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Why I get nostalgic seeing Variations by Hans van Manen at the Dutch National Ballet

If every ballet is about discipline, it is certainly something that applies to Hans van Manen's ballets. Discipline in the music, in the beat, in the simplicity. How ballet creates order in movement, measures space, establishes relationships: you will find it all in the works of Holland's most renowned dance maker. The six parts of the programme Variations by the Dutch National Ballet to be seen 27 and 28 February and 4 and 5 March, bring out the best of Van Manen on the online stage. Two classics I highlight.

Adagio Hammerklavier 

Ballet as it is meant to be: the dancers shine and the men work up a sweat behind them. Because Adagio Hammerklavier seen as an ode to deceleration, it is extra hard work for the men. A back-to-back merciless lifting of the ladies without getting visibly out of breath, and often with 'dead weight' too (usually dancers help by doing a jump or ending in plié prior to the 'lift' but not usually here): for dance professionals, it's something to bite into.

The exciting moment when the girl falls sideways like a plank only to be caught by the boy just before the ground is a matter of good timing. I lacked that once as a student. It didn't stop me from later joining the Dutch National Ballet myself Adagio Hammerklavier to dance, not because I was a great dancer, but because I had learned to 'partner'. What could be better than cutting yourself away and letting the other person shine?

Oh, and with the girl from school it ended happily, she was a tough cookie.

Bold and good partners they are, then, who are now Adagio Hammerklavier perform at the National Ballet, with the standouts being Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov, one of three couples (the men wearing leg warmers, bare bark and wearing a necklace) demonstrating the character of their duet in the calmness of a protective, gently blowing backdrop. In their experienced unity, Maia and Artur approach the grandeur of the original line-up (Monique Sand and Henny Jurriëns, Sonja Marchiolli and Francis Sinceretti, Alexandra Radius and Han Ebbelaar). The significant piqué arabesque, in which Maia steps forward diagonally with one leg stretched backwards on one of her pointe shoes, and if it were up to her, has no intention of getting off there again, shows that she lives for this ballet and has mastered it to the hilt.


A classicist setting: a man and a woman and a concert grand piano with pianist, with the couple wearing the black and white attire of a dance school. However, the man is not wearing a T-shirt and his bared upper body immediately conveys a tension or intention, the discipline of dance versus attraction to the other may provide a contrast (but usually the feelings at the ballet school or with a company are platonic). The spiteful pastime between husband and wife over who has the most power - the man usually doesn't realise he is a hopeless sap in advance - is playfully presented: sarcastically, because a caustic undertone remains, of course.

Striking is the moment where normally a woman can make a man small by giving him a knee, but now just puts her hand on it. Typical Hans van Manen. The unapproachable young Floor Eimers magnificently displays her supremacy over the older Jozef Varga, and the beautifully playing pianist Michael Mouratch, as an unwilling witness, watches the play with sad eyes. 

More online

Too bad you Variations on just four days. You wish you could call it up at any time. It's waiting for some smart person to set up an online, international media library of ballets, where you can watch a desired ballet in a cast of a top international company for a fee whenever you want. A kind of Balletflix.

I will still go on one of the remaining three days of Variations looking at a different cast of the above ballets and the rest of the programme with Trois GnossiennesDéjà VuTwo Pieces for HET, and Variations for two couples. If you do, keep in mind how you 'stream' ballet online. Watching directly on your laptop or desktop works better than via the one device at streaming to another such as your television, for example.

Ruben Brugman

writing ex-dancerView Author posts

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