Dutch National Ballet celebrates Hans van Manen

Hans van Manen Festival, programme 1
Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
June 8, 2022

The opening programme of the Festival to celebrate the life and works of Hans van Manen, now coming up to his 90th birthday, featured works from 1965 to 2005 with each standing the test of time.

Grosse Fuge, his most performed work, startled the dance world 50 years ago and remains impressive today. The boldness of the performers, an equal gender balance in numbers and spirit, aligns perfectly with the power of Beethoven’s score while the costumes, also by Van Manen, bare chests and wide black trousers for the men and white body tights for the women, are timeless. There is no off-task moment. Even when standing still each dancer is acutely aware of the others, like snakes waiting to strike. There are the moments of antagonism but tempered by cooperation, a quirky section of counterbalance jumps but also rock-solid amazingly good choreography danced by an excellent team. Van Manen is unerring in his judgement.

Remi Wörtmeyer and Qian Liu in Frank Bridge Variations
Photo Alex Gouliaev

Frank Bridge Variations to Benjamin Britten’s eponymous score shows Van Manen returning to Het Nationale and devising relationships that are more mellow, sometimes ambiguous but always intriguing. The entrances and exits tell their own stories. Qian Liu and Remi Wörtmeyer share a rather fractious duet. She walks away from him, stopping short of the wings. Wörtmeyer perfunctorily carries her off, returning to the stage to dance a scintillating solo before strolling off casually. Spoiler: there is a hug and make-up coming later.

There are deep, dark undercurrents swirling between Olga Smirnova and Constantine Allen. They circle warily before making contact in a duet which is all about subtext. Smirnova almost leaves but walks back where Allen’s arm finds and encircles her. It’s a beautiful moment and when they finally leave it is together but with space between.

Sarcasmen, created in 1981 for Rachel Beaujean and Clint Farha requires two very distinct personalities and in Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke it found them. It’s a short ballet where every move packs a message and begs an answer. Van Poucke is the exhibitionist demanding ‘look at me’ while Leverashvili, totally self-contained and wickedly playful, morphs from a dying swan to a pelvic thrust in a split second then up to a promenade on pointe with a flexed foot curled around the other. Mikhail Murach, fiercely delivering Prokofiev’s music is the essential other and a real treat.

Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke in Sarcasmen
Photo Alex Gouliaev

It’s hard to believe Metaforen was written in 1965. Jan van der Wal’s designs set the scene with iconic shapes and clean lines while Van Manen’s arms, spread second with no softening of the hands, more a statement than a position, create the movement style.

The geometry of mirrored images in symmetric classical lines was superbly danced notably by the female duo, Riho Sakamoto and Yuanyuan Zhang. The male pas de deux, which shocked at the time, does a role reversal with shoulder lifts and supported pirouettes which Artur Shesterikov and Semyon Velichko dance with danseur noble panache. It’s an odd ballet but so interesting.