Saturday, 6 July 2019

Welcome Back! Junior Company returns to the Linbury

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Dutch National Ballet Junior Company Young Talent Festival Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House 5 July 2019, 19:45

Last night I dashed down to London to welcome the Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company back to the UK. I have been following them since 24 Nov 2013 when I first saw them at the Stadsshouwburg in Amsterdam.  They visited London for the first time in 2014 (see And can they fly! The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company at Covent Garden 30 May 2014) and again in 2015 (see Junior Company in London - even more polished but as fresh and exuberant as ever 7 June 2015). Since then the Linbury has been closed for refurbishment.  Last night they returned as part of the Royal Ballet's Young Talent Festival.

I went to Amsterdam in 2013 to see Michaela DePrince whom I had first mentioned in April 2013 - several months before she joined the Junior Company,  I saw her at the Stasshouwberg and was impressed:
"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."
But I was also impressed by the other 11 dancers. I have followed their careers and those of their successors ever since. I have seen many performances by several cohorts of the Junior Company but I don't think I have ever seen the Junior Company dance better than they did last night. 

More satisfyingly, the audience loved them. London sees a lot of dance - possibly more than any city in the world with the possible exception of New York - and balletomanes in our national capital do not easily rise to their feet for anything. I have always stood up for the Junior Company but in London, I have often been the only one. Yesterday I was joined by others and there was certainly a lot of noise even from those who had remained seated.

The programme started with Ernst Meisner's No Time Before Time.  That is one of my favourite ballets from one of my favourite choreographers of all time. Meisner's work touches my emotions in a way that only one other work has ever done.  When I see Embers, for example, my eyes begin to water, I start to sniffle, my body begins to tremble. I deploy every single sinew to control myself.  Only Fokine's Dying Swan has the same effect on me and that is at least partly because of its association with Pavlova.  No Time before Time is exuberant and makes me want to join the dancers on stage. It has a beautiful score by Alexander Balanescu that echoed tin my brain all the way back home to Yorkshire. Lasr night's cast interpreted it differently from those who danced it at Lausanne and the Meervaart in 2016. Perhaps more sensitively and delicately but equally delightfully. 

The next work was Charlotte Edmonds's Fuse which I had also seen at the Meervaart in 2016.  Set to Armand Amar's Dam in China and Paddy Fields it begins with three dancers who appear to be bound to each other with their bonds behind their back. As the music changes from vocals to percussion the dancers appear to break free.  In a short speech before the show, Ernst Meisner explained that the idea for Fuse had originated on the Linbury stage the last time the Junior Company had visited London.  They had been so impressed with Edmonds's work that the company had invited her to create a work for the Junior Company in Amsterdam.  In a short video which was shown before the piece was performed Edmonds reflected on the encounter between different cultures, interests and traditions. "Fuse" in this context appears to mean the result of mixing rather than the ignition of explosive (though it could also have meant that). The first time that I saw that ballet, I wrote:  "This was the first time I had seen Edmonds's work and I look forward to more." Since then I have seen more at Northern Ballet's Tell Tale Steps 2 and I look forward to her work with Ballet Cymru.

Daniela Cardim's Cardim's What got you here was the only work that I had not seen before.  It was a thought provoking piece but one that was not entirely bereft of humour.  There was a commentary which started with a celebration of the genetic accident that each individual represents but continued with the chilling thought that well over 99% of all life forms  that have ever existed are now extinct. There was an exchange of finger pointing that seemed to result in a realization that any responsibility for such mass-extinctions is pretty widely shared. There was the interesting discussion of the circularity of time and movement. If a traveller started in a straight line to travel to the end of the universe he would eventually return to his starting point.  More disturbing was considering what would happen if we knew the world would be destroyed within 4 years by the explosion of a neighbouring star,  Would farmers bother to plant crops or deliver them to stores?  The work ended dramatically with the dancers pointing accusingly at the audience before retracting their fingers and directing them to themselves.

An interval followed Cardim's work in which members of the audience were equipped with tiny red and green torches for Juanjo Arques's Fingers in the Air.   That was a work I had seen at the company's fifth anniversary show on 15 April 2018 (see  "In the Future" - Junior Company's Fifth Anniversary Performance 17 April 2018).  This time the commentary was in English. The audience was asked to vote on whether the men or women should dance, whether we wanted to see solos or duets and whether we wanted the dancers to perform with or without lights.   It did not matter because at the end we were shown what we had been missing but the audience voted for the women, duets and lights. The site of the whole company dressed in the same black leotards was compelling.  Arques was in the audience. I greeted him just before his piece started. It happened to be his birthday, What a way to celebrate!

The last work was Hans van Manen's In the Future.  I had seen that work in the fifth anniversary show and also at last September's gala.  Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, two new movements were added to In the Future.   According to the programme notes, these were Winter and The Sound of Business which were part of David Byrne's Music for the Knee Plays album.  I enjoyed Winter and the Sound of Business but I would have preferred to see them as separate pieces. Each of those works is a complete work itself in words and music as well as dance.  It was, however, a spectacular way to end a very successful evening and a triumphant return to London.

The Junior Company will perform again tonight at 19:45. I do not know whether tickets are still on sale at the box office but if they are and you can reach the House in time I strongly recommend this show,

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