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Edinburgh International Festival 2005

Dutch National Ballet - 'La Valse', 'The Grey Area', 'The Concert'

by Kate Snedeker

September 1, 2005 -- Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

Humour, innovation and doomed romance all featured in Dutch National Ballet's intriguing contribution to the 2005 Edinburgh Festival. The diverse programme included works from George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and British choreographer David Dawson.

Dutch National Ballet now shares the talents of principal ballerina Sofiane Sylve with the New York City Ballet, and Edinburgh audiences were fortunate to see Sylve rejoin the company in Balanchine's "La Valse". Set to the driving, often haunting music of Maurice Ravel, this "La Valse" is a dance of doom.

On a dark stage, three women in long tulle skirts swirled, waltzing with bent wrists and arms–giving a hard edge to an otherwise flowing dance. Following this trio, five couples swooped and soared across the stage.

As the last couple chassed into the wings, the black backdrop lifted to reveal chandeliers and arches draped in black. The mood darkens as death, a man in black danced by Nicolas Rapaic, hunts his prey, the woman in white (Sylve). Wooing her with black jewelry, gloves and cape, Death turns white into black and the woman collapses in the midst of the waltz.

As the woman in white, Sylve displayed the power and presence that are her strengths. Yet Karinska's frothy skirt hid her powerful legs, and it was a shame not to see Sylve in a role that highlighted her impressive turns and poise. Her partner, Dragos Milhacea, who has joined the company this season from the Royal Swedish Ballet, was elegant but a bit overwhelmed. Cedric Ygnace also stood out amongst the company.

However, despite the spectacle of flowing tulle gowns and black tails, something was lost amongst the swirl of the waltz. The opening dances were pleasing but lacked finesse, and the final feeling of doom seemed to be rushed. It was an attractive ballet, but with the heart missing.

"The Grey Area" represented a link to the UK in the form of British choreographer David Dawson. Dawson, trained at the Royal Ballet School, danced at both the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, but did not begin his choreographic work seriously until after joining the Dutch National Ballet. Created in 2002 and the recipient of a Benois de la Danse choreographic award the following year, "The Grey Area" is a contrast to the Balanchine and Robbins pieces that bookended it.

Set to an electronic score by Neils Lanz, the piece involves five dancers on a stage dominated by a massive sheet draped across the stage-left wings and lit from above. The sheet creates an atmosphere that is both shimmery and muted, a feeling also reflected in the costumes by Yumiko Takeshima, one of the dancers in the ballet.

Dawson's choreography is free flowing and full of twisting stretch. The women are often elongated into full splits, whether with one leg in the air or being dragged horizontally by the men. Sometimes the stage is occupied by a couple, other times all five dancers are carving their own space on stage. The almost wailing music seems to drive the dancers, a quavering note that is passed from dancer to dancer, each developing it in their own bodies, continuing as the curtain drops.

It was in this compelling and inventive piece that the dancers looked most at home. Takeshima, Raphaël Coumes-Marquet and Boris de Leeuw were outstanding.

The programme ended with Jerome Robbins' "The Concert", a comic, wry masterpiece of the ballet world. Robbins' ballets often tell 'stories' about everyday people -- the NY gangs in "West Side Story", the playful youths in "Interplay", or the couples in "Other Dances". In "The Concert" he goes one step further, bringing the foibles and idiosyncrasies of people to life in a parody about a piano concert.

The ever patient pianist, Olga Khoziainova, strides onto the stage to a triumphant marche, and after dusting her keys, settles into a superb Chopin nocturne. Her audience, outfitted in Irene Sharaff's pale blue leotards and unitards, is a cross-section of society -- the shy man, the macho, cigar chomping husband and his long-suffering wife, several chattering ladies, an over-dramatic ballerina, and an over-efficient usher. After many shifts of seats, shushes and other escapes, the opening concert finally ends.

In the next section, a guffaw-inducing parody of classical ballet, the women, stiff as the doll Swanhilda, are hauled onstage by the men carried in every possible odd position, and propped into place. What follows is a "Waltz of the Errors". At first it's just the bespectacled ballerina who dancesoff in her own direction, but soon the mistakes start to shake the confidence of the audience, and by the end the dance is total chaos – although a chaos where every movement, glance and embarrassed shuffle into place is timed to perfection.

Later sections take the audience, and the increasingly harassed pianist, through a pas de deux for the cigar-chomping husband and the ballerina, who he finds preferable to his harassed wife. Then comes a mass pas de deux for dancers & umbrellas. In the closing section, the husband and drama queen return as butterflies, joined by the corps of fluttering insects.

Finally the pianist can no longer take it and storms off-stage. As the curtain drops, she returns to attack the insects with a giant butterfly-net.

“The Concert” is a stunning look at human life, and the dancers of the Dutch National Ballet deliver the humor with aplomb. Of note were Larissa Lezhnina as the ballerina, Altin Alexandros Kaftira as the husband, and Sefton Clarke as the shy boy.Martin Yates conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

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