Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; May 7, 2014

Maggie Foyer

Igone de Jongh and Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen's 'Dances with Harp'. Photo © Angela Sterling

Igone de Jongh and Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen’s ‘Dances with Harp’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Theatre performances are always a fusion of the arts but in “Dutch Doubles” this relationship is brought to the fore as each choreographer names his chosen artistic running mate to highlight specific elements in the creative process. I saw the results of this collaboration towards the end of the run with alternate casts in some of the roles.

One of the chief delights was “Dances with Harp”, a new work from the ever youthful, 81 year-old Hans van Manen, whose creative fire burns as bright as ever. As is often the case with van Manen, music is the catalyst. He heard the harpist, Remy van Kesteren, at a concert and compared the effect to being at a Formula 1 race. And seated on the side of the stage, van Kesteren delivered an exhilarating performance. The arrangements of pieces from established composers as diverse as Bach and Villa-Lobos, and the less well known Frederic Monpou and Carlos Micháns, brought a fresh, new element to the dance.

Van Manen’s ballets may pass as abstract but there always lurks an undercurrent of relationships and opportunistic liaisons. He opens the work with three couples and the simplest of ronds de jambe; three exquisite pointes trace the circular pattern in perfect unison. Each pairing has its own personality. Qian Liu and Isaac Hernandez were effervescent and youthful but with sophistication in the épaulement and eye contact. Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga raised the temperature in a sultry duet that crackled with electricity when they touched or filled the empty space on separation. Igone de Jongh and Artur Shesterikov, cool and imperious had the final say. De Jongh is on the same page as van Manen, reading his mind when it comes to phrasing and dynamics and in this duet she reigned supreme.

Typical of van Manen, there were never going to be just duets. He understands human nature so well and made the links accordingly. As in life there are interruptions, a newcomer steps between a couple, the dynamics shift and a new game commences. To spice the mix, the men had their own diversion, a trio of playful, jazzy steps. This is another great work from the master that I hope enjoys a fruitful afterlife.

Dutch National Ballet in Jorma Elo's Shape.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Dutch National Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Shape.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Jorma Elo’s “Shape” drew gasps from the audience at curtain up. The picture was sensational: monochrome design heightened the geometry of razor sharp tutus and Jordan C. Tuinman’s lighting cut through clouds of mist. Tutus have an iconic appeal and fashion designers Victor&Rolf leapt at the opportunity to create tutu heaven; they squared the circle, halved the sum and nibbled round the edges challenging conventional images to offer atypical constructions. Watching the corps their straight lines squared off by the tutus was so extraordinary that I wished Elo had used more of these tight formations.

Elo’s choreography was at its most formal, a sort of ode to Balanchine, in a slew of pas de deux and coryphèe and corps ensembles. Each soloist sported a unique tutu variant. Tsygankova’s half tutu was most successful giving her a choice: one side classical, the other half a neo-classical leotard, well in keeping with Elo’s choreography. Although nothing quite matched that opening picture, the work was constantly engaging. The men, more conventionally dressed in white tights, compensated with technical fireworks, particularly from Isaac Hernandez, a dancer who is totally alive to each moment. Vito Mazzeo is a dancer who only has to walk on stage and stretch a leg to feel it was worth the price of the ticket, so when he gets a meaty chunk of dance and partners the exquisitely musical Tsygankova, things don’t get much better.

For his duet “Romance”, Ton Simon chose Erica Horwood and Peter Leung, two dancers capable of interpretations of depth in a range of works. He also chose, video artist and photographer, Rineke Dijkstra as his co-artist for her ‘exceptional sensitivity to vulnerability’. The chemistry should have worked but didn’t. Simon’s duet set to Mozart piano music, is minimal with long pauses and contained movement, the mood gentle rather than passionate. The film footage, often in extreme close up, presented each dancer in turn, full screen and the camera searching for the dancers’ psyche seemed only to find nerves and embarrassment. Far from adding another dimension it only seemed to diminish the dancers.

Suzanna Kaic and James Stout in Juanjo Arques' 'Roulette'. Photo © Angela Sterling

Suzanna Kaic and James Stout in Juanjo Arques’ ‘Roulette’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

In “Roulette” Juanjo Arques, choreographer and former member of Het, teamed up with visual artist Krijn de Koning. Life is a roulette wheel and Arques names his movements: meeting, investigating, reflecting and meeting again. It gives plenty of food for thought in a work that is fragmented without losing shape and introduces recurring themes to delineate the form. He makes interesting use of the floor and close contact in the duets; traits that mark out his work. Arques is one to watch, growing in confidence with each new choreography, sharpening the focus and slimming down on his abundant ideas.

The artistic partnership was however less successful, De Koning’s sculptural form was too dominant to marry happily with the dance and sat sulkily centre stage. However it provided an excellent platform for the rousing group of onstage percussionists who alternated with the strings in the pit. The dancers made use of doors within the edifice and ran the circuit around but a more transparent, slimmed down shape might have been more dance-friendly.

The work had a slightly hammy start as Miles Pertl takes the microphone and invites Nadia Yanowsky, conveniently planted in the front row, to join him on the stage. The incident prompts the closing moment as back in her high heels and dress, she points to the empty seat. As an idea to integrate the audience it didn’t come off and Arques, who is never short of ideas, could safely dispense with this one. The dancing was more than enough.

This collaborative programme was another bold venture from a company at the forefront in creating new challenges for dance. The results may be uneven but the performances are always worth watching as was the tiny guest conductor, Brazilian Clotilde Otranto whose ebullient spirit and graceful hands enthused orchestra and audience alike.