Dutch National Ballet
Dutch Doubles: Impermanence, Two and Only, Déjà vu, Last Resistance
Amsterdam, Dutch National Opera & Ballet House
24 March 2018
As conceived, the 2018 Dutch Doubles bill is all about new steps and new music with each of the Dutch-based, or -linked, choreographers working with a favourite musician. One of the draws for me was a new work by the 85-year-old legend that is Hans van Manen. Sadly an injury just before he was about to start work on the commission meant it was not to be and instead Dutch National Ballet (DNB) got a ‘new to them’ work – Déjà vu – previously created for Nederlands Dans Theater back in the 1995.
But other draws were the latest piece by the very much in demand Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and also seeing where Ernest Meisner was as a choreographer these days. Many in London still remember him as a dancer with the Royal Ballet, his early interesting efforts at choreography, also his later work to be seen when the DNB junior company visited the UK. Since then he’s been given several main stage commissions in Amsterdam. Getting her first such commission was the contemporary-trained Wubkje Kuindersma – a name bubbling under but who has danced with a long list of respected companies including Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance. All up, lots of interesting ingredients and good on Ted Brandsen (the DNB director) for looking to do a complete bill of new works – a very rare thing, and I wish more would shout ‘all new’ from the rooftops. More chops too for it being split equally between the sexes.
Meisner’s Impermanence opened the night and he chose to collaborate with the harpist Remy van Kesteren who played live on stage. This collaboration was a seriously good move – van Kesteren has composed a stunning work for himself, other soloists (positioned either side of the stage) and the entire orchestra down in the pit. Over its 25 minutes it courses between the stark minimalism of piano, saxophone, bowed harp and Xylophone and the full-on punch as the whole orchestra becomes involved. The programme talks about the starting point for Impermanence as “Taking risks, staying far away from the beaten track and presenting something really new” and musically it really delivers on that. Choreographically Meisner does a neat neo-classical job for his cast of ten, if it doesn’t feel so far off the beaten track or to be making huge new waves in movement terms. Be it with duets or movement for the entire cast it’s confident, competent and watchable and I particularly like the odd angles of limbs in the many twirling duets that seemed a recurring motif. One also has to commend Meisner and Brandon Stirling Baker’s set with its sliding transparent panels – very chic. Impermanence is a crowd-pleaser of a mixed work for ballet lovers, if it feels more related to ballet’s 20th century traditions than leading it into the future.
Wubkje Kuindersma’s 12 minute long Two and Only I found rather exasperating, don’t think I really ‘got’ and would love to see again. It’s about “multiple aspects of love, the different colours that a relationship can have…” and was danced impeccably by Marijin Rademaker and the young Timothy van Poucke. The music was provided by singer/songwriter Michael Benjamin, singing live on stage in English – first with guitar and then piano. They are intimate songs and it ends with the poignant parting of the two dancers.
The movement is fresh, cheeky, surprising and expressive – as if Jiri Kylian and Kristen McNally had a love child, and a breath of fresh air indeed. My problem was that neither dancer really seemed to dramatically sell their love – instead being rather blank. Possibly the steps and vocals were supposed to convey it all, but it felt like a lost opportunity. Perhaps it was incredibly subtle and feminine, and I’m used to the melodrama of what one usually sees in such circumstances. Actually it quite probably underlines why we need to see the work of female choreographers given so much of what whappens on stage is based on male visions and stereotypes of love. Which is why I say I’d like to see it again. But worth repeating that the movement itself was tantalising.
For a very different take on love, Hans van Manen’s Déjà vu was the choreographic highlight of the night for me. Here we had spine-tingling steps and deep dramatic intent from Ignoe de Jongh and Marijin Rademaker. This is tempestuous complex love with shades of Balanchine’s Agon and the competition between the sexes, as they stalk, argue, ignore, fight, support and embrace each other. To Arvo Pärt’s sparse ‘Fratres’, every movement screams love/hate, deep dependency and ultimately strong togetherness. It’s 12 minutes of spellbinding alchemy and if the earlier pieces had been pleasant in their various ways, this was on a whole other level in showing how movement, dancers and music can magically fuse. Hans van Manen isn’t a choreographic legend for nothing.
If van Manen is a choreographers’ choreographer then Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in Last Resistance is the showman’s showman and come the end it brought the house down with a long standing ovation. And while the 30+ dancers looked good, the success was not at all theirs – no this was Dutch singer and actress, Wende Snijders’, night as she stomped all over the stage belting out rock songs with her backing band on stage too. Wende (as she is known in Holland) composed 6 songs, all in English and the lyrics are given in full in the programme – they are personal, of course, and can be read in a variety of ways. Ochoa, who is a long-time friend of Wende, used the feel of the compositions as a jumping off point for the accompanying movement. Interestingly Wende is primarily known as a chanteuse, but what astounded here was her dynamic ownership of the stage and no bunch of great dancers were going to outshine her movement and belief that she was the best singer AND dancer on stage. And so the DNB dancers become the classiest musical theatre troupe you’ve ever seen, and Ochoa equips them with clever and unusual vignettes, some quietly satisfying duets and an ending that dazzles and pulses with energy. If Meisner had opened the night with traditional good ballet manners, the show closed out with a bang and a reminder that we should all be less straight-laced about the art we love. Yeah!