Dutch National Ballet Gala

Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 8, 2018

Maggie Foyer

Gala is probably not the right word for the celebration that opens the new season of Het Nationale. Granted it had the Grand Pas, the stars, the glamorous frocks and champagne, the speeches, the awards and the Grand Defilé: a breathtaking moment as the Company, the Junior Company and School assemble onstage. It is something more than the sum of these parts. As a tribute to Rudi van Dantzig, a towering figure of Dutch dance and artistic director from 1965-1991, there was definitely more of a beating heart present and most importantly, there was a celebration of new choreographic talents within the company.

The emotional highpoints came in two duets from Van Dantzig. The first, Voorbij Gegaan, (Past, 1979), marked the welcome return to the stage for Anna Tsygankova. One of the most musical of dancers, Tsygankova interpreted every note of the Chopin Etudes with the depth and clarity they deserve. Her technique is as refined as ever, and her artistry seems to develop with every performance. Jozef Varga was on excellent form, bringing a stylish finish to a challenging solo. It’s a bittersweet work that stays long on the palate.

Anna Tsygankova and Josef Varga in Voorbij GegaanPhoto Michel Schnater
Anna Tsygankova and Josef Varga in Voorbij Gegaan
Photo Michel Schnater

Autumn Haze (1984) is as potent in its own way. The music is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and this time the dancers Qian Liu and Constantine Allen wear their hearts on their sleeves. It opens with Allen carrying Liu draped over his shoulders like a shawl and closes in the same way. It’s about the depth of love; the burdens and the joy. Their sensitivity to the phrasing of the music and choreography drew honest emotion from every step in a memorable performance.

The White Swan Pas de Deux from Van Dantzig’s production was presented with classical purity by Anna Ol and Artur Shesterikov in a surround of swan maidens. The Black Swan Pas de Deux danced by Maia Makhateli and Daniel Camargo, sadly didn’t quite find its emotional highpoint despite the brilliance of Makhateli’s fouettés and nigh faultless tours from Camargo.

Anna Tsygankova and Josef Varga in Autumn Haze by Rudi Van DantzigPhoto Michel Schnater
Qian Liu and Constantine Allen in Autumn Haze by Rudi Van Dantzig
Photo Michel Schnater

However, lift off came with gala favourite Flames of Paris, a shameless compilation of every Soviet ballet trick. It had an ideal cast in Aya Okumura and Young Gyu Choi, two dancers who revel in virtuosity and share their enjoyment so generously. Following directly on came the Act 1 duet from John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camelias causing an abrupt shift in the emotional register to accommodate the full-blown passion. It did no favours for Igone de Jongh and Daniel Camargo, two fine dancers who struggled to immerse themselves in the moment but got there in the end.

It was lovely to see David Dawson’s The Grey Area back in Amsterdam. It had two fine interpreters, Sasha Mukhamedov and James Stout, who understand the piece so well. The bold lighting, throwing up extremes of light and dark caught the star bursts of passion in a great performance. Another popular revival, a duet from Hans van Manen’s Frank Bridge Variations was danced by Suzanne Kaic and Remi Wörtmeyer. The emotion seethes underneath but the expression is cool and contained. For Wörtmeyer, it’s a welcome chance to show his deeper side in company with Kaic, a versatile dancer who is never less than totally committed.

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company in GRIMMPhoto Michel Schnater
Dutch National Ballet Junior Company in GRIMM
Photo Michel Schnater

Hans van Manen’s smart and stylish, Symphony for the Netherlands, had the benefit of bringing a large ensemble to the stage but the pithy finale from his In the Future to David Byrne’s jazzy score seemed the more appropriate choice and served to introduce the vibrant Junior Company. Their second work, an extract from GRIMM, (of fairy-tale fame) was hugely entertaining. Choreographed by artistic co-ordinator, Ernst Meisner and Marco Gerris to music by Scanner, it continues the collaboration between the Juniors and street dance company, ISH, which has proved so successful. The Seven (quite outrageous) Dwarfs were particularly fun.

Most interesting was the newer choreography, much of it from the company stable. Embers, Meisner’s work from 2013, is an intense and sorrowful duet to Max Richter’s eponymous music, played by an onstage trio.  Effectively dressed in sharp clear colours and lines, it was danced by two of the youngest dancers, Jessica Xuan, who is never afraid to bare her soul, and well matched by Christiano Principato.

Jessica Xuan and Christiano Principato in EmbersPhoto Michel Schnater
Jessica Xuan and Christiano Principato in Embers
Photo Michel Schnater

Remi Wörtmeyer offered a new creation, You Before Me. Danced by Anna Ol and Semyon Velichko and accompanied by Olga Khoziainova, the quality was undeniable. Within the neo-classical form Wörtmeyer has found new moves and shapes of exceptional originality and backgrounded by a solar eclipse, it was a thing of beauty.

Two works that stayed with me long after the performance were Portrait and Nude. Young Creative Associate, Peter Leung, wrote Portrait for Michaela DePrince, who is back on stage after an injury. Portrait is something of a rite of passage for each of these artists as they move into a new space. DePrince has developed from the virtuosic ingénue to take her place as a fully fledged artist while Leung’s complex work of signs and suggestions takes him to a new level. DePrince, simple costumed in a black dress, is positioned between two light stands as in a photographer’s studio and indeed her extraordinary life of courage in adversity has meant that much of her professional career has been played out in the spotlight. The choreography allows her, in brief moments to display her formidable technique but this intense solo is about a strong soul finding her own path.

Michaela DePrince in PortraitPhoto Michel Schnater
Michaela DePrince in Portrait
Photo Michel Schnater

Nude, is an extract from Last Resistance choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa accompanied by singer, Wende and her band. If the band was hot, dancers Erica Horwood and Vito Mazzeo played cool, circling around Wende and her musicians who perform centre stage under a neon light installation. A clever design element; darkening the lower arms of the dancers in long gloves gave startling and unusual visual shapes.  It is an absolutely gripping work: the energy of pop music filtered through classically trained muscles. Both Horwood and Mazzeo rose to the occasion in stunning performances.

The Alexander Radius Prize, usually awarded to a principal, was this year, given to corps de ballet dancer, Timothy van Poucke. He has already been given the chance to dance major roles and proved himself a dancer of immense charm and undeniable talent. Artistic Director Ted Brandsen’s policy of giving opportunities to upcoming talent and Ernst Meisner’s sterling work with the Junior Company (and he is now also the interim Artistic Director of the National Ballet Academy) ensures a healthy future for the company.