Sunday, 14 February 2016

Brandsen's Masterpiece

Dutch National Ballet, Mata Hari, Stopera, 13 Feb 2016

As Anna Tsygankova stood alone on stage for her curtain call after last night's performance of Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari every single person in the Amsterdam Music Theatre or Stopera rose as one. She would have got a similar standing ovation anywhere - even snooty old London - for her portrayal of the life of the tragic adventurer and dancer (Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod) was compelling It is not often that one sees theatre like that in any medium and I think the sounds and images of that performance will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Although Brandsen is artistic director of one of the world's great dance companies this was the first time I had seen any of his work. I very much hope it will not be the last for Mata Hari indicates that the man is a genius.  After the show I tweeted that the English language does not contain enough superlatives to praise that ballet. That was no mere flattery or sycophancy for I intended every word sincerely and these are the reasons why.

First, it was an act of genius to commission  Tarik O'Regan to compose the score. It is not often that a new composition grips me in the way this one did.  Readers can get some idea of its beauty from the trailer.  It has been echoing in my head all night.  So, too, has the percussive war scene as French and German soldiers batter it out. There has been a lot of new ballet to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and none of the music comes close to O'Regan's.

Another act of genius was the casting. Not just Tsygankova, powerful though her performance was, but also in the choice of Casey Herd who danced her dashing, handsome but in the end cruel husband, Artur Shesterikov who danced Vadime de Masloff, her last lover, Roman Artyushkin who danced Lieutenant Ladoux, her destroyer, Young Gye Cho who danced Shiva in her dreams and indeed all the dancers from the children who danced her son and daughter upwards. Many of my favourite dancers were in other roles in the show including Floor Elmers and, of course, Michaela DePrince, Nancy Burer and others whom I have followed since they were in the Junior Company.

Brandsen showed his genius in his choice of Janine Brogt as dramaturge who told a complex and tragic story in a simple and compelling way. Last June some of the great and the good of British ballet spent half an afternoon on a circumlocution about  narrative ballet (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). My message to Graham Watts, Louise Levene, Tobias Batley et al and their audience is to come to Amsterdam if they want to see what narrative ballet is all about.

There was genius too in the set design and costumes. I did not like the backdrop at first because it reminded me of Amsterdam's Central Station but as the ballet progressed I appreciated why it had been designed as it was. It morphed from the MacLeods' home in Friesland. to the officers' mess in colonial Indonesia, to a Hindu temple, the Moulin Rouge, the rehearsal studio for Diaghilev's Les Sylphides and finally disintegrated in the war scene as it became the settling for her execution.

I appreciate  that this is the shortest and most superficial of reviews but I had a very long day yesterday travelling to Amsterdam by rail, watching the preview of the new season and a lot of tramping in the rain. More of the same today as I hope to tour the Stopera and see the Junior Company's Ballet Bubbles once I find the auditoorium and then dash off to Schipol for the last flight home. This is unlikely to be my last word on Brandsen's masterpiece.


  1. Oh wasn't it a fantastic ballet? I saw Sunday's matinee with Maia Makhateli as Mata Hari. It was amazing. Brandsen has done a fabulous job. Loved everything about it choreography, music, sets,costumes etc.. I agree not enough superlatives to describe it. A masterpiece indeed and a privilege to have seen it.