But let’s be honest, whether or not we come back soon doesn’t depend on the Dutch ambassador, but on Alistair Spalding, the director of Sadler’s Wells. That’s the leading theatre for dance in London, and possibly in the whole of England. It presents everything: from classical ballet to streetdance, and from huge commercial productions to experimental dance theatre. The theatre lives and breathes dance. Our technical crew felt it when they started work here. “Very professional. They only need half a word. They understand what’s needed straight away”, says the stage manager. And the vibes in the theatre’s foyer also tell you that a real dance audience has gathered here for the Dutch National Ballet’s premiere. As the performance is about to begin, there’s an atmosphere of excitement and eagerness. Something’s about to happen, and you can feel it.
Sir Peter Wright has come; the legendary English choreographer with whom the Dutch National Ballet has such a special relationship. And of course Wayne Eagling is here; our former artistic director, who now directs English National Ballet here in London. They’re sitting on the front row next to Hans van Manen. The Master has confidence in it. At least, that’s what he says. But at the dress rehearsal this afternoon, he had to lick things into shape. It was really necessary, even if only for the fact that it was the first time we were able to do a run-through with the English orchestra. I ask Rachel if it isn’t risky that a dissatisfied choreographer puts such strain on the dancers at the dress rehearsal that they might crack during the performance. “It’ll be alright tonight”, she assures me. “It’s always like this”. And Rachel should know.
Incidentally, all day long we weren’t sure whether the premiere cast could go on, as the visas for some of the dancers hadn’t arrived. The glorious United Kingdom has privatised the visa application process. So now we have to rely on an incompetent little company in Düsseldorf. It appears that the visas for Maia and Larissa have got lost in the system somewhere, as nobody can tell us where they are or when they’ll arrive. Four weeks and two hundred telephone calls later, they’re still not here. So the company has to set off on Wednesday without the two principals who are due to dance the premiere on Thursday. Options have been taken out on other flights in case the visas happen to be delivered to The Amsterdam Music Theatre on the Thursday morning. Other dancers have been prepared in case they have to go on instead. So everyone is relieved when Maia and Larissa can take off on Thursday after all. But when Larissa still hasn’t got through customs at Heathrow after more than an hour, the tension mounts again. Her fourth phone call to Ted brings peace of mind at last: “I’m through”. She arrives at the theatre at quarter past six. Curtain-up is at half past seven!
Sir Peter shouts his loudest bravo, though the old man’s hoarse voice is drowned out by the cheers from the rest of the auditorium. Long and loud, London thanks its Dutch guests for a very special occasion. When Hans van Manen appears on stage, the cheering swells even louder. We all realise once again what we are sometimes inclined to take for granted in the Netherlands: we have a unique man among us.
“I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in ages”, says the ambassador’s wife again. It’s a delightful afterparty, largely due to the cordial and informal team of the embassy, who have also provided drinks and a huge buffet. “And where’s that blonde boy got to? We want to see him from close up!” they ask, when Matthew Golding still hasn’t appeared. As soon as he arrives, they rush to have their photo taken with him.
Shortly afterwards, Hans is standing outside the theatre on his own. He’s going back to the hotel. We offer to order a taxi for him. But he waves us aside resolutely. “I’ll just hail a cab”, he says. You can practically hear him thinking, “As if I can’t do that for myself”. And there he goes. Off into the London night on his own. A great artist; an exceptionally talented artist. And yet, when it comes down to it, even tonight he’s just Hans.< blog archive