A season-opening celebration from Dutch National Ballet

Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 12, 2017

Maggie Foyer

Amsterdam has a tradition of starting the ballet season on a high note. A Grand Défilé which introduces the entire company, junior company and school from tiniest student to top principal is followed by a potpourri of dance items from well-worn classics to world premieres.

This year, the Gala celebrated Rachel Beaujean’s 40 years of service to Het, joining as a 17-year-old aspirant and rising to associate artistic director. A video presentation of her career, compiled by Mathieu Gremillet, showed her in performance, rehearsals and latterly as coach and repetiteur. The tributes poured in and were evidence of the love and respect from both company and management and an added bonus was the award of Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau.

Sarcasmen, the duet Hans van Manen wrote for her and Clint Farah, opened the programme and was danced by Igone de Jongh and Marijn Rademaker. It is a sassy piece of seduction circa 1981 conducted in a series of bruising bouts with Robert Greuter at the piano trying to keep a semblance of decorum while giving a fine rendition of Prokofiev’s Cinq Sarcasmes. The dialogue is witty and fast paced. Rademaker preening like a peacock, De Jongh waiting, arms folded before coming in for the kill and making her intentions clear with a cheeky grab below the belt. It is great fun and proves that this woman in pointe shoes is no fragile fairy.

Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov in the Act Two pas de deux from GisellePhoto Michel Schnater
Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov in the Act Two pas de deux from Giselle
Photo Michel Schnater

Beaujean’s highly praised production of Giselle was marked with the Act Two duet performed by Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov in a powerful expression of love beyond the grave. Makhateli in her first appearance back after the birth of her baby was given a warm reception.

There were many fine technicians on the bill, but it was those who genuinely reached out to the audience whose performances stayed in the memory.  One of these is South Korean, Young Gyu Choi, the winner of this year’s Alexandra Radius prize. It was a popular choice. He’s a dancer who make the most difficult of steps seem effortless and gives himself totally to every role. In the Esmeralda Pas de Deux with Anna Ol, on tremendous form with her balance, he was positively glowing.

Anna Ol in La EsmeraldaPhoto Michel Schnater
Anna Ol in La Esmeralda
Photo Michel Schnater

Remi Wörtmeyer, dancing Balanchine’s Tarantella with a lively Aya Okumuru, is another performer who never gives less than 100% and the competitive nature of this duet offers him every opportunity. However, the most infectious smile of the evening came from Elisa Badenes, guesting from Stuttgart Ballet. Flirting shamelessly with Daniel Camargo in the Don Quixote Pas de Deux, she brought fresh life to well-known phrases. With a smile as wide as her split jeté she was a sparkling Kitri enthralling Camargo, who responded superbly.

The other guest performer was Courtney Richardson from Dresden paired with James Stout in a duet from David Dawson’s Tristan + Isolde, which is due to be restaged on Het next year. The ballet was written for the Dresden company with Richardson creating the role of Isolde and she was called in at short notice to replace Sasha Mukhamedov who had sustained an injury. The passionate quality of Dawson’s high-flying lifts and catches gave no hint of a short rehearsal period, as the two brought the incendiary love affair to life and gave a tempting preview of future dance pleasures.

Courtney Richardson and James Stout in David Dawson's Tristan + IsoldePhoto Michel Schnater
Courtney Richardson and James Stout in David Dawson’s Tristan + Isolde
Photo Michel Schnater

The only premiere of the evening was Wubkje Kuindersma’s duet Two and Only. It brought an unusual combination to the stage with Rademaker, a dancer at the top of his career and young élève, Timothy van Poucke. Kuindersma had seen the pair together and sensing a chemistry, she had developed it further. Set to Michael Benjamin’s music performed live on stage, it was a moody, unsettled duet of possible liasions. The unconventional relationship gave heightened innovation to the choreography and despite Rademaker remaining alone on stage at the close, it left a residue of warmth and affection.

I was pleased with the inclusion of Ted Brandsen’s Replay which is such a quality work. It had a top cast in De Jongh and Vito Mazzeo. Both are tall, elegant dancers with elongated lines to complement the choreography which, like Philip Glass’s minimal modernity, proffers repeated phrases in subtly developing sequence. Pianist, Ryoko Kondo, and designer François-Nöel Cherpin also play their part creating those breathless moments where every detail is right.

De Jongh and Vito Mazzeo in Ted Brandsen's ReplayPhoto Michel Schnater
De Jongh and Vito Mazzeo in Ted Brandsen’s Replay
Photo Michel Schnater

Of the ensemble works, that rang the changes between the many duets, Ernst Meisner’s Revelry showcased the current Junior Company celebrating their youth and vigour in a lively work that showed versatility of style and professional performances. The evening closed on Krzysztof Pastor’s Moving Rooms.  If the orchestra were not at their best with Henryk Górecki’s fierce Harpsichord Concerto, the dancers were. Pastor’s precisely structured work, lit with skill by Bert Dalhuysen, is a fine example of the sharp edged neo-classical style that suits this company so well and it made a perfect end note.