Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; November 24, 2013
A damp November evening in Amsterdam was illuminated by the glow of youthful talent at the launch of The Junior Company of the Dutch National Company. Most junior companies tour the small venues before braving the big city audiences but these twelve young dancers jumped in at the deep end with a premiere at the Stadsschouwburg the former home of the main company.
The programme covered traditional classical repertoire, contemporary pieces and a premiere from George Williamson, Associate Artist at English National Ballet, who is barely older than these young dancers. Williamson is enjoying a meteoric career as a choreographer and this commission offered him the chance to show his work in continental Europe.
The dancers are an international mix with a few dancers from the National Academy. Short video clips imaginatively filmed by Mathieu Gremillet (and always welcome with unknown dancers) gave the opportunity to meet the person inside the costume. I loved the young man who, struggling to remember the date of Hans van Manen’s “Quintet”, eventually blurting out, “1970-something – anyway, a long time before I was born”!
However there was a taste of ballet history, albeit brief, in the opening “Minuet” backgrounded by glorious Versailles before Daniel Montero launched into Eric Gautier’s “Ballet 101”, a wicked deconstruction of academic ballet rules. Hailing from Santander, Montero shows a natural gift for comedy, coupled with an engaging personality. He was in his element. If the precision of the positions was occasionally blurred, this was a secondary consideration in a solo that delighted the audience.Precision was the name of the game in the Pas De Quatre from Peter Wright’s “The Sleeping Beauty”. The men’s solos are particularly challenging. Wentao Li flashed a pair of needle-sharp feet and danced with brilliant clarity, while Turkish dancer, Mert Erdin, proved that the art of batterie is not lost. Veronika Verterich, from Moscow and Dutch dancer, Nancy Burer completed the quartet, matching technical skills and adding charm. The chief joy was the professional manner in which the four worked together to give a tricky divertissement a true professional finish.
The “White Swan Pas de Deux”, not an easy choice for young dancers, was perfect for Jessica Xuan. Chinese-born and Canadian-trained, she is blessed with the soul of a dancer, a beautifully proportioned frame and innate musicality and radiated beauty and tenderness in every move. Nathan Brhane, a tall dark Dutchman, proved an excellent partner providing unobtrusive and considerate support.
The “Diane and Acteon” Pas de Deux lit the blue touch paper and produced the fireworks. Michaela DePrince and Sho Yamada, their nerves forged in the white heat of Youth America Grand Prix finals were on top form. DePrince is utterly fearless. Her jetés slice the air, her développés are glued at the highest extension and she spins like a top. Add to this a smile that radiates warmth to the back row of the theatre and you have a star in the making. Yamada has a top quality technique and was an excellent partner but could do with a little more showmanship to match his leopard skin tunic. Ernst Meisner’s “Saltarello” closed the first half. Two couples zapped through fiendishly fast choreography in the style of folk based ballet to Mendelssohn’s lively tunes – and nobody missed a beat.
Two ensemble pieces made up the second half. “Quintet”, featuring Xuan, is full of those unspoken conversations that are so much a feature of Van Manen’s works. Ballets like this serve to separate those who use dance to communicate from those who have just learnt to dance well – and this cast passed the test. Xuan brought poetry to the simple unadorned choreography and was so absolutely at ease with her four consorts that I hope to be around when she does her first Aurora. The dancers also had the privilege of coaching from the master himself who joined them on the stage at the end, much to the delight of all.George Williamson’s “Dawn Dances” is tailored on the company. To an evocative score from Judd Greenstein and an ensemble of eight he has devised a neatly structured and appealing work that gave each dancer an opportunity to shine. There were plenty of short solos, an interesting duet for Burer and Brhane and it was good to see Yamada present his fine classical training in more lyrical style.
The Junior Company have the benefit of world class artistic direction in Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National, Ernst Meisner as Artistic Co-ordinator and Christopher Powney head of the National Ballet Academy. Powney is sadly leaving this exciting Dutch venture in March 2014 to take up further challenges as Director of the Royal Ballet School in London.
Six of the dancers have another year in the company while the six second years will be looking for contracts either at the Dutch National or further afield, now with the benefit of a thorough professional grounding behind them.