Dutch National Ballet was established exactly 60 years ago on August 31st this year. What began as a pioneering company with a unique, rebellious identity has evolved into one of the leading ballet companies in the world.
“It’s something we, as the Netherlands, can be incredibly proud of”, in the words of Artistic Director Ted Brandsen. He underlines how extensive and varied the artistic heritage of the company is in his programme choices for the forthcoming season, but finds it equally important, with new creations, to look forward. “After all the corona restrictions we are emerging from a period of ‘treading water’. We are all ready to step into the light. Towards new challenges.”
He never knew the first artistic director of Dutch National Ballet, Sonia Gaskell, but he still avidly agrees with the artistic lines that she established during the first years. “Our repertoire continues to concentrate on the same three questions: what must we definitely nurture from the classical dance heritage? What are the most relevant choreographies and creations right now? How and with whom do we allow space for risks and experiments?”
The answers to these questions however are constantly changing. “Many experimental productions from the past are now regarded as classics. This is why it’s of crucial importance that we constantly renew. With our repertoire but also in our relationship to our audience. We want to let even more people experience that Dutch National Ballet makes the Netherlands home to a world class company. We still feel the same drive that led Sonia Gaskell and others to lay down the foundations for Dutch National Ballet in the 1960’s. We just can’t wait to be able to perform for a live audience again.”
“The 60th anniversary,” says Brandsen, “is a moment to reflect on everything that has been established over the years, but is also a moment to consider the direction we want to follow in years to come.” Both of these aspects will therefore feature in the festive jubilee season. Taking this into account a significant and deliberate choice made by Brandsen is that all the productions will be from homeground, either already specially produced for the company, or in the making.
Toer van Schayk and Hans van Manen
The season opens and closes with a programme dedicated to two of the most prominent choreographers in the history of DutchNational Ballet: Toer van Schayk and Hans van Manen. Brandsen: “Both have made a huge contribution to the image of our company. Toer since the formation of the company in 1961 and Hans since the 1970’s, and his impact internationally has continued to increase in recent years. Apart from Toer’s masterpiece 7th Symphony, we will also present a world premiere by him, Lucifer Studies, inspired by Vondel’s Lucifer. We are presenting many pieces by Hans in a special Van Manen Festival, during which other Dutch and also international companies will perform.”
After the TOER-programme (see also elsewhere in this publication) two full-length success productions from past years will follow: Brandsen’s own Mata Hari, about one of the most iconic women in Dutch history, and the classic ‘December ballet’: Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Brandsen: Nutcracker is the most festive production from our repertoire and this jubilee season wouldn’t be complete without it.”
Brandsen himself is particularly looking forward to introducing a new classic to the Netherlands: Raymonda. Based on Marius Pepita’s well-known choreography from 1898, but in a totally new production by Rachel Beaujean. The beautiful ‘treasure chest of the classical ballet technique’ that is Raymonda is retained, with the omittance of elements which are no longer relevant today.”
Brandsen is also eagerly awaiting Anansi, a new, multi-disciplinary performance for all the family, in which Dutch National Ballet and Dutch National Opera work together. “The inspiration for this world premiere is based on the experiences of the mythical spider Anansi - known from folk stories from West Africa and Suriname - who is always one step ahead of his opponents.”
New names are introduced in Anansi, including the South African composer Neo Muyanga and choreographer Shailesh Bahoran, whose work is distinguished by his exceptional combination of hiphop and influences from his Hindu background.
Additionally, Dutch National Ballet will introduce a programme in Spring 2022 that includes a number of world premieres. “By David Dawson, who began his career with us as choreographer, and has since become a world star, and from three young creators, each with their own unique signature: Juanjo Arques and our new ‘Young Creative Associates’, Wubkje Kuindersma and Sedrig Verwoert.” The third ‘Young Creative Associate’ of the company, Milena Sidorova, will also create new work for the Junior Company during the jubilee season.
Hunger for art and culture
The fact that a country which before the war had hardly any tradition of dance, let alone ballet, now owns, according to The New York Times, one of the five most outstanding ballet companies in the world, is an achievement to be reflected on and celebrated.
“A number of pioneers, including Gaskell, put ballet on the map in our country after the Second World War. What helped was that - as now - there was a huge amount of hunger for art and culture, in a country where social-political and religious barriers were gradually being lifted. Without the right people however we would never have been what we are today. Gaskell may not have been the most pleasant of people in the eyes of many, but her determined willpower ensured she achieved a great deal. Just like her successor Rudi van Dantzig, who showed with his characteristic vision how ballet can relate to and give answer to developments in society.”
Brandsen is proud to be able to follow in their footsteps, something that 40 years ago, when van Dantzig took him on as a dancer, he could never have believed. “I was already amazed that he even considered giving me a chance, as a dancer and later as choreographer. Now I am - alongside Rachel Beaujean who outdoes me - the longest runner of Dutch National Ballet.” Laughing: “When I sometimes talk to the young dancers of today about my early career you can see them think: “Goodness, that really was ancient history.”
Text original Dutch interview: Astrid van Leeuwen