Muziektheater, Amsterdam, Netherlands; September 13, 2014
The Dutch National Ballet started the 2014/15 season in spectacular style: enough glitter to think Christmas had come early, all the company, school and junior company on stage, not one but two conductors and the newly renamed and securely funded Ballet Orchestra in the pit. Whew!
Ted Brandsen who has been at the helm since 2003 has developed the skills of a charioteer. Like a Ben-Hur of the Ballet he steers his team of thoroughbreds with a sure touch. He knows when to rein them in and when to give them their head, all the while holding a financially steady course and fighting off politicians eager to gnaw away at the culture budget.
The opening ‘Grand Défilé’ started small with the tiniest of the new 9-year-olds and grew in stature as wave upon wave of dancers promenaded forward to audience acclaim to finish with a line-up of the company principals.
One of the highlights was Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga dancing Christopher Wheeldon’s “Duet” that he had created on them. The previous weekend Wheeldon was awarded Choreographer of the Year at the Positano Premia la Danza, Léonide Massine 2014 and he chose these dancers to showcase his talent by dancing “Duet” at the Award Ceremony in Italy. With each showing, Tsygankova and Varga invest the work with more fluency and bring greater subtlety to the musical phrasing. It was bliss; enhanced by Olga Khozianinova who brought Ravel’s music to life at the piano.
Tsygankova also danced José Martinez’s “Delibes Suite” pas de deux, this time with guest artist Matthew Golding. It is an intriguing work and the couple obviously enjoyed dancing together again. While the male solo and coda are fairly traditional, the ballerina role is very distinctive and very musical: ideally suited to Tsygankova’s talents.
The Alexandra Radius Prize 2014 was announced at the Gala and for the first time in its history, it went to a partnership. Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernádez were the unanimous choice and they went on to celebrate their win with a performance of the “Le Corsaire” pas de deux that brought the house down. Hernández is the consummate showman: he lets you know when something special is coming up and delivers the goods, wrapping up with a gesture of triumph that draws the audience in to share in his thrill of achievement. Dronina has her own special charm. Her technique is impeccable but looks entirely natural and she too shares her pleasure with the audience.
The other blockbuster pas de deux, “Diane and Acteon”, had two fine interpreters in Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov, strong, clean dancers who bring elegance to their virtuosity. However I think the leopard skin tunic has had its day and is due for a makeover.
Guest stars, Hélène Boucher and Marijn Rademaker gave a foretaste of the upcoming season with the Black pas de deux from John Neumieier’s ‘La Dame aux Camélias’. Bouchet is one of the great interpreters of the choreographer’s work and gave a heart-breaking rendition of the final moments of the ballet while Dutch born Rademaker matched her passion in the despair of the young Armand. It was rightfully given a tremendous ovation.
Remi Wörtmeyer bagged the only solo spot of the evening in a double act as both dancer and choreographer. His “Joel” has been danced to high acclaim in several galas and is set to join the ranks of popular male virtuoso solos. Set to Jacques Offenbach’s exuberant “Gaité Parisienne”, it is packed with crowd-pleasing spins and jumps all packaged with diverting cheeky charm.
A Dutch Gala without that supreme party animal, Hans van Manen, would be unthinkable. We were treated to “Solo” danced by three highly individual interpreters. Tempering one-upmanship with irony, Rink Sliphorst, Edo Wijnen and Young Gyu Choi, displayed talent fine-tuned by the creator. In “Fantasía”, Igone de Jonge, partnered by Casey Herd, plunged into a typical van Manen relationship: cool, somewhat distant and sizing up each other’s every move. De Jonge, in red lycra, biding her time in a deep plié in second, was a lesson in how to dominate the stage while doing nothing.
Opening the second half was a short film from Altin Kaftira, the man responsible for so many of the promotion videos on the company website. He captured the thrill of the dancer’s body in full flight, manipulating the timing to brilliant effect.
Three ensemble pieces helped to boost numbers and meet the challenge of getting every dancer on stage. The junior company, now so at home working with the main group, were treated to a new choreography from Ted Brandsen. “Beginning” is a neo-classical piece with a distinctive Dutch flavour, sophisticated yet athletic, and featuring all six couples. The female corps danced excerpts from Act II of “Swan Lake” led by the thrilling partnership of de Jongh and Vito Mazzeo, both tall elegant dancers who will be dancing the full work in the coming season. The male corps had choreography to challenge on all fronts in Brandsen’s other premiere, “Vivace”. What better evidence of the health and vigour of the company than 25 powerful male dancers leaping in unison? It made a fitting close to a great evening of celebration.