If there was a Most Valuable Player award in the ballet world, Anna Tsygankova would get it. With a muscular yet soft physique she is supremely present and turns the stage into her playground. In the first piece of Dutch National Ballet's triple bill at the Holland Festival, William Forsythe's Pas/Parts 2018, she didn't miss a single beat of the whistling soundscapes of Thom Willems. Few dancers thrive on the physical demands of his choreographies, but Tsygankova does. In the third piece of the evening, Juanjo Arqués’ Ignite, it’s equally the mesmerising choreography and her artistic delivery that keeps us on the edge of our seats. It is pure joy to watch the virtuosity and quiet glory of this dancer.

<i>Pas/Parts 2018</i>: Young Gyu Choi and Maia Makhateli © Hans Gerritsen
Pas/Parts 2018: Young Gyu Choi and Maia Makhateli
© Hans Gerritsen

William Forsythe Pas/Parts 2018 is an exposé of the vocabulary of modern ballet. If Harald Landers Etudes (1961) is a demonstration of what dancers can do with classical ballet, then this is its modern ballet equivalent. It consists of 19 parts; a constant rotation of solos, duets and trios. Each element is more daring and faster than the other. Willem’s wind instrument-dominated score keeps the energy high. The whole piece feels like a 35-minute movie car-chase without stopping for gas. It's a dizzying tour de force for all. Stephen Galloway’s 1970s colour combination of the costumes provides a much welcomed calming counterpoint.

The vocabulary works especially well for the ballerinas. In striving for deconstruction of classical moves, their presence seems expanded. They shine collectively as well as individually: Aya Okumura’s solo was, as usual, fun, well timed and fast; Maia Makhateli’s solo was extremely playful; YuanYuan Zhang was feline with long lines; Sasha Mukhamedov came across as both vulnerable and strong in her excellent pas de deux with Young Gyu Choi. The finale was strong, the dancers rising beautifully in more classical poses in a well-deserved exclamation mark of a tableaux.

<i>Kleines Requiem</i>: Martin ten Kortenaar and Sasha Mukhamedov © Hans Gerritsen
Kleines Requiem: Martin ten Kortenaar and Sasha Mukhamedov
© Hans Gerritsen

But while Forsythe nails the landing, the piece’s constant speed did get a bit monotonous in the middle. The only visual stillness occurred in a beautiful pas de deux by Tsygankova and Constantine Allen and in the smoothness of Choi’s otherwise very fast solo.

The vocabulary for the male dancers often doesn’t play to the strength of the male body. One can deconstruct classical ballet, but it often feels too small. Apart from one short collective piece for all the men, it’s the grander moves of Choi and Martin ten Kortenaar that capture most of the male-directed attention. Edo Wijnen's solo was lovely and it seemed written just for him.

<i>Ignite</i>: Anna Tsygankova and Young Gyu Choi © Hans Gerritsen
Ignite: Anna Tsygankova and Young Gyu Choi
© Hans Gerritsen

Van Manen’s Kleines Requiem is simple and gorgeous. The gentle rocking between the Ballet Orchestra, subtly guided by Matthew Rowe, and the minimalist moves on stage make it work. Van Manen strips the choreography of superfluous moves and leaves the stage bare with only plastic, see-through separations on the side with the help of Keso Dekker. Add a dark background with minimal but effective side-lighting (Joop Caboort) and only the gorgeous costumes in black, burgundy and copper, and what remains is the dancing. Henryk Górecki’s Kleines Requiem für ein Polka is beautiful and has a joyful middle, as if a brass band marched straight through a classical orchestra. On stage, a beautiful series of pas de deux with wonderful backward drops gets interrupted by some cartoonish parading. At the end, two men repeat the moves previously done by a heterosexual couple. It is touching when the main character is abandoned.

<i>Ignite</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Ignite
© Hans Gerritsen

Juanjo Arqués’ Ignite is an earthy and lively piece with a clear conceptual plot, inspired on William Turner’s painting The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. Representing the flames that devoured the government buildings, the dancers wear yellow, orange and red silk wavy shirts on top of a blue-grey base (Tatyana van Walsum) that represent the river and sky. It makes for a captivating appearance. Co-directed by Dramaturg Fabienne Vegt, the 32-minute long piece succeeds in holding the attention throughout. This is done through a combination great choreography, measured solo and duet work, the "whirling flames" and 13 angled rectangular mirrors that move up and down in the background that spill the fire over into the hall. Tsygankova’s "river" was beautiful. Choi’s "sky" acrobatically swung her around. Vera Tsyganova and James Stout’s "fire duet" was powerful, but the highlight was when Arqués gyrated a row of men off the stage to utter silence, like leaves in an invisible but steady breeze. It’s unpredictable choices like this that keep the piece interesting. Kate Whitley’s music, ranging from dreamy to ominous, helps make this a work that is well worth watching.

****1