de telegraaf, 11 february 2013
The Dutch National Ballet is holding a Balanchine celebration, not just in The Amsterdam Music Theatre but also on tour throughout the Netherlands. The programme features three of his best works, which show the enormous versatility and inventiveness of this choreographer, who passed away thirty years ago.
Serenade (1934) combines sculptural poses and romantic expressiveness with a clear interplay of lines, to music by Tchaikovsky. It was a dream-like performance – light and precise even at the highest tempo. Larissa Lezhnina and Matthew Golding gave a gilded edge to the waltz. Maia Makhateli was an exciting Russian Girl, and the ensembles were a miracle of homogeneity.
In Agon (contest, 1957) Balanchine comes across even more as the greatest innovator of the neoclassical style. Just as Stravinsky demonstrates that music can be found even in a composition tinged with serialism, the choreography combines ingenious constructions with an overwhelming joy of dance. The twelve dancers entered the contest with great courage and daring.
The most exuberant reactions were unleashed, as ever, by Symphony in C (1947), a compelling ballet in which the composer Bizet also appears to be dancing along. There are dazzling roles for Anna Tsygankova, Jurgita Dronina and Igone de Jongh (wonderfully lyrical in the Adagio), while among their strong partners Remi Wörtmeyer stood out with his buoyant flying leaps.
When all fifty dancers filled the stage beneath the crystal chandeliers at the end, in the punishing tempo of the finale, The Amsterdam Music Theatre practically exploded with enthusiasm. You couldn’t imagine a nicer tribute to ‘Mr. B’.
noordhollands dagblad, 9 february 2013
Balanchine remains refreshing
A ballet that is over seventy years old can still be refreshing. This was proved by the Dutch National Ballet with their performance of Serenade by George Balanchine. Serenade is the oldest work included by the company in their tribute to one of the greatest dance innovators of the twentieth century: Mr. B.
Balanchine is a true master when it comes to the beauty of dance. He shows the purity of the movements, but without denying the dancers a challenge. Technically speaking, this choreographer’s ballets are not simple in the least.
Balanchine created Serenade in 1934 for students of the School of American Ballet, which he had founded himself. Although it is not a narrative ballet, audiences who are caught up in the interplay of lines will undoubtedly be moved emotionally. Serenade is about expressing emotions, and this is clearly visible in the case of Maia Makhateli, whose sparkling and genuinely enthusiastic appearance generates a sense of bliss. The final scene, where Larissa Lezhnina is lifted above everything and everyone and transported away, is a heavenly image that remains in your mind long afterwards.
In complete contrast (Mr. B made over 400 ballets in his lifetime) is Agon from 1957, for which Stravinsky composed the music. The tulle swirling around the dancers’ bodies in Serenade is exchanged here for practice clothes. This means that nothing escapes the eye and the physical strength of the dancers is revealed in full. The choreography of Agon is structured traditionally, beginning with an ensemble section, followed by two trios and a pas de deux, with the group bringing the ballet to a close again. The ballet is concise and abstract, yet intense and sensational at the same time. And above all it is timeless. In the trio with Megan Zimny Gray and Nadia Yanowsky, Remi Wörtmeyer stood out most with his dynamic and buoyant way of moving, contrasting with the movingly performed duet by Jozef Varga and Igone de Jongh, whose long legs and high extensions were breathtaking.
The Dutch National Ballet ended their tribute to Balanchine with his Symphony in C from 1947, set to Bizet’s music of the same name. This ballet, which was Balanchine’s gift to the Ballet de l’Opera de Paris, was originally called Le Palais de Cristal – and that is just what it is. It exudes a joy of living that puts you in a happy mood and makes you long for spring time. Both Anna Tsygankova and Jurgita Dronina stood out with their light-footed pointe work, and heightened the festive spirit of the ballet, along with the ensemble. It is clear that Balanchine’s work is still just as alive as ever, even thirty years after his death. Though this is due in large part to the choreographer’s genius, it is also thanks to the refreshing performance given by the Dutch National Ballet. (Nanska van de Laar)
het parool, 11 February 2013
Classical ballet with a twist
Ode to ballet innovator and choreographer Balanchine.
A Dutch National Ballet season would not be complete without an evening of Balanchine, the most prominent choreographer of the twentieth century, who embraced classical ballet technique as well as cleverly renewing it from the inside out. The Dutch National Ballet is dancing three of his classics, accompanied for the first time by the Dutch National Ballet Orchestra, originating from Holland Symfonia. Another first is that all the principals were on stage, including Remi Wörtmeyer – promoted in January – and Jurgita Dronina, who gave birth to a son last autumn.
Balanchine created the opening ballet, Serenade (1934), for the students of his School of American Ballet, and it shows – Serenade is a crash course in classical ballet. It has everything in it, and every possible ballet pose is demonstrated. The principals with their entourages are a foretaste of the swan princess and her retinue in Swan Lake, or Myrtha and her wilis in Giselle. The first rendezvous between ballerina (Larissa Lezhnina) and ballerino (Matthew Golding) could have come straight out of a fairytale ballet, just like the music by Tchaikovsky. It is in complete contrast to Agon (1957), which is set to music composed by Stravinsky especially for Balanchine. Although Agon was given the nickname ‘the IBM ballet’ (after the computer), because of its abstract and almost mathematical complexity, the name does not do it justice.
The light-blue tulle and shiny earrings of Serenade are replaced by simple black leotards. The women wear bright red lipstick and the men are in white sports socks. This is classical ballet with a twist: free, exuberant, humorous and totally unpredictable. Hans van Manen calls Balanchine a shining example, and Agon was undoubtedly a great source of inspiration.
Whereas Serenade is a crash course in ballet, Symphony in C (1947) – to music by Bizet – is an ode to the French-Russian ballet school. It is elegant, graceful and supple. In starched white tutus, the corps de ballet form a frame for the central couples, who are sometimes lively and light-footed (Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga, Remi Wörtmeyer and Maia Makhateli) and sometimes serene and graceful (Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd).
Symphony ends in a crescendo: a never-ending stream of dancers, until everyone (more than fifty people) is on stage together, dancing as if there were no tomorrow.
Best of Balanchine is like a dinner created by a three-star chef. It’s impossible to choose a favourite – but you shouldn’t really want to either. (Bregtje Schudel)
theaterkrant.nl, 11 February 2013
The Dutch National Ballet strikes gold
Flawless lines and circles are drawn on stage and the dancers flow and mingle in perfect control. Amid these clear patterns, the choreographer George Balanchine works like a sculptor, and the duets and trios often work up to a sculptural form. It is a strongly ordered world, where the dance elevates musical motifs and makes tones and rhythms float and leap.
The Dutch National Ballet is presenting three works by Balanchine in the programme Best of Balanchine. Serenade (1934), Agon (1957) and Symphony in C (1947) have been in the company’s repertoire for at least forty years, and the dancers have been rehearsing them for this occasion with Patricia Neary, former principal with New York City Ballet.
Balanchine created Serenade, set to music by Tchaikovsky, for the students of the School of American Ballet. Remarkably, its creation was determined partly by chance, although you would not guess it from the choreography, as everything looks extremely well thought out. In daily practice, the choreographer was dependent on the number of students who showed up to his class. One day there would be a large group of dancers and the next just a few. Personal worries also found their way onto the stage, and the relationships in the dancing sometimes hint at real-life emotional entanglements.
In the next ballet on the programme, Agon, set to a new, complex composition by Stravinsky, Balanchine incorporated a variety of dance styles. Elements from jazz, Russian folk dances and French court dances lend more schwung to the classical ballet technique, even though everything is controlled down to the last millimetre. Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga danced an impressive duet that displays an amazing variety of movement structures, with each change leading to a new invention by the master. In a simple and elegant style, the female dancers wear black leotards and thin belts around their waists, with their hair done up in a Grace Kelly twist.
The final piece of the evening, Symphony in C, to Bizet’s music of the same name, is much more classical in style. But the tone is set not only by the four chandeliers and the bejewelled tunics and tutus, as Balanchine draws on the French-Russian ballet technique for both the aesthetics and vocabulary of his movements. In this respect, Symphony in C is less experimental than Agon, although the graceful character of the piece evokes associations with the waltz, and the dancers circle to their heart’s content. The highlight is the finale, in which the stage gradually fills up with a festive mass of dozens of dancers.
In the programme Best of Balanchine, the dancers compel admiration, even though the premiere does not run completely flawlessly. The Dutch National Ballet has struck gold with this repertoire, which offers the dancers a real challenge and draws great admiration from the audience. (Marcelle Schots)
on stage, 13 February 2013
Feast for the eyes
George Balanchine (1904-1983), originally from Russia, is viewed by many as the most influential choreographer of the 20th century. He created over 400 ballets, also for Hollywood films and Broadway musicals, three of which the Dutch National Ballet has included in their beautiful programme Best of Balanchine. The plotless ballets show off Balanchine’s great variety in all their glory.
The highlight of the programme is Agon (1957), to music by Igor Stravinsky (with whom Balanchine worked on 26 ballets). The composer’s interest in twelve-tone techniques inspired ‘Mr. B’ to great heights, and his creation comes across as very modern. The opening of Agon is extremely athletic, and is powerfully danced by four men. It is quickly followed by a number of solos, trios and duets, which get even more impressive as they go on.
Remi Wörtmeyer (in his debut as a principal) danced a dynamic solo, with which he soon won over the audience. He has a smile that lights up the whole stage and is very infectious. Wörtmeyer was clearly having the time of his life on stage. Anna Tsygankova’s pointe work was also very impressive, and when Jozef Varga and Igone de Jongh were dancing you could have heard a pin drop. They make a beautiful couple, standing out earlier in the work of Hans van Manen. De Jongh, in particular, showed great suppleness and technique here. Supported by one pointe shoe, she manages to manoeuvre around Varga’s body in an awe-inspiring way. ‘Agon’ means contest in Greek, and the sublime dancers do indeed seem to be trying to outdo one another from dance to dance. It is a feast for the eyes, and extremely exciting to be able to watch these excellent dancers at their very top.
Whereas Agon is metropolitan in temperament, the opening ballet Serenade has a pastoral feel to it. Balanchine shows off his musical talent superbly in this ballet. There is a wonderful alternation between melancholy and joy, and the legendary patterns of ballerinas in white are demonstrated to the full. Here, too, Balanchine shows a great variety of pointe work, even including runs on pointe at a certain moment. The swirling skirts are an aesthetic addition to the lyrical movements set to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.
The final ballet, Symphony in C (1947), is a fairytale ending and an ode to the grand Russian ballet tradition. The huge finale makes the most impression here, when the stage is gradually filled with fifty exceptional dancers moving in perfect synchrony. It is a breathtaking moment and a delightful end to a very special evening.
It may be thirty years since Balanchine passed away, but his work appears as alive as ever in the sublime performance by the Dutch National Ballet. During the premiere, there were a few unfortunate slip-ups (literally), but that is the exciting thing about live theatre. The Dutch National Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Andrea Quinn, gave a masterly performance of the music by Bizet, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, which definitely contributed to the beautiful evening. There are plenty of new things for connoisseurs to discover in Best of Balanchine, and for newcomers to Balanchine it is a wonderful introduction to Mr. B’s great variety, skill and musicality. (Brian Lo Sin Sjoe)