Tuesday, 9 August 2022

The Dutch National Ballet's Sixtieth Anniversary Gala

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Dutch National Ballet  Sixtieth Anniversary Gala National Opera and Ballet Auditorium Amsterdam 30 June 2020 19:30

One of the high points of my year is the Dutch National Ballet's annual gala.  It consists of extracts from some of the company's work over the previous year and ends with a reception in which the dancers and musicians mingle with the audience.  In other years it has taken place in early September but this year it was on 30 June.  It is always a special occasion but this year's gala was particularly important because it was the company's 60th anniversary.  It also celebrated Hans van Manen's 90th birthday and the company's emergence from covid restrictions.  To underscore the significance of the occasion, the event was attended by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.  

As usual, the evening began with the Grand Défilé, a parade of artists from the youngest students of the Dutch National Ballet Academy in their smartest leotards to the principal ballerinas in dazzling white classical tutus accompanied by the premiers danseurs nobles to the strains of Aurora's wedding from The Sleeping Beauty.   That was a tune that I often played in 2020 and 2021 in the hope that the pandemic would one day come to an end and the world's theatres would reopen.  This visit was my first trip to the Netherlands since 17 Nov 2019 when I saw The Best of Balanchine at the Zuiderstrandstheater in The Hague.

The Grand Défilé was followed by Hans van Manen's Soloa spectacular piece to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach's Violin Partita which had come pretty close to stealing the show the previous evening. Henrik Erikson of the Stuttgart Ballet who had entertained us the night before thrilled us once more. This time, he was joined on stage by Fabio Adorisio and Christian Pforr.  Once again the applause was tumultuous.

At this point, the company's artistic director Ted Brandson usually walks on stage to welcome the crowd in Dutch and English. This year it was a little different for he spoke only in Dutch.  Presently a screen appeared and this film was run.  Now I have never learnt any Dutch - I regret to say that there are not many opportunities to learn that language in this country except for diplomats and a few academics - but I do speak German and my ears caught something that sounded like "Ritter" which means knight in that language.  Dutch is a language that English speakers with a good knowledge of German can actually get the drift because it is close to both languages.  The ceremony was nothing like a British investiture at which Her Majesty or nowadays Prince Charles dubs the candidate with a sword.  A decoration was presented by the Deputy Mayor of Amsterdam. But it was clearly a very high honour at least equal to any of our knighthoods for service to the arts as the company's news release makes clear.  I met Brandsen after the show and congratulated him on his knighthood. I asked him whether we had to call him "Sir Ted" from now on.  Brandsen thought that perhaps we should but I have to say that his view was not shared by any of my Dutch friends. 

The preeminence of Dutch ballet rests largely on the work of three outstanding choreographers, Hans van Manen, Rudi van Dantzig and Toer van Schayk. The company actually refers to them as the three Vans on the History page of its website.  Van Schayk is a distinguished sculptor, painter and stage designer as well as a choreographer and many of the sets for the Dutch National Ballet's productions were designed by him.  

The next work on the programme was De Chimaera van LA, an extract from van Schayk's ballet Het mythische voorwendsel which means "the mythical pretext".  According to the programme notes, the title of the ballet was inspired by a quotation from Salvador Dali who said, "the subject of art is a pretext." The music for the piece was by Bela Bartok but van Schayk created just about everything else. He choreographed the work and designed the set, costumes and lighting.  It was performed by Anna Tsygankova and Giorgi Potskhishvili.  I know Tsygankova very well having seen her for the first time as Cinderella at the Coliseum in 2014 but Potskhishvili was new to me.  He is clearly a rising star having entered the Junior Company as recently as 2020. Their ballet master, incidentally, was Caroline Sayo Iura who danced in the first performance of the ballet.  

The French composer Erik Satie inspired Sir Frederick Ashton to create Monotones and Hans van Manen Trois Gnossiennes. Van Manen's work was the next in the programme. It is a duet but one in which the pianist and piano have a role at least to the extent that they are on castors and moved around the stage. Having never heard the word "Gnossiennes " outside the context of this music I looked it up and found that it had been coined by Satie and that he had never explained what it means.   The word is reminiscent of the Greek word γνῶσις and as the music has a sacerdotal quality I offer "The Three Initiates".  The dancers were Anna Ol and James Stout and the pianist Olga Khoziainova.

Had he lived Wojciech Kilar would also have been 90 this year.  One of his most exciting works is Toccata which Krzysztof Pastor, Director of the Polish National Ballet and former dancer and choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet, used to create a fast-moving ballet.  It was performed by Chinara Alizade, Jaeeun Jung, Ryota Kitai, Paweł Koncewoj and Patryk Walczak of the Polish National Ballet.  Toccata was the next work of the evening.

The Staatsballett Berlin presented the following ballet  It had commissioned David Dawson (the Dutch National Ballet's Associate Artist) to create Voices during the lockdown.  According to the programme notes the piece reflects that time.  Dawson is reported to have said:
“The difficult times caused by the pandemic have given us an opportunity to reflect and progress, and help us to see the world again in its truth. I believe this is when change can really happen. VOICES aims to visualise the awakening of a new era where we can create the world we want to live in. A new place for humanity to have the chance to be the best it can be as we all learn more about our infinite capacity and potential.”

This piece is quite different from any of his previous works.  It was performed on stage by Polina Semionova and Alejandro Virelles.

One of van Manen's best known works is 5  Tangos to the music of Astor Piazzolla.  Perhaps the most thrilling part of that ballet is Voyamos a DiabloThis is a male solo which requires a dancer of considerable strength and equal grace. Artur Shesterikov danced that role with characteristic flair.  

The contribution to the evening from Van Dantzig's repertoire was  Voorbij GegaanThe title has never been translated but I think it means "Gone By".  Van Dantzig created it for Alexandra Radius and Han Ebbelaar as they approached the peak of their careers.  A lyrical piece to a piano composition by Chopin it was danced delightfully by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko.

One of my favourite moments of the evening was Joel a short solo by Remi Wӧrtmeyer that he had created for himself to the music of Jacques Offenbach.  It was a humorous piece but also one that required strength, stamina and enormous skill.  The company has recently announced Wörtmeyer's retirement,  In his valedictory, Brandsen said:

"Remi’s positive energy, fabulous technique and engaging personality onstage and off have made him one of the most beloved dancers in our company. I will miss Remi and his dancing enormously and I wish him lots of success with his new artistic adventures.”

I shall also miss him and I add my best wishes.

My other favourite piece was Riho Sakamoto's My One and Only from Balanchine's Who Cares. I interviewed her when she joined the Junior Company and have marvelled at her meteoric rise. This is a solo that charms her audience.  The applause loved her and exploded in applause.

I had seen van Manen's Variations for Two Couples the previous night and discussed it in my review of that performance.  Jozef Varga, who has also announced his retirement, had appeared in the first performance of that ballet. He was joined by Tsygankova who had also been in the first show, The other dancers were Jessica Xuan and Constantine Allen.  This performance is likely to have been Varga's last with the company.  He will also be missed and I wish him well.

The last piece before the interval was Grand Pas Classique by Viktor Gsovsky. It is not performed very often if at all in the United Kingdom and the only time that I had seen it before was as part of the Dutch National Ballet's Christmas Gala which was live streamed on 19 Dec 2021.  The work is spectacular even on screen but it is even better on stage. The dancers were Jakob Feyferlik who had performed the work in the Christmas Gala and Olga Smirnova.

There was an interval after Grand Pas Classique.  After we had returned to our seats, Matthew Rowe, the Director of Music, rose and addressed the King and Queen of the Netherlands.  He said that the Dutch Ballet Orchestra had commissioned some music from the Dutch composer, Jacob ter Veldhuis, as a 60th anniversary present for the company.  Mr Ter Veldhuis was in the audience and a spotlight picked him out immediately after the conductor's announcement. The piece that Mr ter Veldhuis had written was entitled  Luce Divina inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy on which he had already written an oratorio.  The orchestra then played the commissioned work. 

Although Rowe conducted the orchestra for most of the evening, he handed the baton to Jonathan Lo for De Chimaera van L.A and the finale.   Lo is the Director of Music of Northern Ballet and I have also seen him at Covent Garden.  Lo was with Brandsen when I congratulated him on his honour and Brandsen kindly introduced me to Lo.  I expressed my delight that through Lo there was now a personal link between Leeds and Amsterdam. I was even happier when Lo told me that Northern's new Director, Federico Bonelli, had also attended the gala which means that there is now a direct link with my local company at the highest level.

Every year an award is presented by Alexandra Radius to the year's most outstanding dancer.  This year it was won by Salome Leverashvili.  She came to my attention when she and Timothy van Poucke published a vlog which I featured in Missing Amsterdam on 17 Feb 2017.   Those talented young artists have risen through the company's ranks very quickly. Van Poucke won the Radius prize as early as 2018.  Leverashvili accepted her prize with a short but witty speech in English which may well have won her even more fans.

A part of any gala to which the audience particularly looks forward is the Junior Company's piece. This year the Junior Company danced the last part of In the Future. I discussed the piece in detail in my review of the previous night's performance.  The Junior Company did not disappoint their fans.  They were as exciting and vivacious as always.  Yet another triumph for their artistic coordinator, Ernst Meisner.  The programme did not name them individually but I have done so in my review of the previous night's show.

The evening's finale was part of the last act of Raymonda.   Rachel Beaujean's new production was perhaps the main achievement of this anniversary year.  I had intended to see it in Amsterdam on 6 April but was prevented from attending by injury.  Nevertheless, I saw it on screen on 8 May 2022 (see Live Streaming of Beaujean's Raymonda 8 May 2022).  The extracts that were danced at the gala included the Pas Hongrois and the Pas Classique Hongrois.  Floor Eimers and Jan Spunda led the Pas Hongrois and they were joined by Emma Mardegan and Luca Abdel-Nour, Khayla Fitzpatrick and Rafael Valdez, Wendeline Wijkstra and Nathan BrhaneArianna Maldini and Alejandro Zwartendijk, Luiza Bertho and Dustin True, Hannah de Klein and Sander Baaij, Lore Zonderman and Conor Walmsley, Kira Hilli and Leo Hepler.  Maia Makhateli and Young Gyu Choi accompanied by Connie Vowles and Edo Wijnen, Yuanyuan Zhang and Sho Yamada, Nina Tonoli and Davi Ramos, Salome Leverashvili and Martin ten Kortenaar, Chloë Réveillon and Joseph Massarelli, Maria Chugai and Timothy van Poucke, Elisabeth Tonev and Sem Sjouke and Jingjing Mao and Daniel Robert Silva performed the Pas Classique Hongrois. Chloë Réveillon the variation and Edo Wijnen, Sho Yamada, Martin ten Kortenaar and Timothy van Poucke the male variation.

After the performance, the audience spilt out onto the lobby and terraces for the reception.  The reception welds the company and its audience into a family which does not happen with most other companies. It is one of the reasons why I love the Dutch National Ballet.  Of course, I have a lot of respect for the world's other great companies and I am a member of many of their Friends' schemes and support them in every way I can.  But, with the exceptions of Scottish Ballet, Ballet Cymru and, very recently, Northern Ballet, I do not feel as close to them as  I do to the Dutch National Ballet.  It was at the reception that I met van Manen.  My brief handshake and greeting enabled me to express my admiration and gratitude for his lifetime's work.  I doubt that I could have done that in any other way.