'A glorious overdose of dance'
Saturday 18 February 2012
Hans van Manen, who is almost eighty, has added a new gem to his repertoire. His Variations for two couples is exceptionally beautiful, and he reveals the dancers’ personalities in a masterly way. Van Manen juxtaposes the lyrical and subdued characters of Igone de Jongh (his muse) and Jozef Varga with the expressive and virtuoso couple Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding. The individuality of the two couples in no way leads to conflict on stage, but rather adds the quality that makes Van Manen a master choreographer – pure dance.
Variations for two couples is just one of the presents the audience is treated to by the Dutch National Ballet. The double programme Present/s comprises no fewer than nine new creations by the company’s resident choreographers and guest choreographers. Ton Simons is probably the most remarkable name in the list of guest choreographers, which also includes Christopher Wheeldon, and Lightfoot and León. As a follower of Cunningham, Simons’ roots lie in postmodern dance. The nature of difference, his first piece for the Dutch National Ballet and also his first work on pointe, is very exciting. Remarkably, his creation is akin to the classical ballet idiom, with Balanchine and Forsythe influences here and there. Simons alternates dynamic variations with an almost hushed duet, performed movingly by Milena Sidorova and Anatole Babenko.
Lightfoot and León are also making their ‘debut’ with the Dutch National Ballet, but unlike Simons the choreographers’ duo from Nederlands Danstheater stay close to their roots in Short time together, once again creating a surrealist image with unexpected twists and turns. It is obvious that the dancers are still rather unaccustomed to the duo’s body language, which is inextricably linked to versatile facial expressions. The piece (which has a prominent role for the fragile but very talented dancer Erica Horwood) could be lent even more power with a little more daring on the part of the dancers. This does not apply, however, to Cédric Ygnace and Rebeca Taboada Rivas, who understand the idiom of Lightfoot and León and give their all.
Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and David Dawson are no strangers to the Dutch National Ballet. Ratmansky moves the audience with Souvenir d’un lieu cher, to Tchaikovsky’s music of the same name. Though the choreography is technically demanding, it is performed impressively by Tsygankova, Varga, Megan Zimny Gray and Artur Shesterikov.
Dawson’s Day 4, to an intriguing composition by Greg Haines, is terrifying in a nice way. Dawson hypnotises his audience to a certain extent and the work is refreshing despite its darker sides. Less interesting is Consequence by Juanjo Arqués, a choreographer from within the company’s ranks. His work lacks structure, and it is uncertain whether the chaos has been created intentionally.
Lighting and choreography go hand in hand in the exciting Chapters by resident choreographer Krzysztof Pastor. Pastor’s complex body of ideas, translated into an intense dance composition, is in stark contrast to the exuberant, colourful and festive Raï by choreographer and artistic director Ted Brandsen. In any case, Present/s treats the spectator to a glorious overdose of dance.
(Nanska van de Laar)
'The fifty-year-old Dutch National Ballet is giving nine presents'
Saturday 18 February 2012
The Dutch National Ballet, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this season, is nowhere near the end of its festivities. Following the spectacular Gala, the anniversary programme Gold, and the productions of Swan Lake and Nutcracker and Mouse King, the ballet company is presenting no fewer than nine world premieres (the ‘presents’ in the title) on two consecutive evenings. They kicked off with part 1 last night, and part 2 will follow tonight.
Present/s 1 was a bit of a home match. It included new work by the two resident choreographers Hans van Manen and Krzysztof Pastor, artistic director Ted Brandsen, and dancer and upcoming choreographer Juanjo Arqués. And Christopher Wheeldon, who will be making a brand-new version of Cinderella next season for the Dutch National Ballet (co-produced by San Francisco Ballet), is already like part of the family.
The evening opened with Chapters by the Polish choreographer Pastor, which evoked strong associations with his full-length ballet Nijinsky. In that work, too, the main role was danced by Cédric Ygnace, where he was also torn apart by opposing forces. In Chapters, Ygnace gets involved in a tragic love triangle with his steady girlfriend (Laura O’Malley in gloomy black) and a young, innocent girl (Erica Horwood in fresh blue). The drama came mainly from Witold Lutoslawski’s music, while the choreography itself was lukewarm.
The same snag, but then in reverse, was seen in Wheeldon’s Duet. Although there were several powerful supporting and lifting constructions in the duet for Anu Viheriäranta and Jozef Varga, the serene piano concerto by Ravel practically put the audience to sleep.
But things hotted up with Variations for two couples by Van Manen. In an ingeniously lit set (Keso Dekker, Bert Dalhuysen), Van Manen placed two couples opposite one another. Whereas one was a model of restrained, courtly love (Igone de Jongh, Jozef Varga), the other was the epitome of exuberant passion (Anna Tsygankova, Matthew Golding).
The most ambitious contribution of all came from the ‘youngster’ Arqués, who managed to squeeze about three different ballets into sixteen minutes in Consequence. In the first part, the ten dancers wandered through the shadows as if lost. In the third part, too, the dancers lost their way, blinded by the possibilities and impossibilities of the world of technology. The central section, a sensitive duet for Sebastien Galtier and Marisa Lopez, was rather incongruous. We have seldom seen Lopez so vulnerable, so crushed and so convincing.
Brandsen’s ensemble piece Raï, with its cheerful dresses (worn back to front by the men), Riverdance influences and West Side Story vibes, formed an entertaining and innocuous finale to the evening.
de telegraaf (1)
'Van Manen: short and good'
Friday 17 February 2012
The Dutch National Ballet is pulling out all the stops for their fiftieth anniversary, with nine premieres divided over two evenings. Whether or not by coincidence, in the first programme the shortest two works are also by far the best.
In Variations for two couples, Hans van Manen presents two couples with different characters. Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga are more introverted in their dancing than Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding, whose virtuoso pirouettes are astonishing. The relay race develops. The couples draw closer to each other and come together on stage in the last section. One duo augments the other, like the four totally different compositions (from Britten to Piazzolla) enrich the dance and vice versa. And all of this in twelve exciting minutes. Once again, the almost eighty-year-old choreographer has turned out a masterpiece.
Also first-rate is Duet by Christopher Wheeldon. Against a backdrop that is reminiscent of a Monet sunrise, Anu Viheriäranta and Jozef Varga dance in crystal-clear, flowing lines, as if they are carried by the quiet sounds of the slow section of Ravel’s piano concerto in G (played beautifully by Olga Khoziainova and Holland Symfonia, conducted by Matthew Rowe). Next season, Wheeldon is creating a new full-length production of Cinderella for the company, which is something to look forward to.
In Consequence, Juanjo Arqués plays his highest trump cards in an expressive duet. The dynamic outer movements for ten dancers lack focus. In Chapters, Krzysztof Pastor also suggests lots of drama. He tries to come to grips with the difficult Fourth Symphony by Lutoslawski, but this ballet, too, looks rather aimless. Raï, by artistic director Ted Brandsen, is an entertaining finale with elements from folk dancing and show ballet, which is enthusiastically performed by eight men and eight women in brightly coloured costumes.
Apart from the new Cinderella, the company is also bringing Paquita back into the repertoire next season. And there will also be premieres by Pastor, David Dawson and Shen Wei. Another new development is the junior group Nxt, intended for developing talent.
(Eddie Vetter - Three stars out of five)
de telegraaf (2)
'Virtuoso relay race'
Monday 20 February
It is quite a feat for the Dutch National Ballet – nine premieres in two programmes – but Present/s 2 has produced a gem as well. Just like Hans van Manen, Alexei Ratmansky presents two couple on stage in Souvenir d'un lieu cher, set to the music of the same name by Tchaikovsky. The Russian choreographer breathes new life into the Romantic tradition with exceptional initiative and an expressive use of classical technique. After a languorous adagio, the dancers sweep you up in an exciting virtuoso relay race. Inimitable!
Short time together, by Paul Lightfoot and Sol León from Nederlands Dans Theater, is also exciting. It is as if the duo has split in two and the extremities do not want to touch each other. The first part, to the ecstatic final of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, displays the clownish and exuberant qualities of Lightfoot’s earliest works. Three male solos explode into the auditorium – especially the one for Matthew Golding. This apotheosis of dance is followed by an almost motionless duet that betrays the dark theatrical side of Sol León. It looks like an expression of deep mourning of the death of a loved one, in a poignantly quiet and concentrated interpretation by Rebeca Taboada Rivas and Cédric Ygnace.
The nature of difference, by Ton Simons, begins strongly with a contrast between strict classical forms and playful moods. He refers to Baroque social dances, just as the music by Thomas Adès refers to Couperin. However, when chaos breaks out afterwards, it starts to look too much like Forsythe, with all those extreme extensions.
Day4 by David Dawson is New Age in the year 2012. The seven dancers wander around like lost souls after a natural disaster, the smoke machine works overtime, the music by Greg Haines slithers in your ears and the choreography, or what you can see of it on the shadowy stage, also seems to run just as smoothly. Some nice images nevertheless.
If anything is demonstrated by this profusion of new works, it is the versatility of the Dutch National Ballet, and the fact that the 50-year-old company is still alive and kicking.
'A ballet party where you don’t want to take down the streamers'
Saturday 18 February
This season is the Dutch National Ballet’s fiftieth anniversary and the company is giving no fewer than nine premieres as gifts in Present/s 1 & 2. ‘The State of the Art’ is what the Dutch National Ballet calls these new works, divided over two programmes, and this is no exaggeration. Classical ballet is steeped in tradition, but needs anchor points to remain interesting in the future. Anyone who claims ballet is dead should take a look at the Dutch National Ballet.
The second programme, in particular, is a ballet party where you want to leave the streamers up for another couple of weeks. Choreographer Ton Simons, who since leaving Dance Works Rotterdam has been a captain without a ship, has found a port for his dance idiom in The Nature of Difference; a monument of classical and playful dance set to the Couperin studies by Thomas Adès. Gradually, Simons loosens the formalist reins of his four couples. The master can be identified by his nerve.
Alexei Ratmansky, the Russian who reanimated the Bolshoi, allows two couples (including a breathtaking Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga) to give a personal interpretation of their classical feats, with a little help from Tchaikovsky’s stirring Souvenir d’un lieu cher.
Choreographers’ duo Lightfoot and León, prised away from Nederlands Dans Theater for the occasion, make an impression with a many-layered work based on the personal drama of one of the dancers. Beethoven’s Seventh and Max Richter’s When she came back let the dancers steer between the will to live and melancholy. The duet for Rebeca Taboada Rivas and Cédric Ygnace is one of the most impressive for years.
On the other hand, resident choreographer Krszysztof Pastor and ex-resident choreographer David Dawson do not deliver their best work. Pastor, always one for good ballet emotion, does not appear completely at home with the music of Lutoslawski’s Fourth (Present/s 1), while Dawson drapes an apocalyptic veil over his day4 (Present/s 2) that spoils the clarity of his lyrical dance idiom.
In Present/s 1, Hans van Manen once again does what he’s good at: a compact music ballet with an unparalleled feeling for building up tension. Artistic director Ted Brandsen does the same, with a cheerful final number in which he shows us his nose for show.
In a sunrise by Monet, Christopher Wheeldon is supremely classical. He gets Anu Viheriäranta and once again a strong Jozef Varga to react with contemporary motivation to a dreamy piano concerto by Ravel. Wonderful.
If the Dutch National Ballet wants to continue to invest in the future, it is necessary to guide young talent carefully, and not throw them to the lions too soon. This programme has come too quickly for Juanjo Arqués. Though he is certainly talented, his Consequence does not have enough choreographic focus as yet.
'Promising birthday present'
Saturday 18 February 2012
The Dutch National Ballet is celebrating. For its 50th anniversary, the company got nine choreographers to make a new work. The audience has never been treated to so many world premieres at once (although they have been divided over two evenings). It’s Valhalla and extravagance at the same time – because why two programmes? It’s not necessary. It could have been three or four. Why not just one present with a big bow? Or one evening of old-timers and one of choreographers new to the company? Or a duet series and a group series?
Yet Present/s, dedicated to the recently deceased Rudi van Dantzig, is an injection the Dutch National Ballet can use and which does the dancers good. For years, the contemporary aspect has been a concern, alongside the classical and neo-classical repertoire. There are not enough really exciting, surprising things happening. Present/s shows that it is also just a question of investing in good choreographers. Then some really decent work emerges that is also a challenge for the dancers. The impressionist prologue films by Altin Kaftira (ex-dancer) and Mathieu Gremillet (second soloist) are a real asset.
Should you go and see programme one? Yes, for Hans van Manen. Variations for two couples is a variation on his favourite theme, the duet. Danced by two couples, Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding (who surpass themselves), and Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga, the piece shows Van Manen’s traditional different layers of a relationship; gentle and lyrical, yet energetic and virtuoso. And of course always challenging and sensual, without any sentimental fuss.
Yet it is still fascinating to experience the exceptional nature of this powerful, earthy image of mankind shown by Van Manen, with men and women who can genuinely measure up to one another. In the other duets by Englishman Christopher Wheeldon in programme one and the Russian Alexei Ratmansky in programme two, you see how ballet choreographers tend to portray relationships as gentle, floaty, romantic events, usually with girlish women. Although Ratmansky does mix a good dose of drama and humour into them. It is absolutely not bad; the choreographers display an extremely refined and virtuoso use of the classical idiom and the dancers feel like fish in water. It is just totally different – made by men from a tradition that is clearly more classical.
And programme two then. Should we go and see that? On the whole, it’s much more exciting, so yes. There are more company outsiders, who give a different bite to the group pieces. In The nature of difference, for example, Ton Simons (former director of Dance Works Rotterdam) not only analyses the compositions of Thomas Adès, but also plays with the language of ballet. Pointe shoes, black tutus, taut lines and virtuoso balances – he uses them all. But then with strange twists, like an unexpected, frivolous turn of the hips or the use of slow motion, which turns a duet into an outrageously drawn-out and therefore intensely dramatic trial of strength between two dancers. The dancers could be freer and bolder, but the collaboration is a promising one.
The latter also applies to Short time together by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. Although they have said this was a one-off collaboration (Lightfoot has become the artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater, the slightly older brother of the Dutch National Ballet), the piece is a great asset. The craziness of Lightfoot’s slapstick idiom, in particular, may not be brilliantly expressed as yet, as it takes the Dutch National Ballet dancers well out of their comfort zone. But you can tell by their eagerness that they are moved by it.
The real present comes at the end of the piece in an emotional duet, intensely performed by Rebeca Taboada Rivas and Cédric Ygnace about saying farewell. He can only utter soundless words, and their bodies write the story one last time in movement. Then he walks away. The time has come.
Mirjam van der Linden
(Three stars out of five)
'Duets that celebrate love'
Thursday, 23 February
Some companies perform best under pressure. In the 'festival' Present/s, the Dutch National Ballet presented nine premieres, and you could practically smell the adrenaline recently in The Amsterdam Music Theatre. The ‘presents’ were divided over two performances – a welcome change to the routine of ‘block’ programming, in which one programme at a time is performed during a set period.
Rather alarming is the fact that the second generation of Dutch National Ballet choreographers produced the least successful contributions: from vague drama or vacuous time-filling to the umpteenth Ultimate Stretch Battle. Preferable, then, is the budding search of Juanjo Arqués, who paints a variety of different atmospheres in Consequence, with a charged duet as the highlight.
Duets and double duets are anyway the eye-catchers in Present/s. Ex-Bolshoi director Alexei Ratmansky shows the full opulence of the Russian ballet style, with two melancholy couples who become gradually more exuberant and virtuoso in celebrating their love. The almost eighty-year-old Hans van Manen seems to be flicking through the photo album of his oeuvre in Variations for two couples, adding a subtle witticism now and then. Duet, by the Brit Christopher Wheeldon, is also a strong and musical piece.
‘Outsiders’ Paul Lightfoot and Sol León from NDT put three classical colleagues through their paces in powerful, dizzying solos to the finale of Beethoven’s Seventh, after which the mood changed to a quiet duet of sorrow and drawing apart. Ton Simons (ex-Dance Works Rotterdam) also has something really different to offer the Dutch National Ballet, as shown in his surprising The Nature of Difference.
Wonderful – such a generous helping of contemporary ballet. Double programmes are certainly something to be repeated.
(Francine van der Wiel)
new york times
'Even in plush economic times, a festival of new ballets is a risky undertaking. How to find studio hours for all the dancers and choreographers? How to get a collection of new pieces working technically — lighting, décor, staging — at the same time? And then the crucial issue: Will the works be any good?'
> new york times