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Dutch National Ballet
15/16 May 2001
Dutch National Ballet (DNB) are in town and suddenly Sadler's Wells has become incredibly urbane and civilised - lovely manners and beautifully correct English abounds as the Dutch audience turned out in droves. And as they came by to get to their seats there were profuse thankyous, pleasant, friendly smiles and rather nice casual dress.
The English meanwhile seem to be rapidly adopting what I first came across in New York - the annoying habit of insistently sitting in seats rather than standing to let people through. Of course nobody wishes to be seen to be totally unhelpful and thus their knees will move all of two or, as an especially helpful gesture to the very old or infirm, perhaps three millimetres to allow some pathetic through-access. On such occasions one really does wish that one had perfected the childhood ambition to be able to break wind at will and thus to leave a silent but deadly little thank you as one struggles on oneís way...
The DNB season here is decidedly modernist - if you are looking for Swan Lake or a Giselle pdd think again. The company do such productions but aren't bringing them - hopefully next time.
There are two programmes, one entirely of Hans van Manen works, and other more varied choreographic evening including Balanchine's Four Temperaments. Both programmes end with van Manenís Live. Itís a piece I missed when they visited Edinburgh three years ago, but the reviews and descriptions of it seemed particularly admiring - even by hard-bitten criticsí standards(!) - something very special indeed. No way was I going to miss it this time.
I got to the first two nights of the run which suffered a couple of changes and meant there was more duplication than originally intended. But even so I saw 5 different pieces of some variety if for the main part there was a concentration on pas de deux. Adagio Hammerklavier opened the run and is quite a formal look at relationships using 3 couples. The dancers are quick and the boys big and strong but there was a distant feel of simmering repression. Undoubtedly intended but a bit sterile perhaps for one raised on more dramatic fare. It seemed to set the mood and some pdd from Three Pieces for HET had a similar mannered feel. The movement is incredibly fast but you feel the emotion should let rip as a response. However van Manen's movement is very natural at times and doesn't have such the single idiosyncratic stamp of Kylian to take a local Dutch example).
On another night they danced The Four Temperaments - itís not my favourite piece of Balanchine but fits well with the austere and dry style that is clearly one facet of the company. But what brought the programmes alive for me were the last two works. Twilight, danced to a John Cage piece on prepared piano - strings clamped and very percussive, is sparking with wit and drama as a couple dance through a cycle of meeting, flirting, discussing, rowing and loving (possibly). For much of it she is on ridiculously high heeled shoes which gives a very different look and feel. Even if you are not a Cage fan you might well find yourself falling for this piece which is now 30 years old and still looking pretty fresh.
The 20-year-old piece Live was why I was really there and I now count it as one of those defining works that expand oneís view of dance (for what its worth others have included Swansong and Still Life at the Penguin Cafe). Live is a unique combination of live video and live performance. On stage at the start is a cameraman and ballerina. The video is projected on a huge screen at the back of the stage so you see both the dancer and an image of her from another, ever changing, perspective. The lovely Sabine Chaland was the dancer who both dances for you as an audience but also caresses you by playing to the video as well. One of the most beautiful sequences is when the video zooms in on her hands or feet and makes them for a while the most remarkable objects of interest and desire even. As things progress Gael Lambiotte appears as her boyfriend - though they are clearly at the end of a relationship rather than the start.
What sets Live even more apart is that the dancers actually leave the stage and go out into the foyer, cameraman in tow, and you continue to see the action on the screen. They row, have flashbacks, ascend to the Mezzanine before it all falls apart totally and Chaland dons coat and just walks out of the theatre. Taxis, cyclists and buses go by at random, more often than not totally oblivious of the performance they are participating in, as she walks off dejectedly into the distance and the piece draws to its conclusion.
Live achieves the double of presenting live dance images in new ways while bringing the stage out into the audienceís space - indeed our everyday space. Itís anything but dry and formal and I think seeing it twice is just not enough.
One final bit of praise - it's for Luuk Utrecht's programme notes on many of the van Manen pieces. They are paragons of helpfulness and insight while staying well clear of the Pseudsí Corner feel that permeates many of the notes on modern dance we see in British programmes. More good manners really!