Igone de jongh in Hans van Manen's Live Photo Angela Sterling

Igone de jongh in Hans van Manen’s Live
Photo Angela Sterling

Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam
September 12, 2015

Maggie Foyer

Hans van Manen is a unique figure in the dance world for many reasons not least for his longevity. He choreographed his first work at 23 and gained his first choreographic prize at 25. Now 82, he is still creating and his output of around 150 works are constantly performed all over the world. A native of Amsterdam, a city of vibrant diversity, he has never relied on historic or foreign themes but looks to the relationships between people of his own place, time and milieu. This has provided him with a constant source of invention whether in the male one-upmanship of Solo, the fractious couples in 5 Tangos, the interplay between dancer and cameraman in Live, or simply a man and a woman in Twilight.

His choice of music is eclectic with an ear for the new and exciting. It was van Manen who introduced Astor Piazzolla and as recently as last year, the harpist, Remy van Kesteren, to Dutch audiences. For this programme he uses an extraordinary range of compositions: Jean Yves Daniël-Lesur Variations pour piano et orchestre à cordes, John Cage The perilous night, Jacob ter Veldhuis, Goldrush Concerto and piano pieces by Franz Liszt.

Van Manen has been called ‘the Piet Mondrian of dance’ and not without good cause. Mondrian’s pristine simplicity and unerring eye for a line and a colour are what one sees in van Manen’s structure and shape as well as his choice of design.

Live was the focal point of the evening. Premiered in 1979, it was the first video ballet using dancer, cameraman and photo projection. The cameraman and pianist enter to set up, the woman arrives and begins to dance, her simple scarlet tunic making a lurid contrast with the monochrome video. For van Manen, the passion is always present but never explicit. Boundaries are fluid, the dancer and cameraman occupy the stage and auditorium before she leaves with her partner to continue their dance relationship in the foyer. She returns to watch a flash back scene of their volatile relationship before walking out into the rain-swept street. The constant shift in focus between the dancer, her image and the technology, backgrounded with a very modern relationship makes this a masterpiece that has no rival.

The role of the cameraman was created for Henk van Dijk, and he made a welcome return with dancers, Igone de Jongh and Marijn Rademaker. It is a terrifying role for the female dancer as the camera hovers in unflinchingly close up reaching into her very soul. Her fingernails, eyelashes and even the glow on her skin are magnified onto the screen. Created on Colleen Scott, this is a work that de Jongh has made her own and she is nothing less than magnificent. Resisting theatrical display she simply allows the camera to read her thoughts. Self-contained, almost narcissistic, she breaks her reverie briefly to flirt with van Dijk. The studio flash-back is filmed in silence, the footfalls, slaps and door slamming echo through the studio adding to the fiery exchange between de Jongh and Rademaker. Van Manen’s direction is impeccable, with never a false move. Even the short shower of rain was perfectly timed to add poignancy to her lonely figure in a raincoat disappearing into the darkness.

Anna Tsygankova and Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen's Twilight Photo Angela Sterling

Anna Tsygankova and Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen’s Twilight
Photo Angela Sterling

Twilight was created for Alexandra Radius and Han Ebbelaar and became a signature piece for the couple. Interpreted here by Anna Tsygankova and Artur Sheshterikov, it takes on a new flavour. Van Manen explores the fascination with high heels, that love/hate symbol of womanhood, and in the process creates another of his powerful female voices. Tsygankova sets the pace: feisty and full-blooded while Sheshterikov just plays ball. Within Cage’s extraordinary music for prepared piano, van Manen finds elements of caustic wit and mirrors the complex rhythms in his choreography. The aggressive opening takes a turn when, ditching her heels, Tsygankova literally throws herself at Sheshterikov and they launch into a lively jazz section that puts the gender balance on an even keel. They finally come together, exhausted by the battle, to start the conversation all over again but this time, from a different place.

Two Gold Variations is audacious, jazzy and less complicated than the other works. Easy on the eye and ear, it is nevertheless pretty demanding on the fourteen dancers. The male dancers particularly get terrific choreographic material to show them at their best. There are, of course, plenty of covert exchanges between the couples with de Jongh and Jozef Varga leading in a blistering duet. De Jongh maintains the tension in her eloquent shoulders keeping an edgy relationship with a predatory Varga while her legs carve pattern in the air with awesome power. Then, at the final moment, she unpins her hair and – black-out!

Metaphor was written 50 years ago for Nederlands Dans Theater; it was controversial then and is still startling today. In a ballet setting of tunics and white tights, the genders constantly blur. The male duet, now quite commonplace in contemporary choreography, still seems brazen when expressed in a shoulder lift and or supported arabesque. The structure is as taut as a Balanchine ballet but the sensibility is distinctly Dutch. Arabesques, incisive and classically placed, are complemented by van Manen’s iconic arms spread as broad as an eagle’s wings and lifted above aesthetic correctness as though to take flight.

The première cast couldn’t have been bettered. In the leads, Maia Makhateli with Artur Shesterikov and Suzanna Kaic with Remi Wörtmeyer found a perfect physical match, with each dancer demonstrating eye-watering technical brilliance. The test was in performance where precision timing and emotional responses made this a performance to remember.

Also from the Netherlands, read Maggie Foyer on Dutch National Ballet’s recent Gala; and on the Junior Company and ISH Theatre in Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.