Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Ballet Bubbles

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Ballet Bubbles, Meervaart Theatre, Amsterdam, 14 Feb 2016

Mata Hari is a hard act to follow (see Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016). Mindful of the words of Voltaire's wise Italian that "le mieux est l’ennemi du bien" I feared that anything following it would be an anticlimax. That was what happened after the opening gala in September (see The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet 13 Sept 2015).  After seeing some of the best dancers in the world on the same stage the same evening I was temporarily spoilt for anything else.

In fact, the Junior Company's matinee performance of Ballet Bubbles which I saw at the end of a weekend that included a preview of the 2016 to 2017 opera and ballet season with interludes of heavenly singing and dancing and a tour of the home of the company which allowed access to company class and a walk on the Stopera's stage for Friends of the Dutch National Ballet as well as Mata Hari was the pièce de résistance. It was in its own way every bit as good as Mata Hari. The ability of the Dutch National Ballet to stage two outstanding but very different shows at the same time is an astounding achievement.  I struggle to think of another company in the world that could have done the same.

Of course, I should not have been so apprehensive. The week before, the Junior Company had premièred Ernst Meisner's joyful No Time Before Time at the finals of the 2016 Lausanne International Ballet Competition and nobody gets to dance there in any capacity unless they are special. Meisner's work was the finale of a brilliant performance which included work by David DawsonKrzysztof Pastor, Hans van Manen as well as Charlotte Edmonds. In an opening address just before the start of the performance (which was in Dutch - not a language that I have ever studied - so I may well have got it wrong) I believe that Meisner explained that the Junior Company offers opportunities not only for the world's most promising young dancers but also for young technicians and choreographers such as Edmonds.

The performance was staged not in the Stadsschouwburg where the last two seasons' tours had started (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013 and The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015) but in the Theater de Meervaart near an artificial lake called the Sloterplas in the western suburbs of Amsterdam. Although nobody in my hotel nor even the Stopera seemed to know where it was, the Meervaart proved to be a good venue, particularly for a matinee performance where there were lots of children. There was plenty of space to sit and chat before and after the performance.  In the interval the management served drinks to the audience: red and white wine or fruit juice to the adults and every kind of sugary fizz to the children. A delightful gesture which I appreciated as I had had no time for lunch or dinner the day before nor any kind of meal on Sunday until after I had landed in England.

The show began with a short talk by Meisner who spoke about the company and the works that were to be performed. As in previous years each piece was preceded by a film in which a dancer set out his or her thoughts in his or her language of choice. 

In the first film Emilie Tassinari introduced the pas de six from Arthur Saint-Léon's La Vivandière which was originally staged in London in 1844 with Fanny Cerrito as La Vivandière and Saint-Léon himself as Hans. This is a gorgeous romantic ballet which is a type of dance in which Tassinari excels and seems to enjoy. In the previous year she had danced a divertissement from Napoli delightfully. In La Vivandière she danced the role that had been created by Cerrito which includes some spectacular grands jetés and tours en l'air that prompted a barrage of bravo from the audience. Saint-Leon's steps were traced impressively by the young Canadian dancer Theo Duff-Grant. They were accompanied equally impressively by Lisanne Kottenhagen, Melissa Chapski, Clara Superfine and Hannah Williams.

The next piece was Eric Gauthier's Ballet 101. It is one of my all time favourites and one that I would love to do.  In fact Mel has kindly offered to coach me.  It requires enormous strength and agility but it is also very witty.  Last year it was performed by Xander Parish at the 45th anniversary gala of Northern Ballet (see Sapphire 15 March 2015). I had previously seen Daniel Montero dance it for the Junior Company in 2013. I am collecting material for a book to be called "Will I like Ballet?" in which I shall refer to this piece throughout the work. On Sunday the piece was danced by Giovanni Princip who was nothing short of magnificent.

Next came Edmonds's Fuse which was arranged to Armand Amar's Dam in China and Paddy Fields. There is a lot of energy in this work with its compelling beat which was translated into movement by Thomas van Damme, Antonio Martinez Cegarra and Belle Beasley. Amar's music cannot have been easy to  choreograph or dance but it was interpreted imaginatively by the choreographer and executed beautifully by her dancers. This was the first time I had seen Edmonds's work and I look forward to more.

The first act was rounded off by Dawson's 5.  5 is only the second of his works that I have seen, the other being Empire Noir in Cool Britannia (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015). That work had been fast and furious and that was also true of 5. The music, Adolphe Adam's Giselle, albeit with some reworking, was familiar but the movement was not. It was exciting and the crowd loved it.  The female roles were danced by Chapski, Superfine and  Tassinari and the male ones by Joseph Massarelli and Daniel Robert Silva. Dawson has been commissioned by Scottish Ballet to produce a new Swan Lake. If his reworking of Giselle is anything can go by Liverpool can look forward to swans on steroids when Scottish Ballet comes to town.

The first ballet after the interval was Pastor's arrangement of Kurt Weil's Silbersee and Wie Lange Noch. Pastor is another of the Dutch National Ballet's resident choreographers whose work has been performed by Scottish Ballet. I was very impressed with his Romeo and Juliet when it came to Sadler's Wells in 2014 (see Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2014).  Silbersee was a duet by Silva and Massirelli and Wie Lnnge Noch a pas de deux by Tassinari and van Damme. A beautiful and haunting work with many layers of meaning.

No performance by the Junior Company would be complete without a work by van Manen. In previous years the great man has come on stage to take a bow and the applause has exploded. Trois Gnossiennes with music by Erik Satie is of particular interest to British balletomanes because of its similarity to Ashton's Monotones. The music is sublime and so is van Manen's choreography executed sensitively by Chapski and Princic.

The last work was Meisner's No Time Before Time and it was my favourite by a mile. Starting with a solo by Silva who is joined gradually by the rest of the company in long, swooping stretches each giving the impression of a great bird in flight. The score by the Romanian composer and violinist Alexander Balanescu lifted the audience and enhanced the impression of flight. It must have been such fun to choreograph and even more fun to dance. The piece builds up. There is a lovely duet. Then some exuberant jumps. A pas de quatre.  More exits and entrances. A pas de trois. Finally two dancers remain on stage and the music cuts. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be at the Meervaart it felt as though we were dancing too.  I don't think I have ever seen a happier audience.

There was no rush for the exits after the show. The bars remained open and the audience stayed to chat. I caught Meisner after the show.  "Had this been London the stage would have been knee deep in flowers" I said to him. Having danced with the Royal Ballet he would have seen flower throws. I also met several of the dancers after the show some of whom I met for the first time and several of whom I already knew.  In the next few weeks I shall gather material for a feature on the Junior Company which I hope will do them even more justice than last time.

The Junior Company is now starting a tour of the Netherlands beginning at Oss near the Belgian border on the 18 Feb 2016 and finishing in the Hague on the 28 May 2016. Coming from a small village in the North of England 200 miles from London I applaud this initiative. I only wish they could have included a trip to the UK this year as they have done in previous years. But the Netherlands is not far and no part of that country is hard to reach. A performance by 12 of the most promising young dancers in the world would richly reward the jounrey.

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