The recored programmes are streamed on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 March at 7.15pm (UK time)
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Audiences may be barred from attending theatres, but that didn’t deter Dutch National Ballet (Het National Ballet) from putting together a programme of dances by the Netherlands' foremost choreographer, Hans van Manen, and performing it live on stage, not once but twice.
The first livestream of Hans van Manen Variations went like clockwork: a masterclass of impeccable timing, brief and to the point commentary, and clear, intelligent filming. The company’s director, Ted Brandsen, offered a brief introduction in Dutch and English; former dancer and current ballet mistress Rachel Beaujean prefaced each piece with just the right amount of contextualisation.
And then, of course, there was the dancing.
Many companies around the world dance Hans van Manen, his blend of classicism and contemporary language, absolute purity of line and acute musicality, peppered with not a little mischief, creating universally appealing dances. Nobody, however, dances Hans van Manen like Dutch National Ballet, and in Variations, which covers four decades of the master’s work, they did him full justice.
The programme was made up of six pieces: a series of pas de deux – or rather, as van Manen prefers to describe them ‘ballets for two’ – sandwiched between works for three and two couples respectively. As well, we were served a short film featuring Hans van Manen, the performer; and what an expressive and engaging dancer he was!
Adagio Hammerklavier is scored for three couples to a very slow movement from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no.29 in B-flat major, Op.106. It is a work of utmost classical purity, yet with a subtle, undefinable emotional charge. In unison the white-clad dancers draw elegant lines, the women’s arabesques penchées like arrows pointing to the sky; the men’s lifts effortless. They dance with total concentration, and as the group breaks into individual pas de deux, each leaves behind an element of mystery, something unsaid.
In total contrast is the second work: Sarcasmen. To a Prokofiev piano piece, a couple challenge and provoke each other. He prances and cavorts before her knowing eyes and ironic smile; she ends a playful and provocative little solo by clutching his crotch. In normal times, you’d hear giggles or gasps from the audience; in our Covid-afflicted days you just had to make do with your own startled and/or amused reaction.
Déjá Vu, which came next, was van Manen’s ironic reply to critics who accused him of repeating himself. Set to a piece by Arvo Pärt, it’s perhaps the most contemporary piece of the programme, very grounded, using flexed feet and core contractions.
With Trois Gnossiennes, to music by Eric Satie, van Manen returns to slow, pure movement; in the following Two Pieces for Het, he contrasts the acrobatic demands of the super-fast first piece, set to Tüür’s insistent, jarring strings, to the serenity of the second part set to an adagio by Arvo Pärt.
The programme ends with Variations for Two Couples, a multi-faceted, highly inventive work which earned van Manen a well-deserved Prix Benois de la Danse. Particularly fascinating is how the choreographer blends steps from the Argentine tango in the final section, danced to a composition by Astor Piazzolla.
The dancers took their bows to the absolute silence of an empty theatre; a gesture, perhaps, of defiance. We shall go on, they seemed to say. Amen, say all of us.
|What||Review: Dutch National Ballet Hans van Manen Variations|
|Where||Online | MAP|
27 Feb 21 – 05 Mar 21, Livestream 27 & 28 Feb at 14:00. Recorded stream 4 & 5 March at 19:15. Dur.: 1 hour 45 mins