Best of Balanchine III is part of Dutch National Ballet’s tradition of honouring the greatest ballet innovator of the 20th century. Born Georgiy Melitonovich Balanchivadze in St Petersburg, raised in the Petipa and Mariinsky tradition, George Balanchine fled to Paris in 1924 to join impresario Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, relocating to the United States in 1933. The pieces performed in DNB's triple bill showed the breadth of Balanchine's neoclassical style and the variety of his musical choices. Fayçal Karoui conducted the Balletorkest with skill and energy in everything from Tchaikovsky to Stravinsky and, odd-man-out here, Gershwin.

Martin ten Kortenaar, Riho Sakamoto and Jared Wright in Ballet Imperial
© Hans Gerritsen

The night opened with Ballet Imperial (1941) set to Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto, with a fluent Michael Mouratsch as soloist. The piece breathes the atmosphere of a Tsarist ball. Emperor and Empress (Artur Shesterikov and Maia Makhateli) stayed on top of the demanding choreography, nailing the very fast parts of the coda, while radiating regality throughout the slower parts. With her speed and musicality, soloist Riho Sakamoto stood out. Together with François Noël Cherpin’s luminous costumes in bright Tiffany blue, antique rose and bright white for the tutus and Shesterikov’s sharp-cut white and gold suit, they put the imperial into this Ballet Imperial.

Symphony in Three Movements (1972) is a Balanchine favourite. Stravinsky admitted he was inspired by the events of the Second World War, calling it his “war symphony” and the music features marching sections. The corps ballerinas are all in white tights and tops, the men in black tights with white T-shirts and the three female soloists wear various shades of pink (Barbara Karinska). The costumes and the music create the vibe of a 1970s gymnastic drill.

Anna Tsygankova and James Stout in Symphony in Three Movements
© Hans Gerritsen

Balanchine mixed modern with classical vocabulary here. The rounder classical ballet moves are interspersed with a lot of angular poses: hands are lifted flat to the ceiling, jumps are done sideways with drawn-up knees and some feet are atypically crooked. The piece even ends in a tableau displaying all but 90-degree angles. The corps de ballet danced the choreography almost perfectly. Anna Tsygankova dominated the stage with her presence and technique. She was well matched to James Stout, performing one of the best pas de deux of the evening. Their duet was unromantic but the subtle coordination of this couple felt intimate.

The evening ended with a parade of 16 Gerswhin songs in Who Cares? A jiving Olga Khozianova on piano and a festive woodwind section formed a counterbalance to the heavier, earlier mood of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. It is set to a shifting New York City skyline (Paul Gallis) with 1930s-inspired costumes (Cherpin). The dancing is Broadway-influenced, packed with great performances. Ensembles of confident showgirls – legs thrown high – danced together with guys in pinstripes, full of bravado. Edo Wijnen, part of a five male group ensemble, best captured the American style; his solo was so playful it looked like he made it up on the spot. His duet with Salome Leverashvili was a ballet match made in heaven, delivering the quickest pas de deux of the evening in Fascinating Rhythm.

Edo Wijnen and Salome Leverashvili in Who Cares?
© Hans Gerritsen

Balanchine shows us different types of romance as Constantine Allen alternated between three soloists: a playful Igone de Jongh with her strong long lines and coquettish solo; Vera Tsyganova in a carelessly smooth pas de deux; and an insuppressible and quick Maia Makhateli. In his solo, Allen managed to dance the role of entertainer confidently with fast footwork, pirouettes and high jumps, displaying attention-grabbing charisma.

Best of Balanchine is a good cross-section of the choreographer’s work, danced by a company that is very much up to the challenging task.