Sunday 7 June 2015

Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever

Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company, Blink
Photo Michael Schluter
(C) 2015 Dutch National Ballet  All rights reserves
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company

Dutch National Ballet, Ballet Classics and Modern Masters, Linbury Studio Theatre, 6 June 2015

I saw the Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company perform their mixed programme Ballet Classics and Modern Masters at the Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam on 6 Feb 2015 and you will find my review at The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015.  I saw the show again last night at the Linbury Studio Theatre in Covent Garden. In the intervening 4 months they have performed that programme in towns and cities across the Netherlands.  As a result it has become even more polished while remaining as fresh and exuberant as ever.

The programme was very much as it had been in February.  The one big difference is that Ernst Meisner, the Artistic Coordinator introduced the company instead of the Artistic Director, Ted Brandsen. Ernst explained how the Junior Company had been formed and that it provided opportunities not only for talented young dancers but also talented young technicians and choreographers. He promised us two of the best: Surfacing by the Canadian dance maker Robert Binet and Blink by Juanjo Aques from Spain. As in Amsterdam the dancers introduced themselves in a film which I have embedded in "We are the Junior Company"  13 Feb 2015. I just love their giggle at the end of that clip and having met them all in Amsterdam I can say that they are among the most pleasant and personable, as well as the most talented, kids on the planet. Each ballet was introduced by a short clip bits of which are in the trailer that I embedded in Not Long Now 28 May 2015.

The show began with Bourgonville's Napoli danced by Riho SakamotoEmilie Tassinari, Veronika VerterichYuanyuan Zhang, Cristiano Principato and Martin ten Kortenaar. The women wore the most gorgeous costumes with long flowing skirts which photographer Michael Schluter captured in the picture that I inserted into my previous review. There was some great jumping by the men and some delightful pointe work by the women. I had forgotten how sexy and fun Napoli remains despite the passage of time. The crowd loved it. It was a real pot boiler. The audience were as putty in the company's hands for the rest of the performance. It was an inspired choice for the start of the show.

The next work was Ernst Meisner's Embers danced by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme. In my previous review I described it as "quite simply ....... one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen." It moved me the first time I saw it on film - a performance on the concourse of Amsterdam railway station which I embedded into Junior Company's New Season 6 Feb 2015. It moved me again last night. I was delighted to learn that Joanna, who also saw the show, loved that piece as much as I do.

Another moving piece is the pas de deux from Act II of Swan Lake where Siegfried first sees and falls in love with Odette. This is probably the most frequently performed, the most televised, the best known and the best loved pas de deux in the world and it is an honour to dance it. That honour fell to Martin and Yuanyuan who were charming. There was one anxious nano-second but nothing like enough to break the spell. The version of the ballet that the Junior Company performed was Rudi van Dantzig's with lovely costumes by Toer van Schayk. Odette wears a red stone representing ruby in her head dress and on the bodice of her tutu. A lovely touch that I had never noticed before. The programme notes describe this production as the most beautiful Swan Lake ever. I missed it this year but I will catch it next time.

Bart Engelen changed our mood with his witty performance of Milena Siderova's Full Moon. Bart wants to grab some kip but the pillow seems to have a mind of its own.  Bart tugs it this way and that, jumps with it, applies his whole weight to it but the pillow won't keep still. Finally he stamps on it.  All this is performed to the music of Prokofiev's Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet. Bart and Milena have a lot to answer for. A few weeks later my beloved Northern Ballet performed Romeo and Juliet in Leeds (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - different but in a good way 8 March 2015 and Leebolt's Juliet 13 March 2015). The image of Bart and his cushion came flashed back. I just couldn't help chuckling to myself at this very solemn moment in the work with which that music is usually associated. I hope I get that image out of my system by the time I have shelled out some serious moolah to see the Royal Ballet's production in the Autumn.

The last work of the first part of the show was Hans van Manen's Visions Fugitives. What can I say?  I love this work and indeed every other work of his that I have ever seen.  Van Manen is my favourite living choreographer and in case readers accuse me of inconsistency let me say that Marney is my favourite British choreographer and Cranko is my favourite of all time. It has humour. It has pathos. The dancers form lovely almost architectural patterns. The piece was danced by Nancy Burer, Ryosuke Morimoto, Lisanne Kottenhagen and Thomas van Damme, Yuanyuan Zhang and Martin ten Kortenaar.  On the two occasions I saw the company in Amsterdam van Manen took a bow. The crowd went wild as well they might in the presence of such a distinguished dance maker. These are moments like the times I saw Fonteyn and Nureyev and Ashton and Helpmann as the ugly sisters in Cinderella that I love to relate to young dancers and dance fans.

Part two was devoted to two new works: Binet's Surfacing and Arques's Blink.  I liked both of those works. They are aptly described as "modern masters".  It was interesting to see from the introductory films the contrasting styles of working of the two choreographers. Binet seems very precise and technical. "Chasser" as though you are skating. Arques seems to be fun. "That's nice". "That's nice". "Smile!" "Boom!" Both brought out the best of their dancers.

Surfacing reminded me very much of the van Manen that we had just seen both in its choreography and its staging. It was danced beautifully by Riho, Cristiano, Nancy and Antonio Martinez. Binet chose the music of Somei Satoh which was hauntingly beautiful. His costumes were by Oliver Haller.

Blink epitomized the company. It was witty, it was exuberant and it was exciting. It reminded me of the film at the start of the show where the dancers described themselves: "we are young", "we are talented", "we are fun", "we are the Junior Company." The dancers in this last piece were Veronika, Martin, Riho, Ryosuke and Bart. Beautiful Bart with his powerful jumps and contortions. It was a great evening and I was moved to rise to my feet though I don't know how may other members of the audience joined me.

London audiences are such a snooty lot! Had the dancers performed in The Stanley and Audrey Burton Janet McNulty in the front row would have brought the whole audience to its feet as she did for Wuthering Heights in Sheffield and I would have been right behind her. It would have been the same in The Tramway because Glaswegians are demonstrative too. All of which is a roundabout way of welcoming Ernst's announcement that the company is staying on in London for a week to work with the Royal Ballet's choreographers. But is is also an entreaty to our neighbours across the sea not just to stay in London. I'd like to see what those talented young artists could do with Kenneth Tindall, Christopher Hampson and Christopher Marney. I know that Kenneth for one would love to work with the Dutch National Ballet's dancers for he told me so.   There are no British dancers in the Junior Company but it is good to know that relations are developing between the Dutch National and the Royal Ballets. All I would add as a mere balletomane is that The Royal Ballet may be the gold standard but it is not the alpha and omega of ballet in this country.

Because performers sometimes meet their public in the Linbury bar after the show, Joanna and I lingered there for 15 minutes so that we could congratulate them personally if they showed up. We did meet Ernst and exchanged a few greetings with him but only a few other members of the audience stayed so we pushed off for dinner too. We went to Wahaca for a Mexican which will feature in the chapter on where to eat after a show in the House or Coli in Team Terpsichore's forthcoming book for ballet sceptics "Will I like Ballet?" More about that later.

Other Reviews

Maggie Foyer  Dutch Juniors pack a mature punch Critical Dance

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