Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; May 19, 2014

Maggie Foyer

Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd in the balcony scene from Rudi van Danzig's 'Romeo and Juliet'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd in the balcony scene from Rudi van Danzig’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

“Ballerina”, at the Music Theatre in Amsterdam, follows the iconic female role across the centuries, but it was at least as interesting to view the changing status of the male: from porteur in “Raymonda” with a faceful of tutu skirt to two dancers standing together as equal partners in Ted Brandsen’s “Replay”, the one premiere of the evening.  Slotting eight works into a programme is testing but it has the advantage of offering an impressive selection of top talent.

“Paquita” opened the bill, a test of classical exactitude which the corps passed with distinction: strong, clean placing, plenty of stylish épaulment and never flagging on energy. The students of the National Ballet Academy impressed with a polished prologue. Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez led from the front, Dronina masking her natural sweetness with an air of imperial grandeur and deftly nailing each virtuoso trick while Hernandez, who is unsurprisingly, becoming an audience favourite, making every moment on the stage memorable. Among the many solos, Wen Ting Guan stood out in a beautifully phrased and defined performance while Serguei Endinian added punch to the pas de trois.

Love is as intrinsic to the pas de deux as it is to the sonnet and this programme naturally had its share. Igone de Jongh encapsulated the youthful dewy-eyed Juliet in Rudi van Dantzig’s poetic version of the “Romeo and Juliet” balcony scene. Casey Herd was an excellent partner, if somewhat less convincing physically. Kenneth Macmillan’s bedroom duet from “Manon” also captures the exhilaration of blossoming love. Dronina, kittenish and enticing, had little difficulty persuading Hernandez to leave his desk and join her in this rapturous coupling.

For sparkle and fizz there was Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux”. Maia Makhateli said in her introduction that it was ‘never easy’ then confounded her words by giving a performance of seductive lightness and ease. Remi Wörtmeier, who matches in speed and technical acuity was as blithe a spirit. It finished all too soon leaving just a magic afterglow.

Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga  in Christopher Wheeldon's 'Duet'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga
in Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Duet’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

Christopher Wheeldon wrote “Duet” for “Present/s” in 2012. At that viewing I felt it lacked emotion but on this occasion it took flight. Most of the items had a short video introduction, (courtesy of former dancers Altin Kaftira and Mathieu Gremillet) and in this instance Anna Tsygankova waxed lyrical on the pleasures of dancing Wheeldon’s choreography. “Like the sun is rising,” she said. Both she and Jozef Varga gave a first class performance filling the organic flow of the choreography and surrendering every fibre to the sensation of the movement and Ravel’s music.

Director Ted Brandsen was inspired by two ‘very tall, beautiful people’, De Jongh and Vito Mazzeo to make a welcome return to the role of choreographer. “Replay” to Philip Glass’s haunting film music from “The Hours”, is economical and refined in typical Dutch style but with enough wayward individuality to throw up unexpected moments and constantly engage. Dressed to kill in François-Noël Cherpin’s costumes that accented their length, the dancers were magnificent.

“Raymonda” is a deceptively traditional work. It demands focused laser sharp technique but it always needs more. Alexander Glazounov’s evocative music begs for dancers that can stir the imagination and open a window onto mythic landscapes. Victoria Ananyan and Mazzeo had the technique but there was sadly little chemistry in a rather prosaic performance.

Larissa Lezhnina and Alexander Zhembrovsky in Hans van Manen's 'The old man and me'.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Larissa Lezhnina and Alexander Zhembrovsky in Hans van Manen’s ‘The old man and me’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

This short season marks Larissa Lezhnina’s farewell to the stage. She was a rising star in the Kirov when she joined Het Nationale as a principal in 1994 and has remained at the top for twenty years.

Lezhnina made a surprising choice for her final ballet: Hans van Manen’s “The Old Man and Me” written for NDT3 stars Sabine Kupferberg and Gérard Lemaitre in 1996. It was a brave choice too, as there is only one Kupferberg: an impossible act to follow. Although not ideally cast, Van Manen had made an exception and Lezhnina responded with a tender performance tinged with irony. The pleasure of dancing a role that she had hankered after for years must have mitigated the pain of leaving and the audience loved her for it. She was partnered by Alexander Zhembrovskyy who had stopped dancing due to injury but returned for the occasion. A dancer in his prime he is a great loss to the company but it was a special thrill to see these artists for the last time in a work which takes Van Manen’s insight into human relationships to new depths.