoted to principal). A touch of rivalry between piano and violin is match by subtle gender politics between the dancers. Van der Wel’s violin cadenza brings a flirtatious repost from Liu, weaving her way between the musicians. Choi returns, somewhat miffed, and makes his presence felt with a burst of virtuosity. Refusing to rise to the bait, she tenderly snuggling his head between her elbows and they leave arm in arm throwing a departing smile to the musicians. The choreography is rich in detail and variety, challenging and expressive and the genuine warmth that radiates from this pair had the audience purring with pleasure.

The other world premiere was Remi Wörtmeyer’s Penumbra, to Serge Rachmaninov’s Andante. Again the musicians, pianist Olga Khoziainova, and cellist Artur Trajko, were on stage but this time the mood was romantic and the conversation more in the nature of pillow talk delivered in intimate whispers. The choreography is close and classical as bodies entwined in innovative shapes. It was interpreted in loving detail by Anna Ol and Arthur Shesterikov. The beauty of the work was enhanced by simple costumes of patterned silks designed by Wörtmeyer. I suspect this is a duet that is destined to be a gala favourite.

Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding in Sinatra Suite by Twyla TharpPhoto Altin Kaftira
Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding in Sinatra Suite by Twyla Tharp
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Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite, a Dutch premiere, seemed rather an odd choice on the programme but proved a good vehicle for guest principal Matthew Golding partnering Anna Tsygankova. The laid back nonchalance and easy flow gave him every chance to shine and Sinatra’s voice is always easy on the ear. Tsygankova fared better in the final pas de deux from Mata Hari partnered by Shesterikov. The couple who premiered the work, choreographed by artistic director, Ted Brandsen, last season have had the opportunity to mature into the roles and Mata Hari’s last and only true love in her short tragic life, was given the passion it deserves in a moving performance.

A complete contrast was Balanchine’s exuberant Tarantella Pas de Deux. It had the best couple ever in Michaela DePrince and Wörtmeyer. From the first entrance they kept the blistering pace proving ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ and both earning gold stars. And for sheer classical elegance there was the last act pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty performed by Ol this time partnered by Jozef Varga. The clarity of her technique is eye watering in its perfection, tiny and perfectly proportioned she is everything an Aurora should be. Varga was on top form, his partnering effortless and delivery excellent.

Michaela DePrince in Balanchine's TarantellaPhoto Altin Kaftira
Michaela DePrince in Balanchine’s Tarantella
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This was also the night that the Alexandra Radius Prize is awarded to a company dancer and this year’s winner was Arthur Shesterikov, a dancer who has delighted audiences with his understated elegance and classicism. He drew laughter from the packed audience when, after thanking the artistic staff and his partners, he remembered to thank those important people in the canteen and the even more important people in the finance department. He also announced with pride that he and his wife Maia Makhateli are expecting their first child.

On the subject of little ones, it would be churlish not to mention the students, the youngest of whom is only 9 years-old, proudly lined up in first position as the curtains open on the evening. The Grand Défilé is a chance for the audience to acknowledge the dancers, from those taking their first steps on the professional ladder, through the junior company, and up to the top ranks.

Dancers from Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company in Ernst Meisner's No Time Before TimePhoto Altin Kaftira
Dancers from Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company in Ernst Meisner’s No Time Before Time
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Ten dancers from the Junior Company were featured in No Time Before Time choreographed by the artistic co-ordinator of the group, Ernst Meisner.  A cleverly structured work, it was just the platform these aspiring dancers needed. Meisner is good at pitching the level, particularly in pas de deux, to challenge the dancers to reach professional level both physically and emotionally but this work was so much more than a serviceable vehicle for touring. The episodes are balanced to good effect, with entrances overlapping and interweaving between ensemble and individual items. Meisner is growing in confidence and becoming an established figure on the Dutch choreographic scene and the success of the venture shows in the bright talent rising in meteoric leaps through the company.

Igone de Jongh brought the evening to its climax in George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. She was at her glorious best: assured and elegant down to the finest detail and with a splendid partner in Jozef Varga. De Jongh is meantime shaping her next career as model and extremely popular TV personality.