Thursday, 8 September 2016

Dutch National Ballet's Opening Night Gala - Improving on Excellence

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The first time I saw the video of Ernst Meisner's No Time Before Time was in the Prix de Lausanne finals. I fell in love with it there and then.  When I saw it live for the first time in Ballet Bubbles at the Meervaart Theatre on my birthday on Valentine's day it was the best present anyone could possibly receive. I expressed my appreciation in Thank You Ernst a few days later. Ernst Meisner is an extraordinary choreographer. His Saltarello had been the highlight of the Junior Company's Stadsshouwburg show of 24 Nov 2013. The performance of Embers by Nancy Burer and Thomas van Damme to the haunting music of Max Richter was my favourite of the following year.  I described it my review as quite simply one of the most beautiful ballets I have ever seen. Well, No Time Before Time is Ernst's best work yet.

In Ernst Meisner’s Work with the Dutch National Ballet 2 Dec 2014 I remarked that although Ernst was a Dutch national who trained at the National Ballet Academy of Amsterdam before coming to London we still like to think of him as one of our own and English audiences have a great deal of affection for him. After he left our shores for the Dutch National Ballet, I thought I would never see him dance again. Yesterday I saw him on stage together with Floor ElmersJuanjo Arques, Rachel Beaujean, Marijn Rademaker, James StoutAlexander Zhembrovskyy and, of course, Vito Mazzeo and Igone de Jongh in an extract from van Manen's Kammerballett to celebrate de Jongh's 20th anniversary with the company.

I was led to the Dutch National Ballet by Michaela DePrince who entered the Junior Company in 2013 and is already a grand sujet  at age 21. Because I was married to a Sierra Leonean for more than 27 years I took an interest in her career before she joined the company (see Michaela DePrince 4 April 2013). When I saw her on stage for the first time I described her as "quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while." When I met her briefly at last year's gala "I left the Stopera thinking how that exceptionally talented young dancer was as gracious off stage as she is magnificent upon it." Michaela DePrince was as magnificent and exciting as ever yesterday in Balanchine's Tarantella Pas de Beux which she danced passionately with Remi Wörtmeyer. The applause was deafening. "They really love her" remarked my companion, We really do.

Earlier DePrince had been one of the dancers in the grand pas d'action from La Bayadere.  Having recently learned some of the choreography from Jane Tucker I took a particular interest in that work. Sasha Mukhamedov danced Nikiya and Daniel Camargo was Solor. It was a tantalizing taster for this Autumn's production which I look forward to seeing in full on 13 Nov 2016.

One of my favourite full length ballets so far this year  has been Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari which I reviewed in Brandsen's Masterpiece 14 Feb 2016. Yesterday was my chance to see the magnificent Anna Tsygankova in the title role again. She was partnered gallantly by Artur Shesterikov.  It was another opportunity to hear Tariq O'Reagan's beautiful score.

These were the highlights of the evening for me but there was so much more:

  • the Grand Defile or parade of the company and students of the National Ballet Academy starting with the first year students in light blue leotards and finishing with the principals;
  • the final pas de deux from Sir Peter Wright's Sleeping Beauty with Anna Ol  as Aurelia and Jozef Varga as the prince; 
  • Sinatra favourites with Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding in Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite;
  • the premiere of Remi Wörtmeyer's Penumbra with Anna Ol and Artur Shesterikov, and 
  • the final pas de deux from Balanchine's Theme and Variations with Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga in the leading roles.
The evening celebrated not only Igone de Jongh's 20 years with the company but Toer van Schayk's long and distinguished career as dancer, choreographer and designer. Qian Liu and Young Gyu Choi danced in the world premiere of van Schayk's ballet Episodes van Fragmenten after showing a short film of his life and career.

As happened last year, the performance was followed by a party which was still going strong well after we left to catch the last tube to Central Station at which the stars mingled with us lesser mortals. I was particularly glad to meet some of the young dancers from last year's Junior Company who are now soaring in the company, their mentor Ernst Meisner and Esther Protzman, the wonderful teacher who inspired so many of the company's finest dancers. I have written many times about the importance of a great teacher and I know a little  about it because have been inspired by mine.

I described last year's gala as The best evening I have ever spent at the ballet. Could last year's excellence be exceeded? The answer is an emphatic "yes". Was yesterday's performance perfection?  I will tell you next year.

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