Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company – 2014 Tour – London

Junior Company in George Williamson's <I>Dawn Dances</I>.<br />© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)
Junior Company in George Williamson’s Dawn Dances.
© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)

Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company
2014 Summer Tour: Embers, Minuet, Ballet 101, White Swan pdd from Swan Lake, Diana and Acteon pdd, Sleeping Beauty Pas de Quatre, Saltarello, Kwintet, Dawn Dances

London, Linbury Studio Theatre
28 May 2013
Gallery of pictures by Dave Morgan

It’s always nice to be in at the start of a new company especially one associated with a class troupe like Dutch National Ballet (DNB). Their 13-strong Junior Company, newly minted this season, is for dancers aged 18-20 and is seen as a way of growing locally and internationally acquired dance talent, useful for all, but especially the mother company. They recruit some with direct offers, but auditions are held as well and 700 applied. It’s a tough world for young dancers, that’s for sure. New as it is, good to see the Junior Company already getting out there with this small tour taking in Spain and the UK.

The show was structured around a light introduction to ballet and its history and after the interval 2 slightly more substantial modern works. Pieces were prefaced by a video interview with some of the young dancers about the works and what it’s like to perform in them. For regulars, which I think comprised most of the Linbury audience, this was perhaps unnecessary, though their enthusiasm came over. Minuet was the first piece listed in the programme and two poor dancers had to come out in full Louis XIV court dress and walk around – just horrid and unnecessary. That was followed by Ballet 101, Eric Gauthier’s well-known look at ballet’s 5 positions and other concocted ones numbered up to 100, a commentator calling out each position while an increasingly bewildered soloist (the engaging Daniel Montero) tries to keep up. It’s a silly bit of fun which the programme takes rather too seriously by saying it “…gives the audience immediate insight into how a ballet is choreographed.” That’s so not true.

Publicity image for the Junior Company of Dutch National Ballet.© Dutch National Ballet. (Click image for larger version)
Publicity image for the Junior Company of Dutch National Ballet.
© Dutch National Ballet. (Click image for larger version)

There were two gala pas de deux in the bill including the rather outrageous Diana and Acteon pdd – a huge test for great ballet stars at the top of their game. It seems too big an ask and Michaela DePrince (recently interviewed) and Sho Yamada were best apart in the solo sections where their jumps and general technique could look to impress. She is a prodigious technical talent, if they both have yet to grow into their artistic skins. But together they rather struggled – not looking like a trusting partnership who could go for it. To their credit nothing went wrong but there was a lot of earnest concentration being shown. Much better overall were Jessica Xuan and Nathan Brhane in the White Swan pdd from Swan Lake. There was unforced goodness here in its handsome Toer van Schayk costumes and I liked the Rudi van Dantzig (after Petipa etc) style which was more intimate and touching than we often see. Technically it worked and artistically it stood up as well. They are ready for a bigger company, one felt.

More of the dancers were seen in an excerpt from Peter Wright’s 1981 Sleeping Beauty for DNB. With original Russian-influenced designs by Philip Prowse it must be related to the Birmingham production put on 3 years later. The Pas de Quatre, from the final act wedding celebrations showed a wider mix of capabilities and Wentao Li stood out for his eagerness. Saltarello by Ernst Meisner (ex Royal Ballet) who is the Artistic Coordinator for the Junior Company, also showed their wider capabilities. Inspired by Italian folk dance, it had the dancers on video talking about having to “dance in 5th gear” all the time. It is indeed fast and rather fun. It also showed what terrific leg strength they have, often springing from a standing start further than we normally see in London. A good piece that flattered them. Meisner also started the evening with a work not in the programme, but a little amuse-bouche pdd called Embers. It was danced by the Swan Lake couple of Jessica Xuan and Nathan Brhane and looked and sounded drop-dead gorgeous with soulful Max Richter music. It’s a sensuous piece of close partnering, beautifully executed and showing Xuan’s long, expressive, back and torso. I think they were very, very wise to start with this rather than the planned Minuet.

Nancy Burer, surrounded by Nathan Brhane, Daniel Cooke, Thomas Van Damme and Wentao Li in Hans van Manen's <I>Kwintet</I>.<br />© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)
Nancy Burer, surrounded by Nathan Brhane, Daniel Cooke, Thomas Van Damme and Wentao Li in Hans van Manen’s Kwintet.
© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)

After the interval came two 12-15 minute pieces which surprised in different ways. Hans van Manen’s Kwintet, from 1974, was charm personified and made for Alexandra Radius, one of the Nederlands’ most famous ballerinas, and built on three Mozart adagios for brass. It’s rather like a playful version of the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty with 4 vaguely princely men paying homage, in strict formation, to their prima ballerina. Nancy Burer, beamingly assured as another girl ready for bigger classical things, was the lucky recipient of all this synchronised attention. It was all well coached, though I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps the young dancers might have hoped for a more sexy and subversive piece from the modernist master.

Nancy Burer in Hans van Manen's <I>Kwintet</I>.<br />© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)
Nancy Burer in Hans van Manen’s Kwintet.
© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)

George Williamson, the English National Ballet Associate Artist, created a new made-for-measure piece for the Junior Company – Dawn Dances. The music, by Judd Greenstein, is minimalist and to my ears sounded similar in places to Michael Nyman’s MGV (DGV) – with all its buoyancy, speed and and growing sense of triumph. And Williamson’s response is not so dissimilar to Christopher Wheeldon’s use in DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse for the Royal Ballet – he brings the stage alive with interesting, bounding movement in all permutations of the 8 dancers. It’s a super celebration piece and an uplifting end to a night, if the shabby-chic costumes are not to everybody’s taste. Overall Williamson pitched it right in tone and a lot of senior schools and young companies could use this.

Michaela DePrince in George Williamson's Dawn Dances.© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)
Michaela DePrince in George Williamson’s Dawn Dances.
© Dave Morgan. (Click image for larger version)

Overall I think the Junior Company might usefully look at what NDT2 – the Nederlands Dans Theater junior company – do by way of touring repertoire. They’ve been going for decades and have usually toured to the UK with triple or quad bills by well-known choreographers of significant company works. NDT2 dancers, on average, are a little older though. But the Junior Company is a great initiative by DNB and I’m sure they will adjust its ways of working as time moves on. The good thing is that next year they return to London so we can see how they are all doing and spot some other stars in the making, as we undoubtedly did this time.

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