‘The success of the evening depends on my dancing – that’s a scary thought’
He looks at himself through the critical eyes common to all dancers. His body is not ideal for classical work, he has to do a half-hour warm-up before his knees will behave properly, he finds it difficult to achieve classical lines, and when he compares himself to some of his colleagues, he thinks ‘Boy, you should eat more pudding’.
But what the audience sees is a dancer who spins through his complicated steps with amazing ease and succeeds in perfectly conveying his energy and enjoyment. Edo Wijnen already stood out in his first season with the Dutch National Ballet, particularly in a creation by David Dawson and the dazzling Solo by Hans van Manen. “I’ve been lucky”, says the twenty-year-old dancer from Antwerp, in The Amsterdam Music Theatre. “It usually takes a while before you’re allowed to dance the big roles, but I’m getting them now”. He sums up his work at the moment: he’s second cast in the current Hans van Manen programme, is rehearsing all the ballets in the next performance and dancing in three ballets in the programme Stardust.
He has already experienced the value of the Dutch National Ballet’s ‘young talent programme’. “In Stardust, you dance things that are often just beyond your capabilities. Everyone has to pull out all the stops in order for it to work. As a young dancer, you don’t yet have the feeling of bearing responsibility for a whole performance. It’s a scary thought that the success of the evening depends on you. This makes Stardust possibly more stressful than a ‘normal’ programme in the big theatres. But that’s how you learn to cope well with the tension”.
Stardust, with sections from the ‘evergreen’ ballet repertoire and contemporary works with a classical character, is presented in the smaller theatres. Though they are not big enough for the Dutch National Ballet’s regular programmes, there is great demand for ballet there, says artistic director Ted Brandsen. “These venues often book the big classics at knock-down prices from some very questionable Eastern European ballet companies. We present a small, high-quality programme, with good dancers and top-class works”. Besides Wijnen, about whom Brandsen is very enthusiastic, the performers in Stardust include several other outstanding talents, such as the Korean dancer Young Gyu Choi, winner of the prestigious ballet competition in Varna. Brandsen waxes lyrical: “That boy is so good! A really outstanding talent”.
The programme kills two birds with one stone. On the one hand, it reaches a new audience, and on the other the young dancers make a great leap forwards in their development, due to the challenge of the technically demanding ballets and the extra coaching they receive. Brandsen is quick to add that the Dutch National Ballet does not see this ‘talent development’ (a magic word for subsidisers) as a compulsory activity. “It’s something we want to do; something we’ve always done”. Next year, they are even setting up a junior company, the Dutch National Ballet Nxt, in collaboration with the National Ballet Academy, which will be similar to Nederlands Dans Theater 2. This will give a more long-term character to the cultivation of upcoming talent.
By that time, Edo Wijnen may have climbed up another rank in the hierarchy of dancers, which he has been ascending rapidly up to now. He remains down-to-earth about it. His main goal is not becoming a principal or second soloist. It’s all about the dancing itself, and the roles you get. “The connection you feel on stage, when the music, choreography, emotion and energy all come together while everyone’s watching you, is very special. At those moments, I relive those first emotions I had as a child”. Although he has had ‘thoughts’ about an international career, at the moment he is perfectly happy in Amsterdam, with the company’s varied repertoire and a director who believes in him and gives him chances. Maybe even the role of Romeo in Rudi van Dantzig’s Romeo and Juliet?
Ted Brandsen is not letting on. “My lips are sealed”.
(Francine van der Wiel, 26 September 2012)
Calling card (***)
The concept works: a full-length programme of highlights of the classical repertoire and contemporary work. And all delivered by young dancers and choreographers from the company, who thus gain extra experience. A classical ballet company works with a hierarchical system – from the rank of aspirant to principal – and however good you are, it can sometimes take a long time to work your way up to dancing the main roles. The programme also acts as a calling card that the Dutch National Ballet, which performs regularly at The Amsterdam Music Theatre, can distribute around the country.
But was it also fun and good? It certainly was. Watching fragments of Giselle, La Bayadère, Les Sylphides and Nutcracker & Mouse King was a bit like watching a ballet competition. Though all the dancers were strong, one had more effect than the other. Not only was this to do with technique, but also with interpretation and musicality. You expect no less than a special performance from second soloists Emanouela Merdjanova (a velvety Sylphide) and Isaac Hernández (a natural prince), but somebody like Aya Okumura is surprising. This Japanese coryphée is technically precise and sparkly. She is lively, alert, mercurial and infectious, and she makes you enjoy dancing with every fibre of your being.
After the interval, the dancers switched to modern ballet. One of the five short pieces was a brand-new one: Saltarello by Ernst Meisner, who stood out before the summer holiday with the Dutch National Canta Ballet and also created a duet for the opening of the Stedelijk Museum just last week. Inspired by an old Italian ‘jumping dance’, it is a dazzling five-minute piece for four dancers (including Okumura), who interpret Bartholdy’s virtuoso music in a wonderful stream of leaps and turns.
Mirjam van der Linden (27 September 2012)