It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of the internationally renowned photographer Erwin Olaf. Olaf passed away yesterday morning at the age of 64. Dutch National Ballet looks back on a long and close collaboration with this exceptional artist.
With the death of Erwin Olaf, we have lost a great artist, who not only left an indelible impression on the Dutch art world, but also put an important stamp on Dutch National Ballet.
Our company maintained close ties with Olaf for many years and had the privilege of working with him on several occasions. In 2011, for instance, to mark Dutch National Ballet’s fiftieth anniversary, Olaf made a wonderful photo series of the company’s principal dancers at the time. He also created the campaign images for Dutch National Ballet’s productions in seasons 2011/2012 and 2012/2013. In 2013, he immortalised the first crop of Junior Company dancers, and in 2017 he did a shoot for the newspaper de Volkskrant with principal dancer Anna Tsygankova, who was pregnant at the time and wore her costume from Ted Brandsen’s ballet Mata Hari for the occasion. Just two years ago, to celebrate Dutch National Ballet’s sixtieth anniversary, Olaf made portraits of all the choreographers who had contributed work to the company’s anniversary season.
Hans van Manen
Olaf was also inextricably linked to our company through master choreographer Hans van Manen, who is also resident choreographer with Dutch National Ballet. Van Manen met Olaf in 1983, when Olaf took his portrait for the magazine Sek, and the choreographer was to have a big influence on Olaf’s subsequent career. Van Manen, who was then a celebrated photographer as well as a choreographer, took Olaf under his wing and introduced him to studio photography, among other things. It was the start of both a forty-year friendship and a long-lasting professional relationship between the two artists, whereby they continued to take mutual inspiration from one another.
In 2022, Olaf and Van Manen celebrated this close bond and Van Manen’s ninetieth birthday with the photo book Dance in Close-Up: Hans van Manen seen by Erwin Olaf. For this special project, Olaf recorded moments from thirteen of Hans van Manen’s ballets, directed by Van Manen himself and performed by dancers of Dutch National Ballet.
Photo: Grosse Fuge | © Erwin Olaf
. The book was published during the Hans van Manen Festival, organised by Dutch National Ballet in honour of Van Manen’s ninetieth birthday. The photos from Dance in Close-Up were also presented in an exhibition of the same name at Galerie Ron Mandos, in Amsterdam. The making of the project was followed by the Dutch broadcaster NTR in the five-part series Erwin Olaf eert Hans van Manen.
Photo: Trois Gnossiennes | © Erwin Olaf
Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National Ballet, says, “Erwin Olaf was a great artist and an inspiring friend, who loved dance – and especially dancers. We have enjoyed many special collaborations, in which all the hard work was often accompanied by wonderful laughter. Erwin was big-hearted and had a sharp eye for the world. He will be sorely missed by myself and by the whole of Dutch National Ballet.”
We think back with warmth on our collaborations with Erwin Olaf, and would like to offer our deepest sympathies to his relatives and friends.