Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala

Artur Shesterikov in Hans van Manen's 5 Tangos
Photo Hans Geritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet


Dutch National Ballet Christmas Gala 19 Dec 2020 19:15 GMT

Even though it was performed without an audience and I watched it on a tiny laptop, I think I shall remember the Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala for as long as I live.  It will stand out in my memory like Scottish Ballet's performance of David Dawson's Swan Lake at the Liverpool Empire on 3 June 2016 (see Empire Blanc: Dawson's Swan Lake 4 June 2016) or the first time I saw the Junior Company at the Stadsshouwburg in 2013.

Although there was no grand defilé, Radius Prize or reception after the show, it was very similar to the opening night gala in September which is always one of the highlights of my year.  The show took place in the National Opera and Ballet's auditorium. The company's Director of Music and Principal Conductor, Matthew Rowe conducted the National Ballet Orchestra.   The artists performed the following: short ballets or extracts from longer ballets:

  • Balanchine's Who  Cares?
  • Echoes of Tomorrow by Wubkje Kuindersma to the music of Valentin Silvestrov 
  • Wayne McGregor's Chroma
  • Grand Pas Classique by Valentin Silvestrov 
  • David Dawson's Metamorphosis I to the music of Philip Glass
  • 5 Tangos by Hans van Manen to the music of Astor Piazzolla
  • Rudi van Dantzig's Romeo and Juliet
  • Ted Brandsen's Classical Symphony 
  • Christopher Wheeldon's  Duet 
  • Hans van Manen's Solo 
  • John Cranko's Onegin, and
  • The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.
I enjoyed all the works in the programme. It was very well balanced and must have satisfied every possible balletic preference: Broadway razzamatazz in Who Cares?, modern masterpieces such as van Manen's 5 Tangos and McGregor's Chroma, twentieth-century classics like  Romeo and Juliet and Onegin, works that had never been heard before and The Nutcracker.

The evening was introduced by Milouska Meulens who is a presenter on Dutch television. She interviewed Ted Brandsen, Maia Makhateli Floor Eimers and members of the children's choir who provide the vocals for the snowflakes scene. That was a lovely touch because the children are usually hidden in most productions. Though the conversation was in Dutch it was clear that the children appreciated the attention.  

Rafael Valdez, Edo Wijnen, Sho Yamada
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The last time that I saw the National Ballet live on stage was at the Zuiderstrandtheater, a seaside theatre just outside The Hague on 17 Nov 2019.  They performed a triple bill entitled Best of Balanchine which included Who Cares?  (see Balanchine by the Beach 20 Nov 2019).   Who Cares? is a favourite of American companies. but very few companies outside the United States can carry it off as well as the Americans.  The Dutch National Ballet is one that can.  This was the third time that I have seen the company dance the work and last Saturday's performance was the best,   They danced Somebody Loves You with Salome Leverashvili, Khayla Fitzpatrick, Naira Agvanean, Erica Horwood and Floor Eimers, Bidin' My Time with Edo Wijnen, Giovanni Princic, Sho Yamada, Rafael Valdez and  Dustin True, The Man I Love with Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar, Stairway to Paradise with Nina Tonoli, My One and Only with Riho Sakamoto, Liza by Ten Kortenaar and I've Git Rhythm by the cast of that piece.

Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke.in Echoes
of Tomorrow
Photo  Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The first of two works that were premiered at the gala was Echoes of Tomorrow by Wubkje Kuindersma.  Kuindersma is one of three choreographers who have recently been appointed as young creative associates of the company.  Set to the music of Valentin Silvestrov's In Memory of Tchaikovsky for violin and piano the work represented a dialogue of two souls reliving an event in the past that they once shared.  It was performed eloquently by Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke.  Readers will remember the banter between Leverashvili and van Pouck in their blog which I mentioned in Missing Amsterdam! on 18 Feb 2018.  Van Poucke is a remarkable young man.  He has been in the company only since 2916 and he has already risen to grand sujet.  In 2018 he won the Radius Prize which is normally awarded to principals.

Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo in Chroma
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballert

The next work was the pas de deux from Wayne McGregor's Chroma.   I had seen the Dutch National Ballet perform the whole ballet in 2015 when they included it in their  Cool Britannia. mixed bill.  I had also seen performances of the work by Alvin Ailey and the Royal Ballet.  Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo danced it exquisitely.  Even though they could not have heard me on the other side of the North Sea I clapped and cheered until my voice was hoarse and my palms were raw.  My only reservation was that I am not sure that the pas de deux succeeds as a standalone work.  The ballet's appeal lies in the combination of McGregor's choreography with Talbot's score and Pawson's architectural set designs.  That did not quite come across in the extract.

Photo Hans Geritrsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet  All rights reserved

Victor Gsovsky's Grand Pas Classique was new to me.  The reason why I had not seen it before it that it is an exhibition piece to display the dancers' virtuosity.  It had been created for Yvette Chauviré and Vladimir Skouratoff at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées in 1949.  It could be regarded as a mid-twentieth century hommage to the Imperial Russian Ballet perhaps in the same way as the third act of Jewels.  The ballerina is resplendent in a blue and white classical tutu.  With spectacular jumps for the man and lots of fouettés for them both, it cannot be easy.   Jessica Xuan and Jakob Feyferlik performed it with great flair and precision.

Anna Öl and James Stout
Photo  Hans Gerritsen ©2020 Dutch National Ballet

The second work to be premiered on 19 Dec was David Dawson's Metamorphis I.  He is an Associate Artist of the Dutch National Ballet and he has created a lot of pieces for that company though my favourite of his works is his Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet.  Metamorphosis I reminded me a little of Swan Lake possibly because Swan Lake is also about metamorphosis.  The choreography and even the costumes seemed to echo that work.  However, Philip Glass's music was different,  A piano piece played by Olga Khoziainova. The dancers were Anna Öl and James Stout.  Immediately after seeing this piece, I tweeted:

That just about sums up my impression of the work. 

Hans van Manen was an important influence when I first took an interest in dance at the end of the 1960s. He has created a vast body of work over the years.   Many - and I include myself in that number - regard him as the world's greatest living choreographer.  One of his most popular works is 5 Tangos to the following pieces by Astor PizzollaTodo Buenos Aires, Mort, Vayamos al diablo, Resurrección del angel and Buenos Áires hora cero. In this context it is important to remember that tango is more than a style of social dancing. It is an art form in its own right in Argentina. Pizzolla helped to elevate tango music from something that was played on the streets of the immigrant neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires to the world's concert halls.  The tango as it is performed around the River Plate is a swaggering dance for alpha males and vampish females which van Manen captured in his work. For the gala, Artur Shesterikov danced the solo Vayamos al diablo (literally "Let's Go to the Devil") with energy, flair and machismo.  It was one of the highlights of my evening which is why Shesterikov's photo is at the top of this review.

Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko in Romeo and Juliet
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Vallet

The other great Dutch choreographer of our time is Rudi van Dantzig.  He created the Dutch National Ballet's Romeo and Juliet which I have yet to see. I have however seen productions of Romeo and Juliet by MacMillan, Lavrovsky, Maillot, Pastor, James and others.  Having seen the balcony scene danced by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko it is now a personal priority to see the complete work.  The leading roles must be the most difficult for any principal to perform because they have to imagine themselves as impulsive teenagers even though they are expected to be mature adults in nearly every other role they dance. A good test of a Romeo and Juliet is whether the audience can imagine them as kids despite their 'life and stage experience.   Qian Liu and Velichko passed that test in my eyes.

Jared Wright, Martin ten Kortenaar, Vito Mazzeo and Daniel Robert Silva
in Classical Symphony
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballwr


More Prokoviev in Brandsen's Classical Symphony and a chance to review his male dancers:  Martin ten Kortenaar, Sem Sjouke, Joseph Massarelli, Daniel Montero Real, Dingkai Bai, Michele EspositoManu Kumar, Alejandro Zwartendijk, Isaac Mueller, James Stout, Daniel Robert Silva, Pascal Johnson. Giovanni Princic, Leo Hepler, Bela Erlandson, Giorgi Potskhishvili, Vito Mazzeo, Nathan BrhaneRémy Catalan, Fabio Rinieri, Bastiaan Stoopm Dustin True, Rafael Valdez, Conor Walmsley and Sander Baaij.  With their jumps and turns, the virtuosity and athleticism of those artists were impressive.  Balanchine is reported to have said that ballet is "a purely female thing" but this piece showed the fallacy of his remark.

Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen in "Duet"
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

As its title suggests this gem of a work by Christopher Wheeldom to a piano piece by Ravel is a duet.  This was yet another ba;let that I had not seen before but long to see again.  According to the programme, Duet was created in 2012 but I have not yet found out for whom it was created and when it was first performed.  It could well have been made for Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen for they made it their own.  This is a work that was particularly well suited for Tsygankova because she is an accomplished pianist. Having seen her performance as Cinderella in London I thnk she has a special understanding of Wheeldon's work (see Wheeldon's Conderella 13 July 2015).  I imagine she would be a great Hermione in his Winter's Tale and I hope that she may be cast in that role one day.

Sho Yamada in Solo
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

Solo was the second van Manen masterpiece in the programme.  Originally created for the Netherlands Dance Theatre Junior Company in 1997, this is a work for three male dancers. to the music of  Johann Sebastian Bach. It was performed on 19 Dec 2020 by Sho Yamada, Daniel Silva and Remi Wörtmeyer.  This was another highlight of my evening.

Anna Ol and Jozef Varga in Onegin
Photo  Han Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballt

The last full-length ballet that I saw before the lockdown was the Royal Ballet's Onegin with  Thiago Soares in the title role, Itziar Mendizabal in the lead roles. The penultimate scene from  John Cranko's Onegin was a poignant reminder of a lost year.  It is the denouement where Onegin shows up after years of exile to look up his old flame Tatiana.  Earlier in the story, Tatiana had declared her love for Onegin in a letter which he heartlessly destroys in front of her.  That led to a duel in which he killed his best friend and was forced into exile. Tatiana would have been heartbroken but she found a good man to marry and was living very happily until Onegin returned to seduce her.   In the final duet, Tatiana is still attracted to the cad and for a second we fear that she will throw her new life away.  But she doesn't.  Instead, she screws up Onegin's love letter in front of him and sends him on his way.   A dramatic scene danced passionately by Anna Ol and Jozef Varga.  Although the ballet was created by a South African it was based on a poem by Pushkin which Ol will have known well.   Like Osipova who danced Tatiana in London in 2015, she seemed to have injected a je ne sais quoi which only a Russian could do.

Photo Hans Geritsen © 2020 Dutch Narional Ballet

The gala ended with scenes from Wayne Eagling's The Nutcracker and The Mouse King.  The first was the Snowflakes scene which the members of Powerhouse Ballet had intended to learn on 14 March.  We had booked Mark Hindle to teach it to us but we had to abandon the workshop at the last minute to avoid the risk of infection. The first thing we shall do once this virus is eradicated will be to fix a new date for the workshop.  I was delighted to see that the lead dancers in the Snowflakes scene were Maria Chugai and Jingjing Mao. I am a very big fan of both dancers but particularly Chugai who impressed me with her performance as Myrthe in Heerlen in 2018. During the lockdown, she has given us two unforgettable online classes and been our guest at The Stage Door,

The other scenes in the gala were the Chinese, Russian and Greek divertissements and the grand pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier.   The Chinese dance was performed by Kira Hilli, Fabio Rinieril Dustin True, Rémy Catalan and Dingkai Bai.  I had noticed Hilli when the Junior Company visited Covent Garden and it is good to see that talented young artist has made the main company. The soloists in the Russian dance were Sandra Quintyn and Pascal Johnson.   

 Floor Eimers and Nathan Brhane in the Greek scene
Photo Gabs Gerritseb © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

If anyone is wondering, the Greek dance was what other companies call the mirlitons.  With a ruined temple as a backdrop with mythical beasts, it was danced superbly by Floor Eimers Sem Sjouke, Nathan Brhane and Daniel Montero Real.  Wayne Eagling also produced The Nutcracker for English National Ballet when he was its Artistic Director but I do not recall that scene.

Maia Makhateli  and Young Gyu Choi
Photo Hans Gerritsen © 2020 Dutch National Ballet

The evening was perfected by the final pas de deux.   Makhateli was a delightful Sugar Plum.   Seldom have I seen her solo danced so beautifully.  Young Gyu Choi, a powerful athletic dancer, who gas impressed me in everything that he has performed, was a worthy cavalier.

This has been a miserable year for balletgoers but this gala is a positive memory.   Many who lived through the Spanish flu pandemic blocked 1918 from their recollection and we may do the same.  Whatever else I remember or choose not to remember of 2020  I shall never forget that outstanding gala. My congratulations to all the dancers, musicians, technicians and other staff who made it happen.

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