Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Hans van Manen Variations

Adagio Hammerklavier
Maria Chugai, Daniel Silva, Luiza Bertha, James Stout, Elisabeth Tonev, Vito Mazzeo
Author Hans Gerritsen © 2021 Dutch National Ballet: all rights reserved

Dutch National Ballet Hans van Manen Variations  Music Theatre, Amsterdam 27 amd 28 Feb 2021, 14:00

When I first took an interest in ballet as an undergraduate at St Andrews at the end of the 1960s, I subscribed to Dance and Dancers and the Dancing Times. Although both publications carried reviews and news stories from around the world, four great names seemed to dominate.  Balanchine in the USA, Ashton and Macmillan here and Hans van Manen in the Netherlands.  Sadly, Ashton, Balanchine and Macmillan are no more but van Manen remains with us.  

On 27 and 28 Feb 2021, the Dutch National Ballet held two special matinees in his honour. They were danced in an empty theatre but screened to a worldwide audience. It was, of course, a celebration of van Manen's genius, but with two separate casts, it was a showcase of the strength and depth of one of the world's great companies..

Six works were presented:

27 Feb

28 Feb

Adagio Hammerklavier

Anna Ol, Semyon Velichko, Qian Liu , Jakob Feyferlik Maia Makhateli, Artur Shesterikov

Luiza Bertho, James Stout, Maria Chugai, Daniel Silva, Elisabeth Tonev,  Vito Mazzeo


Floor Eimers, Jozef Varga 

Salome Leverashvili, Timothy van Poucke

Déjà Vu 

Erica Horwood, Young Gyu Choi 

Floor Eimers, Edo Wijnen

Trois Gnossiennes

Anna Ol, James Stout

Qian Liu, Jakob Feyferlik

Two Pieces for HET 

Maia Makhateli, Remi Wörtmeyer 

Anna Tsygankova,

Constantine Allen

Variations for Two Couples 

Anna Tsygankova, Constantine Allen, Jessica Xuan, Martin ten Kortenaar

Riho Sakamoto, Young Gyu Choi, Jingjing Mao, Jared Wright

The programme opened with Adagio Hammerklavier which is the longest and most dramatic of the 6 works. It was created for the Dutch National Ballet in 1973 but it has been performed by many of the world's other leading companies including the Royal Ballet in 1976 and the Maryinsky in 2014.  In a short introductory speech, the company's director, Ted Brandsen, said that van Manen had worked with some 60 companies around the world. 

The score is by Beethoven and I once heard someone who really should have known better that Beethoven is impossible to choreograph (see My Thoughts on Saturday Afternoon's Panel Discussion at Northern Ballet 21 June 2015). There are,  it is true, not many ballets by Beethoven and it can't be easy to create dance from his music but van Manen succeeded spectacularly as indeed did Ashton with his Creatures of Prometheus in 1970.  This is a challenging ballet which is why companies field their best dancers. In the London premiere, for instance, it was danced by Makarova, Mason, Penney, Wall, Eagling and Silver.

Both casts for this piece were brilliant. The Saturday one was majestic. A cast that included Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov, Anna Ol and Semyon Velichko, could not be otherwise. Shesterikov has been my dancer of the year and Makhateli is another favourite. I had not seen Jakob Feyferlik before but I shall certainly look out for him in future. He partnered Qian Liu who never fails to impress. The Sunday cast brought energy and freshness to the work. It was good to see Daniel Silva whom I have followed closely since I saw him in No Time Before Time on 14 Feb 2016 (see Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016). He is particularly graceful and partnered Maria Chugai confidently but sensitively. She was, as ever, a delight to watch in a role to which she is particularly well suited. Save for Ernst Meisner's class on World Ballet Day I had not seen Elisabeth Tonev before but I shall certainly look out for her in future, I also enjoyed the performance of Luiza Bertho. I had, of course, seen the principals, James Stout and Vito Mazzeo many times before. As was to be expected, their performances were masterly.

Nowhere was the contrast between the two casts more striking than in Sarcasmen. This is a sexy (if not slightly risqué) duet to Prokofiev's Cinq Sarcasmes, Opus 17. It is about a man who can't resist showing off and a woman who can't resist puncturing his ego.  At one point she grabs his unmentionables. The ballet was introduced to the audience by Rachel Beaujean in a short interval between stage changes. Her comments were particularly interesting because she had premiered the female role of this ballet in 1981. On Saturday Jozef Varga, who has been in the company since 2007, and Floor Eimers, one of its most admired soloists, danced with sophistication.  On Sunday, Timothy van Poucke and Salome Leverashvili danced with flair. I have been a fan of those artists ever since they were in the Junior Company. They used to run a delightful vlog that I mentioned in Missing Amsterdam on 18 Feb 2017. Van Poucke won the Radius Prize, which is usually awarded to principals, just 2 years after he had joined the company.

Eimers performed again with Edo Wijnen in Déjà vu, a work that he had created for the Nederlands Dans Theater to  Fratres, a striking composition for violin and piano by Arvo Pärt.  I enjoyed her performance in this piece even more than her performance in Sarcasmen.  The dancers on Saturday were Erica Horwood and Young Gyu Choi who impressed the audience with their virtuosity. During the interval, Beaujean explained that the title was a gentle reproach from the choreographer to critics in the mid-1990s who complained that his ballets had become much or a muchness.

After Adagio Hammerklavier my favourite work of both shows was Trois Gnossiennes and that is at least partly down to the score.  As far as I am aware, Erik Satie did not compose for the ballet but his work has been the basis of two masterpieces, van Manen's and Ashton's  Monotones.  They are quite dissimilar in the number of dancers, set design and, in the case of Monotones, orchestration but they are both works of genius.   I first saw Trois Gnossiennes in Ballet Bubbles on my birthday in 2016 when it was performed by Melissa Chapski and Giovanni Princic and I could not have wished for a better birthday present. It was performed elegantly by Ol and Stout on Saturday and Qian Liu and Feyferlik on Sunday.

The other piece that I had seen before was Two Pieces for HET for RachelThe artist to whom that work had been dedicated was of course Rachel Beaujean. "Het" is a definite article in Dutch, It is used by lazy, anglophone, monoglot and possibly in some cases brexiteer journalists as an abbreviation for Het Nationale Ballet instead of "HNB" or even "DNB". It is, however, a beautiful work which was danced by Makhateli and Wörtmeyer on Saturday and Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen on Sunday. In other companies, they might be called "Etoiles".  Tsygankova won many hearts in London which her performance of Cinderella and she reduced many of us to tears with her portrayal of Mata Hari. She is an accomplished pianist which perhaps accounts for her musicality.

In an interlude shortly before the programme ended, we were treated to a screening of the film Hans van Manen Performer - Dutch National Ballet which the company had commissioned for the choreographer's 75th birthday.  Van Manen was born in 1932 yet he marched onto the stage of the auditorium on Friday ramrod straight like a guardsman to acknowledge the internet's applause and affection.

The finale was Variations for Two Couples which is one of van Manen's most recent works.  Tsygankova had danced in the first performance of that work with Matthew Goulding, Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga. She danced the piece again on Saturday but this time with Allen, Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar. I have been following Xuan and Kortenaar ever since I first saw the Junior Company for the first time in 2013 (see The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013 25 Nov 2013).  They have soared since then which makes me very happy. Another dancer I have followed from the time she joined the Junior Company is Riho Sakamoto. She performed on Sunday with Young Gyu Choi, Jingjing Mao and Jared Wright.  Both casts did justice to this work which was set to an eclectic score that included pieces by Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stefan Kovács and Astor Piazzolla. It was a perfect way to end a delightful weekend.

As the vaccination rollout accelerates and the accuracy of testing and tracing improves in the Netherlands and the rest of the world there is hope that this pandemic will retreat.  It will take some time for social distancing to end but at least there is at least a chance that theatres around the world will re-open soon. I look forward to returning to Amsterdam just as soon as it is safe to travel.  

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