NRC Handelsblad (13 September 2013)
Broad view of ‘Corps de Ballet’
The classical corps de ballet is white and female, light as a feather and elegant, uniform and subservient. But what does the modern ‘body of the ballet’ look like? In Corps, the Dutch National Ballet presents three interpretations of the phenomenon corps de ballet, giving an unusual combination of styles.
The rather sugary interpretation of Michael Fokine’s Les Sylphides from 1909 conforms to the traditional image in both its costuming and movement idiom. It is followed, like a sort of negative, by Hans van Manen’s Corps from 1985. Van Manen presents a male corps de ballet, dressed in black ‘wrestling suits’. They are earthy and powerful, and instead of serving as a living, decorative frame for the principals’ dances (like in Les Sylphides), these fifteen lads demand a major role for themselves, with their charged, threatening presence filled with pent-up aggression. Three female principals provide changes of atmosphere, in which the equally intangible and precise Jurgita Dronina stirs up unrest. It is good to see this intriguing work again after eighteen years.
And then to the present. In The body of the national ballet, Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten investigate the phenomenon of the corps de ballet, along with thirty dancers. Set to the heartbeat in the soundtrack by Sébastien Gaxie, it is about individuality versus collectivity, uniformity and anonymity. It is also about collaboration and becoming one in movement, but not (like in classical dance) exactly on the beat and ‘without breathing’, but precisely through breathing – synchrony comes in second place. Here and there, the movements, music or elements of the scenery refer to the Romantic origins of the corps de ballet, and every once in a while the choreography is interesting. With no strict form, however, the tension and thus the attention slips away too often.
Trouw, 14 September 2003
Not long before Amsterdam dethrones The Hague
After a performance by the Dutch National Ballet, the applause for a snowflake or a swan is nowhere near as loud as for the prima ballerina. Yet the ballet ranks behind the footlights are an excellent measure of the status of the ballet company. In the seventies and eighties, artistic director Rudi van Dantzig valued the personality of a dancer above their technique. This worked very well for the new ballets that rolled off the production line, but the classics like Swan Lake looked rather shaky. The current director Ted Brandsen has got a firm grip on technique. The programme Corps, which can be seen in The Amsterdam Music Theatre in the coming weeks, revolves around the corps de ballet as the backbone of a ballet company. One word that immediately surfaces on seeing this programme is ‘together’, as the Dutch National Ballet shows great unity on stage. And the strength this exudes does not come amiss.
This is especially noticeable with the twelve men in Hans van Manen’s Corps (1985), a ballet about three phases in a woman’s life. As one body, the men emanate virility with quite a bit of underlying aggression or else a gentle sort of masculinity, whereby the duets that focus on the three women become inevitable. This piece to Berg’s violin concerto, which is one of Van Manen’s best, has probably seldom been performed better by the corps.
Alongside this, Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides, the first real non-narrative music ballet from 1909 to music by Frédéric Chopin, is a logical choice for the programme. Here, the corps consists entirely of women, and their function in this ‘ballet blanc’ is atmospheric in nature. In beautiful Romantic tableaux, like lilies opening and closing, they express feelings of desire and melancholy.
The reason why Corps has not been given four stars above, is the not altogether convincing The body of the national ballet by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, the duo behind the new city company ICKamsterdam. It is fantastic that the Dutch National Ballet have formed an Amsterdam alliance with these important makers from the contemporary dance circuit. This could well usurp the throne of The Hague as dance city of the Netherlands. The duo vitaminises classical ballet with a contemporary approach to dance. But the theme – what is the place of the individual in a (dance) group? – is poorly developed. The thirty dancers in flesh-coloured full and half-length body suits, trimmed with glitters, hide their faces like a silent army, only to break free with a scream and demand their own place in furious group dances. One or two get to dance solos, but then with a painful undertone. There are references to well-known ballets, like the grand pas de deux from Nutcracker, which gives the work a disjointed and prestigious look.
It is also dangerous to put a work by Greco and Scholten, who are not afraid of being kitsch, alongside one by Hans van Manen, a choreographer with the maxim ‘less is more’. However, the fact that the corps de ballet of the Dutch National Ballet is impressive goes without saying. (Sander Hiskemuller)
De Volkskrant, 13 September 2013
On one intake of breath
The opening gala is full of difficult feats.
The triple bill Corps is well-balanced, except for the most contemporary part.
The individual and the group: there is a sharp distinction between the two for classical ballet companies, which is carried through to the organisational structure. There are all sorts of ranks and positions through which a dancer can climb. The happy few become principals, but the majority remain part of the ‘corps de ballet’ throughout their career. The Dutch National Ballet presented a wonderful opening to the new season with two programmes that revolved around these extremes. In Gala, it was all about the stars, and in Corps everyone is a star.
A gala to open the season is new to the Dutch National Ballet and a smart charm offensive, for which the audience obviously want to pay good money. You get red carpets, Dutch celebrities from the soap ‘Goede Tijden Slechte Tijden’ and refreshments. It starts with a grand defilé of over two hundred dancers and pupils, and ends in a tropical rainstorm of golden glitter. In between, there is a lavish spread of difficult feats from the company’s broad repertoire of classical, neo-classical and modern works. The grand pas de deux format – an extremely virtuoso showcase of strength, speed and balance – is in particularly good hands with Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding in Don Quichotte. And of course, it wouldn’t be a gala without guest stars from abroad. Tonight’s guests were the stylish Mathias Heymann from Paris and the expressive Marijn Rademaker from Stuttgart.
Corps is a completely different affair; a serious, well-balanced triple bill that becomes increasingly contemporary as it goes on, and which revolves around the group. In the Romantic music ballet Les Sylphides (1909) by Fokine, a poet is surrounded by his muses; fairylike women in ankle-length tutus. They dance on pointe with precision and verve or stand in motionless formations, their heads gracefully inclined, literally framing the central picture. Whereas this tulle dream emphasises the fragile atmosphere of Chopin, in Corps (1985) Hans van Manen uses the group – made up of tough men here – as the dancing partner of three female principals. Each time, a different man breaks free from the group, and during their duet the rest stay prominently in view, giving a subtle commentary in posture or movement on the light-hearted or melancholic scenes.
The body of the national ballet (2013) forms the third part of the triple bill. There had been eager anticipation for this collaboration with ICKamsterdam, the company of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, a fashionable duo who always flirt with the contemporary vocabulary, but in their own radical style, which is driven more by impulses and energy than by creating lines.
However, this adaptation of a piece they made in 2011 for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo is very shaky – quite apart from the fact that their style looks messy and inexpressive on the bodies of these ballet dancers. There is much aiming at effect, by making the large group of dancers rush almost continually over the stage en masse, often also loudly and obviously on one collective intake of breath. And there is little tension, as the differences within this crowd are not defined. It’s true that masks are taken off so that individuals become visible, and that the lone dancer in a blue raffia skirt eventually gets more blue next to him, but this does not make for an intriguing ‘story’ about the individual and the group. (Mirjam van der Linden)
Theaterkrant.nl (12 September)
Ensemble too big for Greco's movement idiom
The link between the different works choreographed by Michel Fokine, Hans van Manen and the duo Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten in the new programme by the Dutch National Ballet is the prominent role played by the corps de ballet. The ‘body’ of the ballet thus provides an interesting artistic content perspective, which convincingly brings together different times, artistic visions and styles.
In Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides (1909), set by Rachel Beaujean for the Dutch National Ballet’s repertoire in 2004, the corps de ballet of a maximum of twenty female dancers surrounds the principals. In straight lines, duos forming arches, or trios, the dancers assume identical poses, changing position regularly and silently and thus creating beautiful sculptural images. But the group also performs energetic waltzes to Chopin’s music. Jozef Varga is the only man on stage in Les Sylphides, among the three ballerinas and the corps.
This is very different in Hans van Manen’s Corps (1985), a work that has seldom been performed up to now. Here, twelve men form a tight-knit group. Three women disrupt the harmony one after another, initially by just skimming over the stage. Is it reality or a dream? The female dancers, dressed in white, brown and black dresses, dance with three different men. These colours also characterise the duets, which range from playful to dramatically charged. The men break away from the group, but are absorbed back into the whole again, where one of them appears to be literally engulfed.
The work The body of the national ballet is the only Dutch premiere of the evening, although Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten created a previous version for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 2011. The body of the national ballet starts with a lone dancer in the spotlight, whose skirt of blue strings round his middle looks like a parody on the long white classical tutus of Fokine. The same applies to the electronic sound composition of birds, wind and creaking noises. Instead of the extended arms and legs characteristic of classical ballet technique, the limbs here appear to be manipulated externally, like marionettes. Almost invisible in the background at the beginning, a group of twenty-eight dancers fills the stage soon afterwards. Different men and women keep floating to the surface in this crowd, sometimes literally when the whole group is lying on the floor. Who dances the solos or duets is not dictated by a hierarchical structure. The way in which Greco and Scholten have expressed their reservations about the classical ballet world in their choreography is unfortunately not strong enough to produce an interesting piece. In addition, their movement material is not done justice by this huge ensemble, where it is impossible to let each dancer excel as a soloist. This working method comes across much better with the choreographers’ own smaller group (which has built up years of experience with their way of working). (Marcelle Schots)