Foto: Michel Schnater

Hans van Manen Festival: Dancers' thoughts on the Van Manen repertoire

25 May 2022

On 11 July 2022, Hans van Manen, grand master of Dutch dance and resident choreographer of Dutch National Ballet, will turn ninety. The national and international dance world will gather at the Hans van Manen Festival to pay tribute to this artist. With no fewer than nineteen pieces, danced by various dance companies and ensembles, the festival will reflect - in full movement - on his eternally impressive Van Manen oeuvre. Read below what his ballets mean to the dancers, how they like to dance them, and how they experience working with the master himself. 

Grosse Fuge
Foto: Michel Schnater
Olga Smirnova

Olga Smirnova about Frank Bridge Variations

Frank Bridge Variations will mark my debut as a dancer in a work by Hans. I cannot wait: I admire his ballets and I even felt like I was part of the creative process, despite the fact that this ballet was choreographed much earlier. I was amazed that with just a few suggestions, Hans had ensured I understood the meaning of each movement and had a deeper, more intimate interaction with my partner. Thereafter, the steps were not just a series of movements, but something to be discovered as part of a ritual. It is this all-important impetus from the choreographer that makes the steps come alive and take on a deeper meaning. True magic!”      - Olga Smirnova, Dutch National Ballet principal

Season 2023/2024
From 16 to 30 September Dutch National Ballet will dance Hans van Manen's Frank Bridge Variations in the Four Temperaments programme (16-30 September 2023).

Floor Eimers

Floor Eimers about Concertante

“Hans’ choreographies always make me feel like the ultimate dancer. I am able to portray who I am as an artist, but am also given the space to just be Floor. This is certainly the case with Concertante: it brings out the best in you. The movements are very powerful, enabling the dancer to be in excellent form on stage. My partner and I have to find a flow that’s just right and that Hans is happy with. This means we are very attuned to one another: we look around, covertly catch each other's eye and make sure all of our movements are in sync. This creates dramatic tension on stage, which we experience together – between the two of us and with the entire group.”   - Floor Eimers, Dutch National Ballet soloist

Season 2023/2024
In season 2023/2024, Dutch National Ballet will dance Hans van Manen's Concertante in the programme Dancing Dutch (30 March-14 April 2024).

Artur Shesterikov

Artur Shesterikov about Metaforen

“Not a moment is wasted when Hans is around in rehearsals. He knows what he wants and how to achieve this, and ensures no time is lost – not even a single minute. This is particularly beneficial when rehearsing for a ballet such as Metaforen: it's quite a challenging piece in terms of technique, so it is important that we make good use of the time we have. It also helps that I have danced this piece many times before, and so my body recognises the steps. But I still need to be very alert and focused – the choreography demands this and the count has to be followed very closely. Not to mention the limited vision the dancers have on stage: it’s either very dark or there is a glare from a very bright light from the side of the stage. But, this does create a very intimate ambience, reducing the distance between ourselves and the audience, so that they more or less experience the dance from within.”   - Artur Shesterikov, Dutch National Ballet principal

Timothy van Poucke

Timothy van Poucke about Sarcasmen

“In Sarcasmen, the two dancers give their all from the outset. From the wings, I hear the pounding of the piano, following which I take the stage with an aggressive solo. The ballet is very well structured and also comical for the audience, probably because they can relate to it so well. It’s about a couple and the good and toxic traits people sometimes show to the ones they love. It’s that ‘bad’ side that makes this piece so interesting to dance, because it’s a side to your personality that you normally keep hidden. The fact that you have to show this in the dance gives a sense of freedom. Aside from that, working with Hans in general is fantastic. The nine decades of experience and stories that he brings into the studio shine through in everything he does. Despite not being able to demonstrate the fullest expression of certain movements or jumps anymore, he leaves you in no doubt about how you should perform his ballets: you can see his intention in the smallest of movements.”   - Timothy van Poucke, Dutch National Ballet soloist

Salome Leverashvili

Salome Leverashvili about Grosse Fuge

“Not many people can walk into a studio and instantly improve how someone dances. But Hans is one of those people. Before his foot has even crossed the threshold, you feel his energy flowing through your body. His choreographies are about so much more than the execution of steps: they are about emotions and personal experiences, which translate into dramatic tension between the dancers. Grosse Fuge allows you to fully explore the dynamics of your relationship with your partner – it connects you to all the other dancers and is about giving and receiving. In essence, it's all about moving through a space together. The fact that Hans has managed to choreograph such an abstract piece to music by Beethoven remains extraordinary to me. But it works – and brilliantly too.”   - Salome Leverashvili, Dutch National Ballet soloist

Jamy Schinkelshoek

Jamy Schinkelshoek about Polish Pieces

“One of the things that’s truly special about working with Hans van Manen is how he’s always looking for the ‘person behind the piece’. He doesn’t want you to perform his steps like some kind of robot; that won’t do anything for him. He really wants to see a human being, the flesh and blood, with emotions, strength, and sexuality. You can see this in his Polish Pieces: the characters – especially the women – are strong and sensual, and there’s a palpable tension throughout. Hans’ use of music contributes to this and is an important means of conveying this tension to the audience. The steps are always just on the count and the challenge for the dancers is to hold them for as long as possible. The muscle strength and empathy involved make this piece really enjoyable to dance. It’s also nice to be able to open the performance with Polish Pieces. We come running onto the stage: an explosive start to the evening!”   - Jamy Schinkelshoek, Introdans dancer

Anna Ol

Anna Ol about Trois gnossiennes

“When Hans is in the studio, I’m always driven to go above and beyond. This man always amazes me by with knowledge, endless energy, style and sense of dance. And besides: can you can imagine how many generations of dancers he’s worked with during his career? You just don't want to make him unhappy when he sees you dancing his ballets. I really admire Hans’ approach and choreography; to me, his pieces are some of the most musical of the modern era. Like his Trois gnossiennes, set to the compositions of Erik Satie. Every time I find myself thinking that no better piece could have been choreographed to this music. It’s relaxing to watch, meditative to dance, and the live piano music adds an extra dimension: it’s not only you and your partner on stage, but the pianist is involved in the process as a third performer, which creates a warm, intimate atmosphere. Trois gnossiennes is just very nice to dance and also extra special for me this time, as it’s the first piece I’m performing since returning from maternity leave.”  - Anna Ol, Dutch National Ballet principal

Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones about Situation

“No music – just sound recordings from films. If you consider this work was created in 1970, it’s not hard to imagine how avant-garde it was at the time. The piece is full of tension, which seems to centre on the group versus the individual, with a recurring push-pull dynamic. Who will gain the upper hand? What I will remember most about the rehearsals for Situation is that Hans was able to demonstrate so fully and specifically what he wanted. His commitment and dedication are a huge source of inspiration to me. I have no idea what I'll be doing when I'm 90, but if – like him – I am still able to do something I love so much, I think there can be no greater value than that. I believe everyone can learn a lot from him in this regard, both in the dance world and beyond.”   - Chuck Jones, NDT1 dancer

Maia Makhateli

Maia Makhateli about Two Pieces for HET

“The intensity, sensitivity and power play between the two dancers make Hans van Manen’s Two Pieces for HET a completely unique work. The development of the couple’s relationship in the piece is particularly interesting: in the beginning you come together, challenge each other and confront each other, but as the choreography progresses and the end approaches, you merge together more and more, until it eventually feels as though your souls mould into one. This combination of very different energies is highly effective. It is therefore also great for the dancers to perform and nice for the audience to watch, as well as being one of the reasons why I love this ballet so much. And the fact that it’s choreographed to beautiful compositions by Erkki-Sven Tüür and Arvo Pärt is the icing on the cake for me.”   - Maia Makhateli, Dutch National Ballet principal

Edo Wijnen

Edo Wijnen about Two Gold Variations

“Working with Hans? It’s pure joy. His pieces are beautiful and they hit the mark each time. The steps add to and enhance the music, and vice versa. There are no frills or frou frou: you raise your arm and then you lower it, that’s it. It just makes sense. Two Gold Variations is all about clean lines and it’s very fast. It is therefore essential that all dancers are in sync with one another. We challenge one another in this regard – especially our partners. We are well-matched in terms of strength and speed, and so we encourage one another to hone and perfect each movement. This is a piece that inspires quite a bit of 'camaraderie', as we have to be very in tune with one another and get a feel for each other. I have danced this piece quite a few times now, meaning I can delve deeper into the choreography and focus on the small details and accents.”   - Edo Wijnen, Dutch National Ballet soloist

James Stout

James Stout about Adagio Hammerklavier

“Take a seat and allow yourself to be swept away by what is about to unfold. Adagio Hammerklavier is restrained and intimate, while being risky at the same time. It is magical when everything comes together as it should. Everything that happens on stage is deeply personal, and the tension between the dancers is palpable to the audience. When I dance this piece, I'm engaged in a dialogue with my partner: I'm listening to her and responding to her movements. We are communicating without words. Hans gives us the freedom to interact in this way: he encourages us to respond to our feelings and our partner, and embraces all kinds of personalities in this process. He never gives two dancers the same instructions, even if they are dancing the same role. He focuses on who you are as a person and bases his directions on that.”   - James Stout, Dutch National Ballet principal

Cassandra Martin

Cassandra Martin about Simple Things

Simple Things ensures you have nowhere to hide: your most vulnerable side is exposed to the public. It's all about simplicity – about the beauty of what can be said in silence. Hans tough me to elicit feelings and ideas below the surface. In this way, a layer of complexity is added to a piece – making it more interesting for the audience – without bombarding them with over-the-top emotions. This is what I love most about performing Van Manen’s ballets. Plus, Hans doesn't take himself or his work too seriously, which makes for a very relaxed atmosphere. It gives us the space to let go a bit of all those expectations and demands, and just - simply - move.”   - Cassandra Martin, NDT2 dancer

Pascal Johnson

Pascal Johnson about Symphonieën der Nederlanden

Symphonieën der Nederlanden was the first work I learned when I joined Dutch National Ballet in 2018. For me, it means great music and great dancing with my colleagues. You’re on stage with a total of 24 dancers – both men and women – and together you have to create a polished piece. This leads to an interesting tension: you have to learn your steps and at the same time pay attention to what the others are doing, so that everything can be as together as possible. If you pull it off, the result is enchanting. Like most of Hans van Manen’s works, the piece is also great fun to perform. It begins slowly and seriously, but halfway through the music gets more lively and the lights get brighter. Towards the end, it no longer feels like you’re performing: you just get carried away by the jazzy music, the flashy costumes we wear and the energy from your colleagues. The dance almost becomes effortless.”   - Pascal Johnson, corps de ballet Dutch National Ballet

Anna Tsygankova

Anna Tsygankova about 5 Tango’s

5 Tangos is a very intense piece, but in a good way. It turns the spotlight on the sparks that exist between a man and a woman; the pure passion that characterizes the Argentine tango. The music transports you to an intimate world and, as partners, you become completely absorbed by one another. This makes the piece very exciting – I would even say hot! But it is very layered at the same time: the choreography shows the depth of a relationship and the sadness it can cause sometimes. It is therefore a reflection on life as well. The choreography itself is very minimalist – as is typical of all Van Manen’s works. His ability to convey an idea or principle with the smallest of movements is uncanny. And the best way to execute such a movement, he still likes to show you himself.”   - Anna Tsygankova, Dutch National Ballet soloist

Davide Dato

Davide Dato about Four Schumann Pieces

“As ‘Der Mann’ in Four Schumann Pieces, I begin and end my performance alone on stage. In between, I dance duets with two women and one man. I believe this work relays the adventure that is life: you experience all sorts of things with different people, but ultimately close the circle and end up alone – in the same way you came into the world. For me, it also feels as if things also coming full circle on a personal level: my first performance at the Vienna State Ballet was Van Manen’s Lied Ohne Worte, some 15 years ago. As a young, somewhat naive dancer, I had little idea of what a Van Manen work really involves. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to perform his work as a more mature dancer, and I’m particularly enjoying Van Manen’s incredible musicality. The dance steps are such an organic part of the piece that you don’t need to count; it’s so liberating! It’s as though you’re simply dancing the music rather than dancing to the music. Van Manen’s choreography always gives you a kind of inner strength which is barely visible to the audience, but all the more palpable for you as a dancer. Every dancer who performs his work feels it and recognises Van Manen’s unique identity. That’s the mark of a successful choreographer, wouldn’t you say?”   - Davide Dato, Vienna State Ballet dancer

Sven de Wilde

Sven de Wilde about In the Future

“Once the music starts, it’s impossible to sit still. In the Future is a playful piece and, as dancers, we go all out in this performance. We are given the freedom to feel sexy and comfortable – as this piece is all about knowing who you are. And it’s okay to just be yourself: in fact, this piece lets some of my personality shine through as many of the movements are imbued with my own feelings. This is true of all the dancers: it's about twelve personalities creating something together. This means each one of us is very aware of the other dancers around us: behind us, in front of us, to the left of us and to the right of us. We are constantly seeking out connections with one other, as this gives us energy, making us light up and pass this energy on to others. The sheer fact that we are allowed to dance one of Hans' pieces at all is a huge energy booster, especially when he suddenly appears in the studio! It is such an honour that so many generations before us have added their own personal touch to this piece and that we - as the youngest company – will now be allowed to do the same.”   - Sven de Wilde, Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company

Jozef Varga

Jozef Varga about Variations for Two Couples

“It’s always been fantastic to work with Hans. He is inspiring, motivating, energetic, honest, thorough and to the point; basically, everything you want in a studio. His Variations for two couples now has a special place in my heart. I was part of the first cast, on whom Hans created the ballet in 2012. It is also the first Van Manen ballet I’ve rehearsed as ballet master with another company – the Philadelphia Ballet, last month. This new position has allowed me to see the work in a completely different light. Rather than being a piece of the puzzle, now I have to be familiar with all the pieces and reflect on the work as a whole. This has really made me realise the importance of the couples’ connection and how this benefits the visual aspect of the ballet. Because that connection – and the tension, duality, dynamics and sensuality that come with it – is what Variations for two couples is all about.”   - Jozef Varga, Dutch National Ballet principal

Allessandro Giaquinto

Alessandro Giaquinto about Solo

“The world of a dancer is a competitive one: you’re constantly being driven to outshine your colleagues – and ultimately yourself. That’s what Solo is about: three dancers take turns to perform a lightning-fast choreography and then watch from the wings as the subsequent dancer pushes themselves beyond their limits, raising the bar for the others. But there’s no hostility in this competition; it’s a form of friendship. The same reassuring mindset has really helped me develop, both in my career and in my performance of this difficult dance technique. The steps and turns have to be performed at warp speed, meaning you have to be in full control of your body from the very first step. That’s only possible if you can find a sense of peace in the pace of the choreography. Solo then becomes a kind of game for me, to see how fast I can go and between which movements I can breathe. Van Manen is also a master of contrasts, combining Bach’s frenetic violin music with hip movements that might be more at home on the beach. It’s a work of genius.”   - Alessandro Giaquinto, The Stuttgart Ballet dancer