Dutch National Ballet: Cool Britannia
National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam
June 17 & 18, 2015
Cool Britannia is a seriously smart idea from Ted Brandsen, Artistic Director of the Dutch National Ballet. A scintillating evening featuring works from three of the top names in English choreography: Wayne McGregor’s Chroma plus new creations from David Dawson and Christopher Wheeldon.
Dutch National Ballet has a culture of courage, of accepting that the impossible may just be possible and going for broke. This attitude gave a thrilling edge to the trio of dance works. It is also a company where distinctly different personalities flourish, a diversity most noticeable in McGregor’s insouciant Chroma and Dawson’s hurricane-paced Empire Noir where the dancers coloured the abstract with their individual personas.
Dawson was appointed as associate artist this year but he has been associated with the company, as dancer and choreographer, for twenty years. Empire Noir is a consummate work where the choreography, music, design and performance are fused into an artistic whole. It throbs with urban energy and operates at super high velocity, effectively contrasted with quieter moments as in the intensely beautiful and elegant pas de deux from Igone de Jongh and Vito Mazzeo.
It has a startling opening picture. The cast of ten span the width of the stage, eyeballing the audience in a line of immaculate fifths, arms stretched sideways, linked one palm up, one down, in a signature position that returns at intervals. John Otto’s iconic design creates an impeccably simple setting. A sweep of moulded grey encircles the dancers, catching the light on the upper luminous edge and framing a void of infinite depth and darkness. It displays the dancers, dressed by Yumiko Takeshima in sculptured grey/blue leotards and tights, to perfection.
There is space in the work for each dancer to shine. Edo Wijnen, who has become a top exponent of Dawson’s style, is first off the starting blocks and he also concludes the work poised in the final shaft of light in a high swept attitude his body arched in a ‘swan’ pose. Artur Sheshterikov, too, excelled in this extreme ballet, taking tours and assemblés to the very edge of possibility. Also outstanding were Sasha Mukhamedov, back on powerful form after her injury, and the feisty Suzannah Kaic.
Greg Haines’ commissioned score mellows after its initial dynamic thrust to symphonic harmony carrying the ensemble on waves of synchronised movement. Empire Noir must rank amongst David Dawson’s best: exhilarating, joyous and constantly engaging.
Christopher Wheeldon has been busy raking in a slew of awards for his phenomenally successful An American in Paris but he still found time to write another new ballet for the company. Concerto Concordia, set to Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D Minor, is a ballet created around Anna Tsygankova, a dancer who has become an important muse for the English choreographer. Tsygankova is a rare gem, one hundred per cent ballerina and one hundred per cent woman. She allows every note of the music to sing through her body: her technical mastery giving her the freedom to shade each move and exploit every nuance. Varga, a strong and elegant dancer, is as sympathetic and caring a partner as one could wish for. Together they create moments of pure poetry.
Nadia Yanowsky and Remi Wörtmeyer as the second couple, offered a striking contrast. Dancing to the livelier sections they added the virtuosic spice, sparkling their way through a series of solos and duets. Wörtmeier, who seems as much at home in the air as on the ground, concluded on a lightning speed manège tilted at a breath-taking camber. He communicates his joy so completely that the audience are with him in every thrilling moment.
Wheeldon works in a more structured manner, the corps configured along traditional lines while he contrives the interest through shapes and patterns resulting in innovative partnering. However I found Jean-Marc Puissant’s floppy blue trousers designed for the women annoying as they interrupted the lines and made the well-rehearsed corps look constantly messy. Tsygankova, thankfully, dispensed with hers and wore just a glitter top and neat leotard bottom.
When Chroma hit the Royal Opera House in London in 2006 it was with the force of a flame-thrower stripping away dusty tradition and creating an audacious newness. It still packs a punch but is now moving to an established position in the canon of contemporary dance.
McGregor’s unconventional journey into ballet gives him a unique perspective and a different source of inspiration. His choreography is as often the realisation of a sculpted form as a movement organically grown. The dancers, most of whom were working with McGregor for the first time, adapted enthusiastically to his extreme positions and, in particular the first cast, found the right nonchalant tone as they marched on to launch into a ferocious sequence before marching off with at least as much attitude.
Chroma is also a work where the design elements fuse to perfection. John Pawson’s bleached minimal set frames the dancers wearing Moritz Junge’s pallid skinny shifts that ruthlessly display every tensile muscle. The selection of music – Joby Talbot and Jack White lll from The White Stripes adds the final impudent note. Matthew Rowe, conductor for the Ballet Orchestra, rose to the challenge of switching between modern to classical and, I suspect, had rather a good time in the pit.
A feature of the programme was the rise of the new generation. No less than four dancers from the Young Company were featured on these two nights. Michaela DePrince, a dancer who doesn’t know the meaning of fear launched into Empire Noir and held the stage with absolute assurance and was similarly impressive in Chroma along with Wentao Li, Sho Yamada and Nathan Brhane.
Dutch National Ballet can be seen at the London Coliseum from July 8-11 when they present Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella. Click here for details.