Toer van Schayk, Timothy van Poucke, Jozef Varga and Martin ten Kortenaar

Light at the end of the tunnel

13 September 2021

7th Symphony is one of the most successful ballets choreographed by Toer van Schayk. He created it in 1986, just before Dutch National Ballet moved from the Stadsschouwburg to the Amsterdam Music Theatre, and less than a year later the work was awarded the Choreography Prize by the Dutch Association of Theatre and Concert Hall Directors (VSCD).

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen 

The jury praised Van Schayk for the way his creation ‘not only comes into its own alongside Beethoven’s wonderful music, but also adds an extra dimension, as a true ‘apotheosis of dance’’ – thereby referring to Wagner, who used the same words to sound the praises of Beethoven’s music.

Van Schayk’s 7th Symphony was regarded by many as a turning point in the choreographer’s ‘mainly dark and ominous oeuvre up to then’. The VSCD jury wrote that the ballet ‘glittered with dance that radiated unbridled joy of life and enduring optimism’ and the dance critics were practically unanimous in their enthusiasm, labelling it ‘the most cheerful, most optimistic and most carefree’ work in Van Schayk’s career. The choreographer himself took a more balanced view, saying, “Beethoven wrote his 7th Symphony in a very dark period of his life. There appeared to be no end to the Napoleonic wars. His city, Vienna, had been attacked for the umpteenth time and Beethoven had had to leave his home. Three movements of his 7th Symphony attest to his search in pursuit of an optimistic vision of the future”.

In the music, Van Schayk heard ‘the voice of an almost obsessive idealism’. The choreographer regards 7th Symphony as his most autobiographical ballet. “Just like Beethoven, I’m probably searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. I was already like that as a child, when at the end of World War II, I religiously believed that now everything would be better and good”.

For his 7th Symphony, Van Schayk used twenty dancers, including a large number of Dutch National Ballet principals, in the premiere cast. Borne by the powerful, compelling rhythms of the music, the dancers whirl across the stage in group sections, in a stream of interlinked movements, woven into complex, ingenious patterns. Even in the most dynamic and tempestuous sections, the choreographer reveals himself as a gifted ‘sculptor’, with beautifully detailed and carefully polished movement phrases.

Whereas the emphasis is on ensemble dances in the first, third and fourth sections of the ballet, the second section presents a succession of duets, whereby Van Schayk – following the slower, more reflective music – sketches an emotional portrait of people who cannot reach one another after all, despite all their best efforts.