Shadows by Dutch National Ballet

Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 13, 2022

Dutch National Ballet renamed their triple bill from Celebrations to Shadows to better capture the mood of the times. The three works were themed on war, hope and power. The earliest, Kurt Jooss’ ballet The Green Table of 1932, is as perennial as war itself. The nature of conflict changes, but the cast of characters: soldiers, refugees and profiteers, remains the same all overshadowed by the towering figure of Death. The work is both pared down and potent, each movement full of meaning and each gesture eloquent.

Jeanette Vondersaar, a former principal dancer with Dutch National Ballet, is the current custodian and mounted the work with devotion to detail while the dancers gave performances of technical excellence, adding fire with their emotional intent.

Giorgi Potskhishvili and Qian Liu in The Green Table by Kurt Jooss
Photo Michael Schnater

The opening tableau of black suited politicians is given clear definition in pompous gestures that, like F. A. Cohen’s music, border on the comic. These arguing politicians who start the war are the same who return to the green table to close the work, repeating the same pretentious phrases. Jooss’ insight on human nature is impeccable. Cohen’s music expertly crafted to the mood and shape of the piece, is bold and strident, with relief coming in brief lyrical moments. It was a bonus to hear it played by company and concert pianists Olga Khoziainova and Mikhail Murach who combine artistry and theatricality.

Giorgi Potskhishvili, as Death, is the heavy weight centre, dominant and brooding, contrasting the fragility of Qian Liu as the Young Girl. Anna Tsygankova, as the Woman, strong and intensely human and Edo Wijnin as the Profiteer, light-fingered, devious and frighteningly entertaining stood out in an exceptional cast. This is a work that needs to be constantly revived and revisited.

Anna Ol and Timothy van Poucke in Yugen by Wayne McGregor
Photo Michael Schnater

Wayne McGregor’s Yugen (Japanese for ‘sublime beauty’) is a suitable title, especially when you have a cast of superb quality. Among the ten top dancers, Anna Ol, Artur Sheshterikov, Timothy van Poucke and Edo Wijnen were outstanding. The work has McGregor’s typically complex, layered structure, but here the dynamics are gentler, the movements more lyrical.

Leonard Bernstein’s music, Chichester Psalms, combines the gravity of Biblical texts with a fierce modern drive that perfectly complements the pared down ballet technique. The purity of the duets of Ol and Shesterikov seems to pause the ephemeral nature of dance, etching the beauty in the memory. The grist to the mill is the inner turmoil notably in the male solos and duets, contrasting the sweetness, with the trauma gently calmed by the women. The setting of geometric shapes contrasts the flow of the costumes in warm brick shades to complete the timeless ambiance.

Victor Caixeta, Jakob Feyferlik and Chloë Reveillon
in Regnum by Milena Sidorova
Photo Michael Schnater

Regnum by young creative artist, Milena Sidorova is her second work for the company’s regular programme and is challenged by the presence of the two monumental works. Her theme is power, symbolised by lengths of rope. This clarified the narrative line, but the visibility of ropes ensnaring victims became something of a game and strangely negated the menace of dominant power.

Sidorova has choreographed exciting ensemble moments that the dancers take full advantage of and there is no doubting her talent in shaping movement. Mozart’s youthful Symphony No. 25 is a joyful companion offering a wealth of melodic variety to match the choreographic diversity. However, the task of weaving a concept like power into physical expression was more difficult. To fulfil the darker theme that Sidorova suggests, the piece needs a strong dose of satire or menace which is not to be found in the music or the choreography. I kept feeling that if she had chosen the power of love and angled her theme to the incongruity in the aim of Cupid’s little arrows there is a witty ballet awaiting a rebirth.