Sunday, 31 July 2022

The van Manen Festival, Programme IV

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Dutch National Ballet and Guests Hans van Manen Festival IV National Opera and Ballet auditorium 29 June 2022 20:15

I would argue that Hans van Manen is the greatest living choreographer and one of the greatest of all time.  I have been a fan ever since I first saw his work some 50 years or so ago.   In that time he has made over 150 ballets and I have seen a fair number of them.  His works are performed regularly by the world's leading ballet companies including those of the United Kingdom.

Earlier this month van Manen celebrated his 90th birthday.   To mark the occasion, the Dutch National Ballet ended its 2021-2022 season with a special Hans van Manen Festival.  Between 8 and 29 June 2022, the Dutch National Ballet and companies from Austria and Germany performed 19 of van Manen's works arranged in four separate programmes.  

I attended the fourth of those programmes on 29 June 2022 which consisted of Four Schumann Pieces, In the Future, Variations for Two Couples, Solo and Concertante.  I chose that programme for three reasons.  It was an opportunity to see the latest recruits to the Junior Company which I had followed closely since 2013.  They were to perform In the Future which I had previously seen at their 5th-anniversary celebration at the  Stadsschouwburg on 15 April 2018, the 2018 gala and in London on 5 July 2019.  Secondly, one of the works was to be performed by the Vienna State Ballet and another by the Stuttgart Ballet which had been Cranko's company.  These are companies that rarely visit this country and it was a chance to see them. Finally, the fourth programme included Concertante which is the work by van Manen that I know best.

Van Manen had created Four Schumann Pieces for the Royal Ballet.  It was first performed at Covent Garden on 31 Jan 1975 with Sir Anthony Dowell in the leading role.  The music is Robert Schumann's String quartet in A opus 41 no. 3.   The ballet revolves around the leading male and there is some YouTube footage of Dowell in that role.  It was part of a mixed bill which I attended.  I can't remember much about it but it would have been one of the reasons why I began to admire van Manen.   According to the programme notes, the male lead was later performed by Rudolf Nureyev, Hans Ebelaar, Wayne Eagling and Matthew Golding each of whom interpreted it in a different way.  The company that performed the piece on 29 June was the Vienna State Ballet.   Davide Dato was the lead male  He was supported by Hyo-Jung Kang and Arne VanderveldeLiudmila Konovalova and  Francesco CostaElena Bottaro and Igor MilosSonia Dvořák and  Géraud Wielick and Aleksandra Liashenko and Andrey Teterin.  The company danced Four Schumann Pieces for the first time in the Vienna Volksoper on 4 June 2022. For them, it was a brand new piece which they danced with appealing energy and freshness.

In the Future was created for the Scarpino Ballet Rotterdam in 1986,  a company that is even older than the Dutch National Ballet.  The piece was inspired by music that the Scottish composer David Byrne had written as a soundtrack for Fritz Lang's film Metropolis the previous year.  As striking as the music are the set, costume and lighting designs of Keso Dekker  Each dancer wears a garment that is green at the front and red at the back. The dancers pulsate to the music as if they were beams of light.  It is a perfect piece for the Junior Company which is now a completely different cohort from the one I saw in Amsterdam in 2018 and London in 2019.  The members who danced on 29 June were Luca Abdel-NourKoko Bamford, Lily CarboneMila Caviglia, Sven de Wilde, Lauren Hunter, Nicola Jones, Gabriel Rajah, Guillermo Torrijos, Louisella Vogt and Koyo Yamamoto.  They were as impressive as their predecessors and I look forward to watching them develop as a troupe and blossom as artists of the Dutch National Ballet and other leading companies.

Variations for Two Couples is one of van Manen's latest works.  It was created for Anna Tsygankova,  Matthew Golding, Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga and first performed on 15 Feb 2012.  It is a very short piece that packs in music by Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stefan Kovács Tickmayer and Astor Piazzolla.   The programme states that for van Manen it was all about the personalities of the dancers that he wished to draw out.  Varga danced the role that van Manen had created for him on 29 June. but instead of Tsygankova, Golding and de Jongh he was joined by Riho Sakamoto, Young Gyu Choi and Jessica Xuan.   Van Manen intended this to be a very understated ballet.   He said, "everything is 'low down' – even the dancers’ lifts."  That is echoed by Dekker's costumes and backdrop.  The result is a work of refinement and elegance.

There was an interval after Variations for Two Couples.   On returning to my seat I noticed that van Manen was sitting in my row.  Several of his fans were talking to him and one gave him a hug.   He stood up to allow me to pass and for a moment I felt impelled to introduce myself and shake his hand.  However, the curtain was about to rise and I let the moment slip.  The very next day my friend Gita Mistry button-holed him in the lobby of the National Opera and Ballet auditorium as we gathered for the Gala.  She introduced me to him and  I had the opportunity to tell him how much I had enjoyed his work over the last 50 years.  However, Gita went one better and actually took a selfie of herself with the great man. In her interview with Judith Mackrell, Laura Esquivel compared the art of the chef with that of the choreographer (see Like Water for Chocolate  23 July 2022). Gita offered to cook for van  Manen and as she is an artist in spice he would enjoy one of the best meals of his life were he ever to take her up on the offer.

Solo danced by Henrik Erikson, Alessandro Giaquinto and Matteo Miccini of the Stuttgart Ballet won the loudest and most sustained applause of the evening.  It is a very short piece set to Bach's Violin Partita. Keeping up with the music requires great virtuosity and equal stamina.  It was danced with energy, flair and fluidity. - an altogether brilliant display.

The first time I saw Concertante it was performed by Northern Ballet.   I wrote in Terpsichore:
"What can one say about a masterpiece? Especially when there is a YouTube video of the great man himself discussing his ballet. According to the clip van Manen staged the work for the Nederlands Dans Theater junior company (Dans Theater 2). He spoke very highly of the Leeds dancers (Bateman, Batley, Leebolt, Contadini, Lori Gilchrist, Nicola Gervasi, Prudames and Isaac Lee-Baker) as well he might for they were good."

The video to which I referred was an interview with van Manen in Leeds on 6 June 2013.   I have seen performances of the work by other companies since then and it never ceases to impress me. Floor Eimers said that Concedrtante brings out the best in her and that seems also to be the case with other dancers.  There is something compelling in Frank Martin's music, Kekko's designs and of course the choreography,   This was the last work of the van Manen season and it was danced with verve by Nina Tonoli, Timothy van Poucke, Jingjing Mao, Martin ten Kortenaar, Lore Zonderman, Jan Spunda, Khayla Fitzpatrick and Conor Walmsley.

The evening had begun under the baton of Matthew Rowe, a compatriot and (I believe) an old boy of St Paul's School.  It ended under that baton of Northern Ballet's Director of Music, Jonathan Lo.  As he was led onto the stage the applause was deafening.   I felt very proud of him as well as Matthew Rowe.   But the loudest cheers and most vigorous clapping were reserved for van Manen himself.  They were in appreciation of the works that we had seen that night but also for his lifetime's achievement.

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