Dutch National Ballet, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; April 10, 2015
John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias written in 1978 has joined the repertoire of the Dutch National Ballet. The premiere saw a very special pairing of two Dutch principals, Marijn Rademaker, who has danced the role of Armand many times with Stuttgart Ballet, and Igone de Jongh, making her debut as Marguerite: she has the classical beauty and maturity while Rademaker brought his youthful ardour to ignite the flame.
Like many of Neumeier’s ballets – and this is surely one of his greatest – the protagonists work against a complex backstory. His world of the demi-monde is not without risqué humour but it’s a brittle world where love is bought and sold and a woman must always be vigilante. The linking of the acts, as the next scene is previewed at the curtain of the last, keeps the story central as does the ever present auction board, a reminder of the tragic end.
The music is skilfully woven into the dance with the Ballet Orchestra, plus four excellent solo pianists, playing onstage and in the pit. Throughout the piece, the exchange between piano and dance is seamless. Opening on the silent business of auctioning off Marguerite’s possession, a man pauses to pick out a fragment of Chopin on the piano giving a natural lead-in, while in the pastoral Act 2, a bowler-hatter onstage pianist is the perfect adjunct.
Out in the country and free of urban constraints the company indulge in hedonistic horse-play with serious one-upmanship among the young blades. Edo Wijnen, who as Count N had struggled to get the balance of earnestness and comedy in Act One, was now in his element leaping and spinning with the best of them. Vera Tsyganova, as Prudence Duvernoy, and Young Gyu Choi, as Gaston Rieux, were on flamboyant form. I loved her sharp-witted snatch of Marguerite’s discarded necklace which she instantly deposits down her bodice.
The highlight of Act 2, the white pas de deux is a ravishing display, lived absolutely in the present, with no consideration of the past or thought of the future. Spurred on by her Armand, de Jongh reach a depth of emotion I have not seen before. Technique hardly featured as bodies roll across the floor to collide in eager embrace or wrap in aerial forms in Neumeier’s fluid lifts.
Rademaker, romantic, idealistic and a dancer of incredible beauty gave a deeply moving performance in a role to which he is so well suited. De Jongh used her natural reserve to good effect as she plays Marguerite’s sophisticated exterior masking a tormented interior. Despite some awkward moments in the duets, it was a performance that engaged and involved through all the tragic twists and turns.
Anna Tsygankova made her debut in the role at the second performance and I feel she could become one of the great interpreters of this coveted role. She is at her best in the grand ballerina roles where she is able to balance authority and heart-breaking vulnerability. Her performance, so absolutely within the music, made every movement seem effortless, every gesture real. She is an artist who gives her all and this role demands it. She gave us another of those great evenings in the theatre.
James Stout was, initially, an unassuming Armand, his strength in his sincerity and complete devotion to the woman he adores. But through the ballet he develops to become an absolutely satisfying character. He deals so intelligently with the turmoil in the young man’s mind as Marguerite, after giving herself so passionately, then rejects him with no reason. His partnering was impeccable even managing to conquer the clouds of tulle that so often plague the pas de deux. However Jurgen Rose’s costumes are a joy: utterly romantic with the flattering off-shoulder style and swelling bell-shaped skirts.
Tsygankova’s scene with M. Duval, (Nicolas Rapaic) was a masterclass in dance theatre: from their initial awkward overtures, to the point of despair as she melts at his feet with one hand raised in supplication, then to deeper level of understanding as they convey their different views of Armand’s needs before she capitulates in despair.
The haunting image of Manon and Des Grieux, a ballet within a ballet, follows the fate of another fallen woman and keeps the fear of penury in Marguerite’s mind. This coupe are given only a shadow of the emotions experienced by Marguerite and Armand but are compensated with two significant dance roles. Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov, have an edge and clarity that makes their work a joy to watch. Jurgita Dronina and Vito Mazzeo, a newer pairing, also gave fine performances with Dronina bringing added emotion to the role.
La Dame aux Camélias is both a great piece of theatre and a fine romantic ballet. I hope it returns to the repertoire at regular intervals as this is a ballet that warrants revisiting both by dancers and audience.