Monday 25 November 2013

The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013

Stadsshouwburg, Amsterdam     Source Wikipedia

Often when one builds up high hopes and expectations one is disappointed. I had built up very high hopes and enormous expectations of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company. And you know what? My hopes and expectations were exceeded.

As it is rather late and I have a plane to catch at 09:30 I shall have to be brief. This evening we saw 8 short works the last of which was a world premiere.   Each of these works was introduced by a short film with commentary by the dancers or choreographer.

The first ballet was Minuet choreographed by Ernst Meisner the Junior Company's artistic director to music by Handel, It was danced by two young American dancers Therese Davis and Daniel Cooke. Dressed sumptuously as the Sun King's courtiers against a backdrop of what appeared to be Versailles they executed the intricate steps with precision and elegance. This was a good choice for the start of the evening because ballet can trace its origins to the French court of this period.

In a way the next ballet continued that theme. A voice explained why the vocabulary of ballet is French.  It asked Daniel Montero to demonstrate sequentially 100 positions in ballet. Then the commentator called the positions randomly forcing the dancer to greater and greater exertions culminating in turns to the whine of a jet aircraft engine.  The lights dimmed for a few seconds to reveal a stage full of body parts,  "Position 101"boomed the voice to the audience's laughter.  Happily the scattered body parts were not those of Mr Montero though the bust was a pretty good likeness.  Montero took his bow to thunderous applause.  The ballet was called "Ballet 101"and the music (such as it was) was by Jens-Peter Abele.

The third ballet was Rudi van Dantzig's arrangement of the first pas de deux of Odette and Siegfried in Swan Lake.   Odette was danced by Jessica Xuan and Siegfried by Nathan Brhane. The audience loved them and so did I.

I had come to Amsterdam to see Michaela dePrince about whom I have written a lot. She appeared as Diana in Diana & Actaeon a ballet originally choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova for the Kirov in 1935. Soviet ballet was athletic and spectacular requiring enormous virtuosity. I had seen something of dePrince's virtuosity in her YouTube videos but she is even more impressive in real life.  She is quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while. It cannot be easy to partner a dancer of dePrince's calibre but Sho Yamada was equal to the task. He dazzled the audience with his jumps and turns. A very powerful dancer.

Next came Peter Wright's pas de quatre in Sleeping Beauty. Having recently seen Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance at The Lowry (see "The Sleeping Beauty - a Review and why the Ballet is important" 29 Sep 2013)Wright's choreography was fresh in my mind. Veronika Verleich, Wantao Li, Nancy Burer and Mert Erdin executed it faithfully,

The last work of the first Act was Saltarello another ballet by Meisner.  Another opportunity for Yamada and dePrince to display their virtuosity together with Sofia Rubio Robles and Montero. In the introductory film before the ballet dePrince explained that the work was based on an Italian folk dance that required great technical skill but was also fun to dance. With music by Mendelssohn and beautiful rainbow costumes this was my favourite work of the show.

After the interval Xuan danced Quintet with Brhane, Cooke, Mert Erdin and Wantao Li. "In this ballet I get to dance with four men at the same time"she remarked charmingly. Choreographed by Hans van Manen to Mozart's music in 1974 this is one of the great works of 20th century ballet.   The audience knew it well and clearly loved it.  At the end of the performance the great man himself came on stage to take a bow.

The final work of the evening was a new ballet by the English choreographer George Williamson called Dawn Dances. This had been commissioned for the company and this performance was the world premiere.  In the introductory film Williamson explained that his aim was to give each of the dancers an opportunity to shine while still working as a team.  From my perspective he certainly achieved that objective.

Until tonight I had only seen two standing ovations the last as recently as September ("Realizing Another Dream" 15 Sep 2013). I never expected to see another and certainly not so soon.  But stand we did.  Not in groups as in Leeds but as if we were one.  Now I don't think the Dutch are more emotional or given to hyperbole than us British and they see a lot of ballet in Amsterdam. I doubt that they stand very often. Clearly this was more than just a good evening. It was outstanding.

I should just like to say a few words about the Stadsshouwburg.  It is one of the most beautiful theatres I have ever seen.  It is an intimate auditorium but it has all the grandeur of an opera house with tiers of galleries and intricate moldings. Not a bad place for these talented dancers to start what are likely to be stellar careers.

Further Information
Hans van Manen  Interview for Northern Ballet  Northern Ballet's YouTube Channel

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