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Cool Britannia: fine coalition of British choreography talent

Got that. Do I get more and more impressed during the evening Cool Britannia by the National Ballet, it turns out not to be very good at all. Because connoisseurs react lukewarmly afterwards. Am I that dumb, or are they that smart?

There is actually very little British about it Cool Britannia. Except that the choreographers are from there. An overtly British dance style, however, you don't recognise. That one usually has subtle humour, is technically complex and takes some risks here and there. But even in Britain, a lot of ballet has ended up in the blender and looks like anything. Except with Wayne McGregor.

Artistic director Ted Brandsen is familiar with England. You can tell by his pronunciation (see video below) and he once did a choreography course there as a beginner. For the Holland Festival, he invited three English colleagues who have made a name for themselves. Nice for a poster, and as a snapshot of vibrant British ballet. Is this trio the best you can see of English choreographers? There is no yardstick for that. But Britain makes a strong case for dance. For centuries, it fetched international stars from 'the continent' only to develop its own dance in the 1930s. Relatively recently, so they are able to learn and adapt.


It is hard work in Empire Noir by David Dawson, to a bombastic composition commission by Greg Haines. Trios, quintets and duets swirl under the shadow of an immense object (design John Otto). It is hard dance, because life in the London night is hard. There is one velvety moment, when Igone de Jongh takes a run-up for a leap at her partner: like a jaguar approaching its prey in slow motion. Young Dutch talent Floor Eimers and powerhouse Michaela DePrince made excellent use of the opportunities given to them. The opening image with a tight row of sharp dancers on the front stage could be straight from NDT. Except that here they are dancing on pointe. I wonder if Paul Lightfoot, that other British success choreographer, also noticed this evening.


'Are we being tricked and British ballet is hype?" you think as the curtain opens. A traditional line of dancers stands ready to cross the floor in a stage box. In clothes by Jean-Marc Puissant that seem to have been plucked from Camden Town: colourful puffy trousers with rock 'n' roll jackets. But Concerto Concordia by Christopher Wheeldon picks up. You have to forgive the in-demand choreographer for having three successful years of musical behind him. Just as Balanchine was accused of nostalgia (after Petipa), the same applies to Wheeldon (after Balanchine, although he says he is a fan of Jerome Robbins). Concerto Concordia appears to be a classic formula of light-hearted group dance with flashy soloists, such as standout Remi Wörtmeyer, to Poulenc's large-scale Concert for two pianos and orchestra, excellently performed by The Ballet Orchestra. A middle section in blue is breathtakingly beautiful, if only because of a time-silent Anna Tsygankova. The movements are a lot more natural than in Empire Noir, the poses just got more characteristic.


Wayne McGregor is the Heston Blumenthal of British dance: he does molecular choreography instead of cooking. This resident choreographer of The Royal Ballet seeks his freedom in letting go of the familiar. He employs technological means and even knowledge of 'neuroplasticity' to rediscover movement and give it new meaning. Delightful. At Chroma (2006), music, set, dramaturgy and dance come together as they should. As with Wheeldon, the magic of dance emerges: you don't know what will follow but you know it will be good. Dancers bubbling up all kinds of movements from a museum-like setting in intricate counter-patterns like aliens, without expression but with a lot of venom (Nadia Yanowsky). Every second of movement counts. Delighted.

Cool Britannia is still open until 27 June visible.

Watch some impressions of the performance below. NB These were streamed live with Periscope.

Unfortunately, we did not meet Isabelle and Michelle in the crowds afterwards.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa also successful as a choreographer in the UK.

A thank you note afterwards.

Update: Meanwhile, most reviewers find Cool Britannia a good programme, though. That makes a difference.

Header photo: Angela Sterling



Ruben Brugman

writing ex-dancerView Author posts

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