Dutch National Ballet, Junior Company
Ballet Classics and Modern Masters bill
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
5 June 2015
The Royal Ballet Studio Programme’s Springboard Season is featuring graduate companies’ performances in the Linbury, with the cadet ensemble from the Dutch National Ballet as guests. The 13-strong Junior Company were invited to stay on for a week after their two sold-out performances to take part in choreographic workshops with four young London-based choreographers: Catarina Carvalho and Fukiko Takase (from Random), Charlotte Edmonds and James Cousins.
This is only the second tour since the Dutch graduate group was formed by Ted Brandsen, artistic director of Het (as the Dutch abbreviate the name of their National Company). Four members have stayed on for a second year, while nine are new. This year’s programme, which will tour widely in the Netherlands to towns that don’t see much dance, combines technically challenging extracts from 19th century ballets along with a Hans Van Manen divertissement from 1990 and recent works by young choreographers.
BalletBoyz-style video clips introduce the dancers and each piece, briefly showing the youngsters working in a studio with choreographers or coaches. The programme opens with a section from the last act of August Bournonville’s Napoli – part of the Pas de six for four girls and two boys. The only partnering involved is the friendly support of an arm or shoulder; the real test lies in the speedy footwork and buoyant jumps that Bournonville required from his Danish dancers.
Dare it be said that these youngsters were too exuberant for the deceptively modest style? Though the joyous dances get the evening off to a lively start, Bournonville doesn’t need to be sold as if he were a showbiz choreographer. Nonetheless, the cast of six were charming in their eagerness to impress. Two went on to perform the White Swan pas de deux, Yuanyuan Zhang and Martin ten Kortenaar, in a version by Rudi van Dantzig from his production of Swan Lake. Coached by principal dancer Igone de Jongh, they understood the emotional context of the pas de deux, with its discreet partnering.
Hans van Manen’s Visions Fugitives, to Prokofiev’s music of the same name, plays with balletic conventions, its three pairs responding very differently to each other as they flit past in brief duets. When they link together, dazzling in diagonally striped unitards, they drop off or retrieve a soloist before disappearing into the wings again. Not on pointe, since the piece was originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater, it treats its cast as grown-ups in volatile relationships. Nancy Burer with Ryosuke Morimoto, Lisanne Kottenhagen with Thomas van Damme and Yuanyuan Zhange, once again with Martin ten Kortenaar, met all van Manen’s demands, to his evident pleasure when he took a bow at the end.
The first half of the programme included a duet, Embers, from the Junior Company’s debut programme. Its choreographer, Ernst Meisner, familiar from his Royal Ballet days (and then with Dutch National Ballet) is now artistic co-ordinator of the Junior Company. Milena Sidorova, who trained at the Royal Ballet School before joining Dutch National, contributed a solo, Full Moon, that she had created for choreographic workshop in 2008. Bart Engelen fought acrobatically and comically with a cushion, to Prokofiev’s music for the Knights’ Dance from the ballroom scene in Romeo and Juliet.
The second half consisted of two commissions for the Junior Company from Robert Binet and Juanjo Arques. Binet, who was a choreographic apprentice with the Royal Ballet before returning to the National Ballet of Canada in 2013, sets his four dancers musing in Surfacing, to meditative music by Japanese contemporary composer Somei Satoh – pellucid piano and buzzing, moaning strings. Whenever the swirling movement seems in full flow, sudden outbreaks of leaps and falls interrupt the partnerships, Riho Sakamoto with Cristiano Principato and Nancy Burer with Antonio Martinez. One couple will keep still and watch the other two, their duets expressing conflicting, troubled emotions. Though skilfully crafted, some of the lifts look awkward, too contrived for relatively inexperienced dancers.
Juanjo Arques, once a dancer with English National Ballet and Dutch National, and now a sought-after choreographer, is as playful as van Manen in Blink, to Max Richter’s arrangement of the Spring section from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Five dancers, Veronika Verterich and ten Kortenaar, Sakamoto and Morimoto, with Bart Engelen as the joker, combine ballet with athletics, walking sportively, heel first, around the stage. They strip off navy blue tops in order to get to grips with ecstatic lifts, happier than in Surfacing. After an inevitable line-up that breaks apart in canon moves, the piece ends swiftly, game over.
The programme stretches and shows off the young graduates to good advantage in a well-chosen assortment. Whether they progress to the companies they want will depend on the vacancies available, a matter of luck as well as talent. They’ll soon be seen again in London when they join their seniors in Dutch National Ballet’s production of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella at the Coliseum in July (8-11th).