Dutch National Ballet - Hans van Manen - Rudi van Dantzig - Toer van Schayk - Twilight - Sospiri - Robert Mapplethorpe - Sadler's Wells

I love to go to Sadler's Wells because of the wonderful atmosphere and the naturalness of the people around me (as opposed to the elitist attitude at Covent Garden). They also have wonderful sandwiches!!! It is the birthplace of the Royal Ballet. So, in May 2001 the exciting classical Dutch National Ballet came to Sadler's Wells, after more than a decade away from London. This company numbers about 80 dancers but this time only 10 came to London. Sonia Gaskell founded the Dutch National Ballet in 1961. This company has a repertoire based on classic technique: Diaghilev's Russian Ballet, Michael Fokine, Les Sylphides, The Firebird, Petrouchka and Bronislava Nijinska, Les Noces, Les Biches. They pay huge attention to modern classic with works of George Balanchine, more then twenty-five of Balanchine's ballets, the largest number outside of New York City Ballet.

I like the company's choreographers, Rudi van Dantzig and Toer van Schayk, (the company's resident choreographer). It was the work of Resident Choreographer of fifteen years Hans van Manen that I saw in London; I was captivated by his work. He was born in Nieuwer Amstel in 1932, had his first lessons with Sonia Gaskell who engaged him as a dancer in her group Ballet Recital in 1951, the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit's Ballets de Paris. His debut as choreographer came in 1957 with the ballet Feestgericht; then from 1961 to 1970 he was Co-Director of Netherlands Dance Theatre and from 1973 to 1987 Resident Choreographer to the Dutch National Ballet. In 1988 he returned to Netherlands Dance Theatre as a Resident Choreographer.

Manen has created almost 110 ballets; thirty-six are in the repertoire of the DNB. There are several Ashton ballets and pieces by young choreographers such as Krzysztof Pastor whose Do Not Go Gentle is on programme Two. This is an abstract ballet, the words from the text of Dylan Thomas's poem that Stravinsky used for his In Memoriam Dylan Thomas. He has succeeded in a fusion of classical ballet and modern dance and other movement techniques, apparent simplicity and the extremely balanced almost mathematical structure of his dance composition. As he says, "I started with classical technique - that was what I learnt, but also I loved American musical - Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire - and after the war, they all came over here." Martha Graham's company performance in the Netherlands in the fifties (the DNB has five MG in the repertoire) was another influence, like Balanchine. He says, "We asked a lot of American choreographers to work with NDT - Glen Tetley, Anna Sokolow, John Butler. I saw things I never saw before, like the way they used the floor. I never saw the things I saw with the DNB - such a fascinating company!" He goes on, "My ballets deal with human relationship. Only I don't have mime. I never use music as a wallpaper or that they use in films, to make the emotion more clear. I make dance on the music, and should see that music in the dance. "

Van Manen, himself a serious photographer and played with sculptural human shape and paralleling Mapplethorpe's Homoeroticism. Robert Mapplethorpe was his friend and he has a series of his photos, which he uses. As a photographer he has work published and exhibited. He gave up photography at age 70. More than forty companies around the world have Van Manen's repertoire. Many great international stars such as Anthony Dowell, Marcia Haydee, Natalya Makarova and Rudolf Nurevey have danced his ballets. Charlie Chaplin and Dame Ninette de Valois got the select Erasmus Prize in November 2000 with two programmes including choreography by Hans van Manen, Balanchine and Krzysztof Pastor, with music from Beethoven to Cage.

The first programme comprises four short ballets, three of them duets. The opening programme is a tribute to Hans van Manen's choreography of all four ballets. The first Adagio Hammerklavier 1973 is 25 minutes long, a slow classical dance set to Beethoven, a piece that revels in anatomising the way limbs stretch and bodies bend. The choreography by Van Manen is a description of the fraught relationship of the three couples. They are superlative dances; the three men and the three women are immaculate in their technique and presentation of Van Manen's essays in dance sculpture.

Wayne Eagling is the Artistic Director of the company. He was born in Montreal, Canada. In 1991 became the A. D. and came to London with this repertoire to celebrate Van Manen. Additionally, he has choreographed many ballets like Lost Touch (1995) for the opening of the Vermeer exhibition in the Mauritshuis, The Hague. In November 1994, he created Alma Mahler for La Scala in Milan, a two-act ballet about the composer Gustav Mahler's wife. He also choreographed Pink Floyd's The Wall concert in Berlin and staged a crazy version of Frankenstein in which the orchestra mechanically rose up from the orchestra pit like in New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Twilight, choreographed in 1972, is a duet to John Cage's music prepared for piano (The Perilous Night) dating from the late 1930s. Various devices are added or taken away from the normal piano, 25 notes of the piano being treated in this way, so that the listener concentrated on the rhythmic structures rather than melody; lasting 18 minutes. Cage wrote this work in New York around 1943-44 and it is considered one of this most personal and expressive about "the loneliness and terror that comes to one when love becomes unhappy". The dancer Nathalie Caris wears high heels and plays the dominant ballerina, then the siren in stiletto, flashing out in irritation, the woman's stilettos hammering the mode home; gradually, as her relationship, with Altin Kaftira deteriorates, she takes her shoes off. Probably a ballet in stilettos has never been done before. The fact that her feet are never flat gives her dancing an unusual flashing sharpness, but this also limits the range of her movements, all kinds of jumps. They began circling around each other, stressing the dialogue of the characters by the way they keep looking at each other.

Live, to the music of Liszt's Sospiri (one of the five pieces Liszt wrote for Baroness Olga von Meyendorff written in 1879) is the one that really amused me. The ballet features one couple and a cameraman filming them dancing through a screen at the back of the stage. The original couple who danced the ballet at the Holland Festival in 1979 was Colleen Davis and Henry Jurriens. In 1989 Jurriens died in a tragic accident, so Hans van Manen chose to leave the Holland Festival video in as a tribute to Henny Jurriens. The new couple, Sabina Chaland and Gael Lambiotte, is obsessively photographed by the cameraman. They dance simultaneously and their images are projected on to the giant screen at the back of the stage. This idea of the video enhances the ballet for the audience because the close-ups - example of one hand, an eye, a foot etc - automatically draw one's eye to the screen rather than to the actual ballet performers on the stage. The ballet stars are depicting a marriage with problems as seen by their body movements and the crashing of doors on the video. They leave the stage and go into the auditorium and then to the foyer where they dance for four or five minutes, the cameraman filming them all the time and we follow their movements up on the screen. They are still arguing in the foyer, so she goes out of the Theatre into Rosebery Avenue and the cameraman follows her showing us the rainy night with the shiny wet pavements and illuminated London taxes. All happening while we were warm in our seats enjoying the performance; I was thinking about the poor ballerina in the cold and wet and how the rain might ruin her shoes!It brought back memories of the day my marriage broke up (as the British tend to say, "The day war broke out... ") and I too went into the wet street sadly contemplating my marriage break up. It took years to get over unlike the few minutes' performance on stage when, like magic, she came back on stage greeted with applause. Very touching.


Verinha Ottoni.



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