Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 8, 2015
Dutch National Ballet’s Gala is the evening when the annual Alexandra Radius Prize is awarded to an exceptional company dancer. The curtains open on the now traditional Grand Défilé as wave upon wave of dancers from the teeniest school pupils to the grandest company principals promenade downstage in a mass display of pride and talent.
This was also an evening to celebrate the lady herself. Alexandra Radius has been an integral part of Dutch ballet since 1957 when, at 15 years old, she joined Sonia Gaskell’s Nederlands Ballet. She was briefly one of the ‘dissident’ dancers who formed the new Nederlands Dans Theater but returned to the company that was later to become Het Nationale for most of her illustrious career.
Henk van Dijk, compiled a video tribute that gave evidence of both her eloquent expression and her exceptional technique in excerpts ranging from the great classical roles, most often danced with husband and partner, Han Ebbelaar, to new creations from Hans van Manen or Rudi van Dantzig. Lex, as she is affectionately known, left the stage 25 years ago but remains a vibrant presence not least in the award given in her name.
This year’s recipient was Maia Makhateli who joined the company in 2007, worked her way up to principal rank in 2010. A very popular artist, she gave her acceptance speech in Dutch which I am sure won her even more fans.
This was also the night to acknowledge the company’s recent achievements, notably successful tours to China, Russia and the UK, and to announce plans for the coming season which include a new ballet by director, Ted Brandsen. The 2015/16 season, which will focus more on Dutch choreographers, kicks off with Live, a programme of works from Hans van Manen, and Brandsen has chosen the extraordinary life of Dutch exotic dancer and spy, Mata Hari, as the theme for his ballet to be premiered in February.
The Junior Company, who are feeding talent into the DNB at an exponential rate, were also on the bill with an extract from their current production of Narnia which started a national tour later in the week.
Many of the Gala items referenced landmarks in Radius’ career. Voorbij Gegaan (literally translated as ‘passing by’) was a gift from Rudi van Dantzig written for their twentieth jubilee. Elegantly costumed by Joop Stokvis and set to Chopin’s music exquisitely played by Olga Khozianinova, it was given a gentle evocative performance by Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd. Suffused in the afterglow of romance, the duet showed the couple at their best.
On such a glittery evening one couldn’t escape the traditional gala fare. La Bayadère, another of Radius’ great roles, introduced new soloists Anna Ol and partner, Semyon Velichko, displaying the perfection of Russian technique. Le Corsaire, was danced with equal perfection by Qian Liu and Young Gyu Choi, his jumps hovering effortlessly in the air and a brilliant Black Swan Pas de Deux featured Anna Tsygankova’s sensual Odile, with guest artist and partner, Matthew Golding.
Diamonds, one of the Balanchine’s in Radius’ repertoire, was danced by Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov in a performance so musical the movement seemed to sing. The formality of the choreography restrains, but never subdues, the underlying emotion resulting in a performance of both warmth and elegance. Makhateli had the chance to display her contemporary form in Hans van Manen’s Two Pieces for Het. The opening display of one-upmanship showed Remi Wörtmeyer on sparkling form. His speed and easy delivery were matched by Makhateli in a partnership that sizzled and sparked, before the understated denouement where heads and hands happily entwine.
While van Manen delights in playing down emotions, David Dawson wears his heart on his sleeve albeit in a very modern way. In On the Nature of Daylight, Sasha Mukhamedov, dancing with James Stout, brought her powerful presence to the duet while managing to look almost vulnerable in the high hanging lifts that distinguish this duet. This works demands a lot from the dancers and they gave their all in an emotional performance.
Juanjo Arques, a former company soloist made a strong statement with the only premiere of the evening, Rewind. The subtlety and depth of the relationship showed his debt to van Manen – not at all a bad thing – especially when delivered in Arques distinctive post-modern style. He paired two very different dancers, Suzanna Kaic, a dancer who excels at high intensity and Vito Mazzeo, tall, cool and collected. The opening was something of a battle between the two dressed in baggy shirts, the cut and thrust punctuated by taut positions. However after stripping off to minimal dancewear, the music and the mood changed dramatically introducing a more intimate relationship, albeit one that was still uncertain and intriguing. It was a stylish and distinctive work from a choreographer who is fast making his mark on the international scene.
From the previous season’s repertoire Igone de Jongh and Marijn Rademaker gave the uber-Romantic white pas de deux from John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias, now danced with heightened emotion. In another reprise, the original cast settled confidently back into Christopher Wheeldon’s Concerto Concordia: Nadia Yanowsky and Wörtmeyer dancing the bright allegro and Tsygankova and Jozef Varga fluent and elegant in the lyrical duet to bring the evening to a close.
For Maggie Foyer’s review of Dutch National Ballet Junior Company’s Narnia, click here.