Dutch National Ballet
September 1, 2005
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 doomed dance.
On a dark stage, three women in long tulle skirts swirl across the stage, their waltz one of bent wrist and arms - a hard edge to a normally flowing dance. Following this trio, five couples swoop and soar across the stage.
As the last couple sashays into the wings, the black backdrop lifts to reveal chandeliers and arches draped in black. The mood darkens, as death - a man in black (Nicolas Rapaic) - hunts his prey, the woman in white (Sylve). Wooing her with black jewelry, gloves and cape, Death turns white into black, the woman collapses in the midst of the waltz.
As the woman in white, Sylve showed the power and presence that are her strength. 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 other 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. So 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 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 bookend it.
Set to an electronic score by Neils Lanz, it involves five dancers on a stage dominated by a massive great sheet draped across the stage-left wings and lit from above. The sheet creates an atmosphere that is both shimmery and muted at the same time, a feeling reflected in the costumes by Yumiko Takeshima, one of the dancers in the ballet.
Dawson's choreography is free flowing, full of twisting stretch; the women often elongated into full splits, whether one leg in the air or 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. And it continues as the curtain drops.
Compelling and inventive, it was in this piece that the dancers looked most at home. Yumiko Takeshima, Raphaël Coumes-Marquet and Boris de Leeuw were outstanding.
The programme ended with a comic, wry masterpiece of the ballet world - Jerome Robbins' "The Concert". Robbins' ballets often tell 'stories' about everyday people - the NY gangs in "West Side Story", the playful youths in "Interplay", the couples in "Other Dances". In "The Concert" he goes one step further, bringing the foibles and idiosyncrasies of people to live in a parody on none other than a piano concert.
The every patient pianist, Olga Khoziainova, strides onto the stage to the tune of triumphant marches, and after dusting her keys, settles into a superb Chopin nocturne. Her audience, outfitted in Irene Sharaff's pale blue leotards and unitards, are a cross-section of society - the shy man, the macho, cigar-chomping husband and long-suffering wife, chattering ladies, over-dramatic ballerina and the 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 are hauled onstage by the men, stiff as the doll Swanhilda, 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 dances off her own directions, but soon the mistakes start to shake everyone's confidence and by the end it's total chaos - but chaos where every movement, glance and embarrassed shuffle into place is timed to perfection.
Later sections take the audience, and 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 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.
It's 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.