Dutch National Ballet Junior Company: Ballet Classics and Modern Masters
Linbury Studio Theatre, London
June 6, 2015
This week saw a display of burgeoning dance talent at the Linbury. Graduating students from three major British schools presented programmes and the week culminated in two performances from the Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet based in Amsterdam.
It was a lively programme on all counts, a group of highly talented dancers performing with confidence a range of interesting choreography. Ernst Meisner, the artistic co-ordinator, has a company to be proud of. Meisner spent most of his dance career at the Royal Ballet so this is something of a homecoming for him. His Opera House contacts have been valuable in this exchange which continues for another week as the young dancers stay in London to work with fledgling English choreographers.
The versatility of the twelve dancers was impressive as they tackled works from Bournonville to Binet, spanning centuries of dance styles. In the pas de six from Napoli, the batterie, neat footwork and ballon was well up to standard with Martin ten Kortenaar and Riho Sakamoto, delivering with particular grace and charm. The White Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake is a benchmark for any aspiring ballerina and Yuanyuan Zhang gave a highly charged performance, every gesture tingling with emotion. She is a dancer, whose every pose and move finds the right aesthetic shape on the right note and all with apparent ease. She had a secure partner in Van Kortenaar apart from one unsteady lift and stumble which in true professional fashion was sorted out and forgotten in a moment.
Four new works made the evening something of a platform for new choreography. Milena Sidorova’s Full Moon operates in that liminal space between waking and dreaming when, on a rough night, a pillow can become a combatant. Bart Engelen was just the man to punch it into submission which he did with agility and humour giving Prokofiev’s ‘Dance of the Knights’ a whole new intention.
Meisner contributed a short but most impressive duet Embers, performed with great style by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme. Meisner proved his Dutch artistic heritage in an original work of clean lines and beautiful shapes. It was intimate in a rather modern way ending as the pair exited on separate sides of the stage. Like the rest of the programme, the designs were quietly effective, ticking all the right boxes in shape and colour.
Canadian, Robert Binet, at only twenty-three is a remarkably prolific choreographer, producing work that is always engagingly. Likewise, Surfacing, set to an enigmatic score from Somei Satoh, is never predictable as a classical sequence morphs imperceptibly into something quite contemporary and new. The partnering is ballet-based but highly innovative as the women, working on pointe, weave shapes in a free and fluid manner. While the mood is restrained it has provocative undercurrents and was performed with intense focus by the four dancers.
Juanjo Arques’s Blink, was altogether lighter. Set to Max Richter’s ‘Spring’ section from Vivaldi Recomposed it was ideally suited to the bubbly energy in the company and showed their competence in Arques’ distinctive neo-classical style. Set in a sporting environment and sectioned by short bouts of speed walking, it’s about playing the field in love and physical competence, viewed with a youthful eye and plenty of humour.
The video clips, filmed by Mattieu Gremillet, a former principal with Dutch National Ballet, introduced each item and gave an appealing insight into the dancers’ and choreographers’ rehearsal process. It was wonderful to watch Hans van Manen, a youthful, 82 years-old, rehearsing the young dancers in his Visions Fugitives written for NDT in 1990.
Van Manen is a true raconteur of dance, his choreography tells the story of life: always with a droll eye on human interaction and always with something interesting to say. The three couples, Burer and Ryosuke Morimoto, Lisanne Kottenhagen and Van Damme, Zhang and Ten Kortenaar worked with a sophistication and maturity beyond their year: nothing in excess and each look and gesture concise and succinct. It was so good. Working with Van Manen and also with Mea Venema, one of the great interpreters and now producers of his works, paid dividends with a new generation of dancers looking absolutely right in his laconic style.
The dancers of the Junior Company have had an amazing boost to their professional careers as most will progress to the main company. The amount of impressive young talent all over the world is overwhelming and sadly at a time when there is precious little money for new contracts and with many companies facing cutbacks. Future dancers will have to fight hard to maintain companies and keep the level of jobs but thankfully there seems to be the talent and the energy to succeed.