Dutch National Ballet Junior Company
Young Talent Festival: No Time Before Time, Fuse, What Got You Here, Fingers in the Air, In The Future
London, Linbury Theatre
5 July 2019
The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company provides a bridge for young dancers moving from education into a professional career. One-third of the Dutch National Ballet corps consists of former Junior Company members, and alumni include soloist Michaela DePrince, who audience members here might remember from one of the Junior Company’s previous visits to the Linbury in 2013 and 2014.
A big photo of the thirteen current dancers dominates the stage as we enter. Ernst Meisner, artistic coordinator of the Junior Company, appears to explain the context of the programme. His aim was to show us what had been happening since their last visit, with four new works created especially for them, plus an existing work from Hans van Manen, Dutch National Ballet’s inspirational choreographer. The young dancers were sleek, polished and focussed: ironically it was the van Manen piece, though not specifically made for them, where they were at their most alive, vibrant and persuasive.
This programme was more balletic than Junior Ballett Zurich’s offering earlier in the Young Talent Festival. There was more use of classical vocabulary and pointe shoes: there was also a more cheerful air about proceedings, with less gloom and doom (though this wasn’t not entirely absent).
Ernst Meisner’s own work, No Time Before Time opened the bill. He had chosen some attractive and danceable music from Alexander Balanescu. The women were on pointe, and this was possibly the most classical piece of the evening. It was confidently and smoothly executed by the six couples. The work was pleasant, conventional, and unthreatening. Costuming was attractive, and the asymmetric skirts for the women took the air well. It was all well put together but not as memorable as you might wish.
Next up was Fuse by Charlotte Edmonds, a young UK based choreographer who has made work previously for the Royal Ballet in the Clore Studio. In an introductory film Edmonds explained the genesis and intent of the piece. Maybe this was overkill for a short work for three performers, as it seemed to promise rather more than the dance delivered. There was an implicit tension in using a cast of two men and one woman, and the drumming that dominated the early part of the soundtrack underscored this. The dancers were committed to the complex interactions and partnering but the work remained opaque. The tension dissipated into an enigmatic and unsatisfying end.
Daniela Cardim is a former dancer with Dutch National Ballet. UK ballet goers may have seen her works for New English Ballet Theatre. Her What Got You Here is for six dancers in natty white outfits, looking cheery and spritely as if they were on an outing to the seaside. There is a voiceover here describing first how amazing were the coincidences that happened to create life at all, and then later in the piece, how the sun might die and all life be extinguished. The dancers looked decidedly jaunty in the face of it, as if it was all a bit of a lark. Even when they pointed at the audience in a gesture which could have been “it’s all your fault” they seemed amused, not annoyed. Cardim tests them out with some more challenging partnering and they breeze through it. A relatively short piece, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and was pleasing, if a little inconsequential.
These three short pieces were packed in before the first interval. As we get up to leave, a bossy female voice informs us that audience participation is required in the next piece. This is Fingers in the Air by Juanjo Arqués and the title is spot on here.
When we return, having collected tiny green and red lights, the officious voice tells us to vote when prompted. To do that we wave a green or red light in the air. We get to vote for either a group of men or women to continue (the women): to choose a solo or a duet (the duet). It’s a novelty, and enthusiastically embraced by the waving audience. The choice though proves to be something of a con, as the voice later announces we will also now see the bits we didn’t choose, and overrules the audience votes on choosing whether the dancers perform with the tiny lights on their fingers or not, and then capriciously changes her mind. But maybe that’s the point. Choice is illusory. Vote for whatever you will, the establishment prevails.
What an amazing evening!
Congrats to all our @DutchNatBallet Junior Company at the @RoyalOperaHouse Young Talent Festival. Couldn’t be more proud!#HNBJuniorCompany #ROHYoungTalent pic.twitter.com/53YkMZdh7R
— Ernst Meisner (@ErnstMeisner) July 6, 2019
So what of all the dancing? It’s a very dark stage, the twelve dancers are in dark grey costumes, and though occasionally spot-lit, they are not always easy to make out in the gloom. Only at the end was this really effective when the dancers were wearing the lights on their fingers and were moving fast enough to leave trails of red and green in the air. When we could get to see them it was apparent that this was very much the modern school of ballet where the men get to hoick their legs right up the vertical just as much as the women. It was fast and energetic and the women looked haughty and sassy. The tricksiness of the business with the lights rather dominates the show, but Arqués has given the dancers a good mix of group work, duets and solos to get their teeth into, and they looked like they enjoyed it.
It’s understandable that companies want to show off what’s been made for them and give young choreographers opportunities, but young dancers also need established works to get their teeth into and measure themselves against. The final work was In The Future by Hans van Manen. Immediately, you feel you are in the capable hands of an experienced choreographer who knows exactly what he wants to do. The six couples are identically dressed in all in ones, green at the front, bright red at the back. Each time the dancers turn there is a bright pop of colour. The backdrop is painted stripes, reminiscent of a Bridget Riley painting with black, white and then more red and green echoing the colours of the costumes.
The music is three tracks from David Byrne, beginning with a stream of predictions about what life will be like in the future. For this van Manen gives us quite simple movements but they are repeated, turned, and reassembled in ingenious ways. Maybe the dancers are here are robots going about their tasks in future-world. But then there is a strutting walk for the men, swinging their arms from side to side, that looks all too human. The second section is softer and slower. The women repeatedly fall sideways to the floor and are raised up again. In the final section, van Manen enjoys playing with the red / green contrasts, lining the dancers up, then using them as a human kaleidoscope, turning then in different sequences and combinations. It was all nicely tailored to the music, using simple components to build complexity in a satisfying way. The dancers looked like they were having a fantastic time and couldn’t stop grinning.
The Young Talent Festival is scheduled to return to the Linbury next year, and it will be good to see these talented and polished young dancers again.