"The Nutcracker & The Mouse King" All Photos by Hans Gerritsen

Dutch National Ballet Christmas Gala

It was a privilege to be able to watch Dutch National Ballet perform for the second time in a matter of weeks, in a streaming of a performance that had been live the previous week – a Christmas Gala like no other.

Ted Brandsen, once again appears to consider the requirements of every viewer from all age groups and genre preferences, by presenting a vastly diverse repertoire, giving all his dancers a chance to shine. While the dancers were correct and present and the Dutch Ballet Orchestra under Matthew Rowe were in fine fettle, this long programme did not receive a single moment of applause from its totally empty auditorium. A fact made more starkly evident because many of the pieces were ones that frequently garner rapturous receptions. Brandsen also managed to give us a perfectly balanced running order with neo-classical, classical, contemporary and two world premieres. All this while negotiating the trials of 2020’s pandemic. Beginning with excerpts from Balanchine’s Who Cares?, it was an uplifting opener and danced with plenty of gusto by all. Jessica Xuan and Martin ten Kortenaar breathed life into The Man I Love and ten Kortenaar soared through the air in Liza.

George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?”
Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke in “Echoes of Tomorrow”

In the first of the new works, Wubkje Kuindersma has created a duet for Salome Leverashvili and Timothy van Poucke, Echoes of Tomorrow, addressing the current mood of deep reflection and memories which we carry with us into the future. Kuindersma has recently been appointed as one of three Young Creative Associates with the company and whilst I am unacquainted with her previous work, I found this creation intriguing. She had two exquisite dancers to work with and their tender connection was moving in itself. Dressed in grey, the movements were like liquid mercury with smooth transitions, shapes beautifully silhouetted against the simple backdrop and lifts that appeared completely weightless.

The pas de deux from Wayne McGregor’s Chroma is always going to work as stand alone gala fodder, especially when delivered by Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo. It’s impetus is aggressive but effective and its brevity leaves one craving more.

Maia Makhateli and Vito Mazzeo in “Chroma”
Anna Ol and James Stout in “Metamorphosis”

Metamorphosis 1 is the first part of a five-part work created by Associate Artist David Dawson, unbelievably over Zoom from Berlin. Set to Philip Glass, Dawson wanted to give us all a bit of light and hope in the middle of this tremendously difficult time. Anna Ol and James Stout do just what it says on the box. This was astute casting as both dancers ‘get’ Dawson’s choreographic voice. As always, the lifts emerge from nowhere, rising up and forming unexpected configurations.  Likewise there are no clumsy moments when Ol is lowered to the floor.  Ending with a striking lift heading off stage – this was surely a taster of interesting instalments to come.

We were offered three very different, big, classical pas deux (aside from The Nutcracker).  In Grand Pas Classique Xuan and Jakob Feyferlik were fearless, polished and elegant. Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko were touching and impressive in Rudi van Dantzig’s incredibly taxing Romeo and Juliet Balcony pas de deux. In the final pas de deux from Onegin, Ol paired with Jozef Varga proved to be at their dramatic best – difficult to achieve when shown out of context.

Artur Shesterikov was explosive in the solo from Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos and it was pure joy to watch 25 male dancers in the finale from Brandsen’s Classical Symphony. If anyone had questioned the ability of a vast corps of men to stay together (this is so often the domain of the women) then look no further. All credit to their collective musicality, which is the driving force in this thrilling piece.

Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen gave a lyrical account of Christopher Wheeldon’s Duet and in van Manen’s Solo, a piece for three solo men, we were treated to some outstanding dancing. Sho Yamada, Daniel Silva and Remi Wörtmeyer delivered the goods with inimitable style and extreme velocity but most important, their warmth and humour won us over.

Maia Makatheli and Young Gyu Choi in “The Nutcracker & The Mouse King”

The Gala ended with excerpts from Wayne Eagling and Toer van Schayk’s 1996 production of The Nutcracker & The Mouse King. After a crisp snow scene, there followed the Chinese Dance, Greek Dance and Russian Dance, quite unlike any other versions I have seen.  Whilst competently danced, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate the contents.

Makhateli and her partner, Young Gyu Choi were magnificent in the Grand Pas de Deux. Both are very beautiful looking and have supreme control of their technical abilities. Pirouettes were exceptionally musical and verging on astounding whether executed alone or within the partnership. Lines were pure and Gyu Choi has the most enviable ballon, with the softest of landings. For all this excellence, I did not feel that Makhateli reciprocated Gyu Choi’s attentive partnering and charm. And although she gave a flawless account from beginning to end, she appeared slightly aloof rather than sparkling.  It is, however, important to recognise that getting up and doing something of this complexity without any audience reaction is a tough call to answer. This was an evening of radiance, finely honed skills and entertainment to please any and everyone.

Reviewed by Deborah Weiss