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Every year in the first week of September the Dutch National Ballet holds a gala at the Stopera to launch the new ballet season. It is a very grand affair. Everyone is in evening dress. Lots of local and some international celebrities attend the event. With the exception of last year, I have been coming since 2015 and each year has been better than the last. The evening opens with a grand defile - a parade starting with the first year students of the National Ballet Academy and ending with the company's principals to the strains of Aurora's wedding from The Sleeping Beauty. This year the orchestra was conducted by our very own Koen Kessels. The company's artistic director then comes on stage and welcomes the audience partly in Dutch and partly in English. There are then a number of performances some created especially for the evening and others classics from the company's repertoire. This year the gala was dedicated to the memory of Rudi van Dantzig and three of his works were danced including his the white and black acts from his Swan Lake. The Netherlands' other towering fenius, Hans van Manen, was also well represented with the performance of three of his works including his Symphony for the Dutch People which particularly impressed me. Other full length works that were dipped into were the first Dutch performance of the Flames of Paris and Neumeir's Lady of the Camelias. Of the shorter works I particularly enjoyed Ernst Meisner's Embers which was danced by Jessica Xuan and Cristiano Principato. When they danced it at Varna earlier in the year Xuan won the first prize and gold medal for her performance. I also liked Grimm which was a collaboration between the Junior Company and ISH and combined ballet with hip hop. Finally, I was glad to see Michaela DePrince back on stage after a very nasty tendon injury. Every year a prize is awarded by Alexandra Radius to the best dancer of the year.. It is usually won by a principal but this year it went to Timothy van Poucke who is one of the company's youngest dancers. They say that the best is the enemy is the good and I think there is some truth in that saying because the gala spoils me for anything else for months on end. There were quite a few Brits this year including my former ward and her little boy who are from Sierra Leone, colleagues from Powerhouse Ballet and DonQFan. I have written a fuller review in my blog if anyone is interested.
It does not seem like five years ago since I saw the first performance of the Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company at the Stadsschouwburg theatre in Amsterdam. I had come to Amsterdam to see the young African-American dancer Michaela DePrince about whom I had heard a lot. When I saw her with Sho Yamada in a pas de deux from Diana and Actaeon I described her as "quite simply the most exciting dancer I have seen for quite a while". But she was not the only one to impress me. Sho Yamada who partnered her in that piece was also a thrill to watch and so in different ways were all the others. DePrince rose very quickly through the Dutch National Ballet's ranks. She entered the main company as an eleve after only a year with the Juniors. She was elevated very quickly to coryphee, grand sujet and soloist. She has written books, given masterclasses, appeared as a guest artist for companies around the world. Still in her early twenties she is probably one of the best known names in ballet. But Yamada has risen quickly too. The last time I was in Amsterdam at the end of February he danced Don Basilio in the company's Don Quixote and his Kitri was his Junior Company contemporary, Riho Sakamoto. Other contemporaries are making their mark in choreography. Cristianp Principato who entered the Junior Company in 2014 managed the whole New Moves sharing of the company's latest choreography. As I have never studied Dutch I can only make out the gist of a speech or conversation but I think the company's director, Red Brandsen, attributed the success of those artists to their time in the Junior Company in an opening speech that he delivered before the Junior Company's 5th anniversary show. If I am right, Brandsen described the Junior Company as a bridge between school and company allowing the young dancer space and time to mature. The fifth anniversary performance took place on Sunday, 15 April at the Staddschouwburg which is where I saw the company for the first time nearly 5 years ago. It is a beautiful theatre which was the National Ballet and Opera companies' home before they moved to the Stopera. The company presented a triple bill starting with extracts from Bournonville's Napoli, continuing with a new work by Juanjo Arques called Fingers in the Air for which members of the audience and cast were issued with miniature red and green torches with which we were asked to vote at various times Big Brother style and finishing off with Hans van Manen's In the Future which was a very witty but somewhat alarming piece. I have reviewed the show in Terpsichore if anyone wants to read it. During the second interval Ted Brandsen spotted me and came over to chat. He very kindly invited me to the after-show party where I was able to discuss Arques's Fingers with their creator. I asked him what would have happened had the votes gone the other way at which he smiled and assured me that was unlikely because he was able to regulate audience reaction. "Sounds a bit like Cambridge Analytica" I ventured. Again he smiled and admitted that his work might have a political dimension. I couldn't stay long as I had a flight back to Leeds early the next morning but I introduced myself to the 12 dancers who had impressed me considerably with their virtuosity and I made the acquaintance of Macro Gerris, the hip hop choreographer who had collaborated with Ernst Meisner very successfully on Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe some years ago and who appears to have repeated that success in is latest collaboration with Meisner based on Grimms' Fairy Tales. Every show by the Junior Company has been good but I think last Sunday's was the company''s best yet. The original company has done very well but I suspect that we can expect even greater things from this season's cohort over the next few years.
Every September the Dutch National Ballet opens its new ballet season with a party in its home at the Stopera. The show begins with a big parade beginning with the first year students of the National Ballet Academy, continues with the second and subsequent years, the Junior Company, Eleves, Corps de Ballet, Coryphees, Grands Sujets, Soloists and ends with the Principals. There is then a speech by the artistic director, Ted Brandsen, which is mainly in Dutch but partly in English to introduce Alexandra Radius who presents the prize which was established in her honour to the best dancer of the previous year. After the prize giving members of the company dance selected pieces from their repertoire. After the performance waiters pass round the theatre with drinks and canapes. The dancers and choreographers meet their fans. Everybody has a good time until well into the morning. I attended the show last year and described it as my best evening at the ballet and I have attended some great shows in my time including Frederick Ashton's retirement gala. I enjoyed this year's even better because several of my favourite artists took part. My overall favourite was the Junior Company's performance of Ernst Meisner's No Time Before Time which I loved from the moment I first saw the video of the finals of the Lausanne prize. I saw it live at the Meervaart Theatre a few weeks later and I was delighted to see it again on Wednesday night. I was also lucky enough to see Meisner dance again for the first time since he left the Royal Ballet. He was on stage together with Floor Elmers, Juanjo Arques, Rachel Beaujean, Marijn Rademaker, James Stout, Alexander Zhembrovskyy, Vito Mazzeo and Igone de Jongh in an extract from van Manen's Kammerballett to celebrate de Jongh's 20th anniversary with the company. Another piece I particularly enjoyed was Balanchine's Tarantella Pas de Deux in which Michaela DePrince danced excitingly with Remi Wörtmeyer. It was good to see a bit of Brandsen's Mata Hari again not to mention extracts from La Bayadere. The Sleeping Beauty. Balanchine's Theme and Variations and so much more. The party was also good. I met several of my favourite artists including Cristiano Principato whose gala in support of Casa Alessia I mentioned on this website earlier this year. I shall return to Amsterdam on 12 November to see La Byadere and Ted Brandsen's Coppelia. I tried to post pictures of the auditorium and Cristiano to this site but apparently it is not allowed even though I have the copyright owner's licence to share her work. They are nice pics and if you want to see them I will post them elsewhere on the web in due course.