With the livestream of their Christmas Gala last December, the Dutch National Ballet offered an ebullient showcase for the whole company. With Spring Special – seen as a livestream on 5 April – the principals take centre stage.
It is no secret that Corona has hit the Dutch dance companies hard, but for many of the principal dancers at Het Nationale Ballet (HNB) the pandemic has also put a stop to their individual international tours, performing at galas around the world. Spring Special is modeled as a gala-style event, in which each of the company’s fourteen principal dancers and five soloists are offered a chance to shine in a choreography of their own choosing.
It is certainly a laudable undertaking, at the same time reminding viewers around the world of all the talent HNB has on offer. Yet, despite all its good intentions, as a gala the event lacked sparkle. Of course, the circumstances are far from ideal, performing for a handful of cast and crewmembers (and Hans van Manen), without the live aid of the Dutch Ballet Orchestra or lush set design.
The opening act is hit the hardest, the Pas de Quatre from Giselle performed by soloists Salome Leverashvili, Nina Tonoli, Sho Ymada and corps de ballet dancer Jan Spunda. Normally, the choreography is part of a bustling village scene, with the villagers and nobility are looking approvingly on. On a bare stage, even the smallest hiccups are magnified.
The Pas de Deux from the second act of Giselle, by Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko fares better, even though their performance doesn’t quite reach the magnificent heights of their soulful performance in Romeo en Julia from 2019. Jessica Xuan and Jakob Feyferlik give a sweet interpretation of the Grand Pas de Deux of The Sleeping Beauty. With Delibes Suite by José Carlos Martínez, Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen offer just what Tsygankova herself predicted: ‘a carefree summer’s day at the Riviera’. You can almost smell the lavender.
Monday’s performance also saw the HNB premiere of the Talisman Pas de Deux by Pjotr Goesev, which originally premiered in 1955, performed by Maia Makhateli and Young Gyu Choi. The choreography itself is not revolutionary, but the karate-like kicks and high jumps proved a good showcase for Young Gyu Choi.
Someone who never lacks energy is principal dancer Remi Wörtmeyer, who chose a solo from Classical Symphony by Ted Brandsen, set to music by Prokofiev. Wörtmeyer gives a spirited performance, although it does feel like the piece hits the breaks before he fully gets into his stride. Here, again, the lack of a live orchestra is sorely felt.
As a result, the two performances that do have live music directly jump out: Two and Only by Wubkje Kuindersma, with music performed by composer Michael Benjamin; and Replay by Ted Brandsen, with pianist Ryoko Kondo playing Philip Glass. Both pieces are accompanied by an insightful short interview (except for the opening, all choreographies are preceded by interviews). For Jozef Varga, his part in Two and Only represents a man contemplating his waning youth, embodied by young soloist Timothy van Poucke, who keeps slipping through his fingers. It is a sober, yet wistful duet, which resonates nicely with Benjamin’s singer-songwriter score.
For Vito Mazzeo, Replay takes up a special place in his heart. In 2014 it was the first piece that was created on him, but now, almost seven years later, the dynamic has changed (in a way, it has become a replay of the replay). The first time around, Mazzeo was the younger dancer, dancing with Igone de Jongh. Now he is the older, avuncular character, learning to let his young protegee (soloist Yuanyuan Zhang – just recovered from a protracted injury) literally stand on her own two feet. By reversing the roles to a mature male mentor and a young female ingenue there is the risk of power imbalance, where the protectiveness of the male authority figure becomes something less benign, but Zhang confidently holds her own.
Stand-out of the night was principal dancer Anna Ol. First she appeared together with Artur Shesterikov, in an elegant and poignant reprisal of Duet from 1995 by former artistic director Wayne Eagling, set to music from Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, which had not been performed in quite some time.
Ol made her second appearance in the world premiere of Alignment, a duet with James Stout, created by Juliano Nuñes. Nuñes first started rehearsals at the beginning of 2020, but had to stop due to the first lockdown. For this performance, rehearsals were picked up, but this time completely via Zoom. Stout and Ol pop out against the dark background in their red, orange and yellow bodysuits, their mesmerizing movements echoing the urgent, restless energy of the music by Ezio Bosso. It is as if they were afraid that if they stop, they will never get going again. We can certainly relate.
Featured photo Hans Gerritsen (ALIGNMENT by Juliano Nunes | dancers: Anna Ol & James Stout)