Hans Van Manen Gala
Dutch National Ballet
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Germany
July 7, 2012
New York may have had Balanchine, London Ashton and MacMillan, but since the 1950s, Amsterdam has cultivated its own, more discreet neoclassical master: Hans Van Manen. The Dutch choreographer, who turns 80 on July 11, has moved back and forth between the country’s most prominent companies, the Nederlands Dans Theater and Dutch National Ballet, shaping the local dance scene in the process. Dutch National Ballet didn’t forget his birthday: to conclude its season, the company delved into his repertoire, bringing nine works or excerpts from longer ballets on tour to Baden-Baden.
The resulting programme was a genuinely unaffected sampling of the range he has developed over decades. There is a touch of Balanchine about Van Manen, particularly in his formal experimentation with ballet technique and structure in plotless works. The musicality is his own, however: more often than not he holds back, letting the music speak as the choreography’s own stream of consciousness ebbs and flows around it. When the two converge, the visual effect is all the more powerful, like an exclamation mark in the middle of a whispered dialogue.
Trois Gnossiennes, a sparse pas de deux set to Satie, is a masterpiece in that regard, serene on the surface yet ripe with slow-burning tension. A flexed foot in pointe shoes turns into a statement in itself for the ballerina, on opening night the strikingly lyrical Larissa Lezhnina. A rare ensemble work, Symphonieën der Nederlanden, set to a score by Louis Andriessen, also shows the interplay of structure and music to a crescendo not unlike Bolero’s, with the ending a triumph of collective spirit for the company. (…)