Ted Brandsen
Photo: Altin Kaftira

Interview with Dutch National Ballet director Ted Brandsen

29 February 2024

Showcasing the whole spectrum of dance. Creating plenty of scope for female choreographers. And showing the world how 29 nationalities succeed in connecting people through their language – the language of dance. For Dutch National Ballet director Ted Brandsen, these are the key points in the 2024 – 2025 season. “When a dancer jumps high, you jump along with them, as it were. Dance is all about feeling – and that feeling is what connects us.”

Existing works versus new, big alongside small-scale, for the general public or for the adventurous: in our programming, we’re always searching for a good balance between all these genres and tastes”, says Ted Brandsen. “This season, for example, we’re reviving two of our biggest audience favourites – Don Quixote and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King – but we’re also presenting a lot of premieres. Masterpieces by leading choreographers like Hans van Manen, David Dawson and Alexei Ratmansky, and George Balanchine’s dazzling jewel
triptych Jewels, stand alongside brand new, exciting creations by young, promising makers. And this season, we’re showing once again that we’re further pushing the boundaries of what ballet can be.”

Related to today’s society

An important focus will therefore lie on the female choreographer this season, with a number of new names making their debut with the company and in the Netherlands. “Like the American choreographer Rena Butler; a sparkling, extraordinarily energetic young maker who’s already developed her own distinctive voice. And Helen Pickett, another American, who’s made a deep impression on me with her work, as she’s one of the most interesting storytellers in dance at the moment. Just like me, she’s fascinated by strong women, and in her new, full-length production for our company, she delves into the mind of one of Shakespeare’s most mysterious creations: the power-hungry Lady Macbeth.” 

Ted Brandsen

“We’re further pushing the boundaries of what ballet can be”

In their work, both women – Butler and Pickett – show a clear response to developments in society today. The same applies to the German choreographer Sasha Waltz, who is returning to Amsterdam this season with In C. The production will not only be danced by Dutch National Ballet, but also – as part of Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary celebrations – by residents of all seven districts of the capital city. Brandsen says, “Through this work, which is now being performed by people all over the world, Waltz shows how we can share the world with one another, and how we can all feel connected through dance.”

A language we all understand

At this time, when tensions in our country are high and intolerance is on the rise, Brandsen wants to emphasise the importance of that connectedness. “Dutch National Opera & Ballet is a multicultural, international microcosm, numbering over six hundred staff and nearly thirty nationalities among the dancers alone. We have dancers from Ukraine who’ve fled the war. We have dancers from Russia who felt forced to leave their home due to the political course their country was taking, and we have dancers who’ve grown up in the poorest circumstances and have made a future for themselves through ballet. And all those dancers work every day on the same goal and with enormous dedication on productions that allow us – and our audience – to rise above ourselves.” 

Whether it’s a famous ballet classic like Don Quixote or a colourful family spectacle like How Anansi freed the stories of the world, Ted Brandsen says that dance has the power to bring together people from all backgrounds – both on and off the stage. “No words are necessary for dance; it speaks the language of the body. Precisely at a time when everyone seems to be retreating to their own ‘island’, it’s even more important to celebrate the connecting power of dance – as a language we all understand, and as something that can touch us all.”

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen