Muziektheater, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; September 11, 2013       

Maggie Foyer       

Dutch National Ballet in 'Les Sylphides'. Photo © Angela Sterling 3

Dutch National Ballet in ‘Les Sylphides’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

It is a welcome idea to celebrate the corps, literally the ‘body’ of the ballet company, those often unsung workers who can make or break a performance. Dutch National, a young and vibrant company, has a corps that is definitely upwardly mobile, always nipping at the heels of those higher up the ladder and ready to grab each opportunity as it comes.

The three ballets on offer, Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides,” 1909, Hans van Manen’s “Corps,” 1985 and the premiere of “Het Lichaam van Het Nationale Ballet,” (“The Body of the National Ballet”) by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, each represent a different period in the development of the corps.

Rachel Beaujean’s setting of “Les Sylphides” from 2004 will not suit all tastes. Toer van Schayk’s design is stark: the moonlit glade reduced to a few bare branches against a velvety black cloth and the interpretation of the choreography studiously avoids all sentimentality. But if your Romantic ideal is Byronesque, young and revolutionary, riding on the passion in the waltz and driving the mazurka rhythm, this may well be the “Sylphides” for you.

Although the spirit of the dance is fervent, the poetry is not lost but nurtured in this unfussy setting. The precisely synchronised ensemble, breathed and danced in harmony; strong feet contrasting with melting torsos and arms. Anna Tsygankova danced a joyous Mazurka, her movement singing in perfect harmony with the music. Jozef Varga delivered a reserved and elegant solo, although a welcome emotional charge snuck into his duet with Tsygankova. Emanuela Merdjanova, not quite at ease with the music at the beginning of the Prelude just got better and better as the ballet progressed while Maia Makhateli made the most of her exceptional elevation; soaring like a bird in the Waltz.

Dutch National Ballet in Corps. Photo © Angela Sterling

Jurgita Dronina and Jozef Varga in ‘Corps’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

“Corps,” written for Stuttgart Ballet, came into the National repertoire in 1986 but has been rarely performed since then. Van Manen, always on the cutting edge, introduces a male only corps presenting a dozen powerful dancers, three of whom also perform the solo roles. The ensemble choreography is typical of his style – unpredictable, inventive and with a keen structural edge that maintains the dynamic thrust. He teases and toys with Alban Berg’s violin concerto which at times seems almost too gentle a companion.

The three duets are less typical. The first danced with charm and sweetness by Megan Zimny Kaftira (formerly Gray and now sporting a new surname since her marriage to former principal Altin Kaftira) and Remi Wörtmeyer is surprisingly conventional. The second danced by Jurgita Dronina and Varga is fragmented and more intriguing but while Dronina adds a dash of sweet chilli it is only in the third that van Manen seems on home ground with his electric mix of ice and fire. Igone de Jongh, exquisitely womanly, went eyeball to eyeball with Artur Shesterikov as they match move for move in an adult relationship of sparring equals.

In modern times the corps is seldom stuck in formal decorative poses, framing the centre action but they still serve much the same purpose as their historical counterparts: intensifying the mood and adding structural interest. This was exemplified in “Sacre du Printemps” premiered last season where Shin Wei made fluid and creative use of the ensemble.

Dutch National Ballet in 'Het Lichaam van Het Nationale Ballet'. Photo © Angela Sterling

Dutch National Ballet in ‘Het Lichaam van Het Nationale Ballet’.
Photo © Angela Sterling

It was disappointing therefore that Greco and Scholten’s “Lichaam” made only limited use of contemporary movement and style. The idea, originally created for Jean-Paul Maillot’s Ballet de Monte Carlo has been reworked for Dutch National but it is a baffling piece that doesn’t carry the ensemble idea forward into the twenty-first century. Young Gyu Choi gives his all in a very demanding central role but his efforts don’t pay off as the choreography, which flounders much of the time in pastiche ballet, doesn’t do the company justice. There were brief moments when the sheer sound and energy of the full group on stage ignites the piece in a brutal and powerful display. Sadly, too much time spent satirising ballet, for example the ill usage of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” pas de deux with a frenetic corps bathed in pink light, weakens the impact.

However two out of three makes a satisfactory score and there are many good ballet evenings to look forward to in the coming season.