Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Balanchine by the Seaside

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Dutch National Ballet Best of Balanchine 17 Nov 2019 15:00  Zuiderstrbdtheater, The Hague  

The Best of Balanchine triple bill must have been a big deal for the Dutch National Ballet for they presented Symphony in Three Movements and Who Cares? at the opening night gala on 10 Sept 2019, performed it in Amsterdam for the last two weeks at the end of September and then took it on tour to the Dutch provinces in November.  I make no complaint about that because we do not see as much of Balanchine as we should in the United Kingdom. The Dutch dance Balanchine's works very well. From what I have seen, they dance his work as well as any company outside the United States.

Balanchine was born, trained and started his career in Russia but he made his formidable international reputation in the USA. The works in the triple bill reflected that history. Ballet Imperial to the music of Tchaikovsky was pure Russian whereas Who Cares? was a celebration of America. Symphony in Three Movements to a score by Stravinsky was a blending of the two. Created in America for American dancers but a tribute to another great Russian émigré.

I had intended to see the Best of Balanchine in Amsterdam on 29 Sept but a nasty fall down the steps to a car park in Birmingham the day before put paid to that plan. Instead, I saw it at the Zuiderstrandstheater (literally "the Southern Sands Theatre") on the coast a few miles outside The Hague on Sunday. That theatre is one of the most beautiful I have ever visited. It has an ample stage allowing a good view from every part of the auditorium. I was in the middle of row 17 of the stalls which was far enough back to take in the whole stage but near enough to see the dancers' features. Even more beautiful is its settling, literally yards from the sea behind a big sand dune on one side and overlooking a small harbour with a coastguard cutter at berth on the other.  This was only my second time in The Hague but I really took to it. The 28 bus from the railway station took me past the Netherlands Dance Theatre's home base, the Houses of Parliament and the royal palace, the International Court of Justice, several embassies and a lovely park before reaching the Zuiderstrand which, for some reason or other, is called "Norfolk."

The leading dancers in Ballet Imperial included three of my favourites - Maia Makhateli, Artur Shesterikov and Riho Sakamoto. I took particular delight in seeing Sakamoto because I featured her when she joined the Junior Company (see Meet Riho Sakamoto of the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company 6 Dec 2014).  I had an inkling then that she would do well and so she has. Another member of that cohort, Cristiano Principato, also had an important role in the pas de trois  It was also good to see some of the latest recruits in that work such as Leo Hepler, Sebia Plantefeve, Claire Tjoe-Fat and Wenjin Guo as well as Junior Company alumni such as Alexandria Marx and Conor Walmsley who are now élèves and Clara Superfine and Melissa Chapski who are in the corps. The work is created on Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto which was played enchantingly by Michael Mouratch.

In Symphony in Three Movements the women dancers exchange their buns for ponytails which immediately relaxes the mood.  Not too much, however, for this ballet was intended as a tribute to Stravinsky who composed albeit innovatively in the classical style. It is a ballet that flows though some of the positions are quite angular. Parts of the ballet are explosive and exuberant.  Other parts such as the duets require almost mechanical precision. There are three principal couples - Sakamoto with Edo Wijnen who won the Radius prize this year; Qian Liu and Jared Wright; and Floor Eimers (another artist I follow closely) and Vito Mazzeo - and five solo couples. All were exquisite.
The finale, Who Cares? to the music of Gershwin as arranged by Hershi Kay was danced to a backdrop of Manhattan in the 1930s with the Chrysler Building, the Woolworth Building and other landmarks. The cast consists of one male lead - in this case, Constantine Allen - three female leads = Yuanyuan Zhang, Nina Tonoli and Maia Makhateli, five male soloists and five female and the corps. The ballet opened with the whole cast on stage. The next tune left only the corps. In the next scene, the female soloists in red and black costumes entered. They were followed by the male soloists in white shirts, ties and waistcoats.  There were some beautiful duets and solos. It was a great way to end the matinee but it was over far too quickly.

I had just one disappointment. Michaela DePrince appeared in the programme for Who Cares? There was no announcement that she was indisposed but I just do not remember seeing her in the show.  It was she who led me first to the Junior Company and then the Dutch National Ballet in 2913. I have not seen her in anything since the 2918 gala when she returned to the stage after a long recuperation from injury. I sincerely hope that there has been no recurrence of that injury. She is a beautiful dancer and I long to see her fly again.

Though again there was no mention of his name in the cast list, the orchestra was conducted by Matthew Rowe.  Always a pleasure to see him at the rostrum. 

I see a lot of ballets every year and have seen some particularly good ones this year but this matinee triple bill is among the best so far.


  1. Dear Jane, Like you I am a follower of Michaela DePrince and keep pace on her Instagram page. I have just checked and it looks as though she danced last night in the Best of Balanchine, so all is well thank goodness. Best regards, Wendy

  2. Thank you for that excellent news, Wendy. I got a similar assurance that all was well from the Artistic Director himself. Ms DePrince was off the stage for a long time at a crucial period of her career. Let's all wish her well.