Best of Balanchine is the second programme under the same name in which Dutch National Ballet presents a selection of works in an evening completely dedicated to the masterpieces of the great choreographer alone. With the addition of Tarantella pas de deux, a new work for the Dutch National Ballet premiering in this programme, there are 33 Balanchine works in the company’s repertoire. 44 years lay between the oldest work on this programme (Apollon musagète) and the newest (Violin Concerto), which underlines the great significance and timelessness of Balanchine’s work.

<i>Theme and Variations</i>: Anna Ol © Angela Sterling
Theme and Variations: Anna Ol
© Angela Sterling

Theme and Variations was the spectacular opening of the evening, enchanting the audience from the very first seconds. When the curtain went up and rows of bright smiling ballerinas, sparkling tutus and decorative crystal chandeliers appeared, the audience’s astonishment became audible. This work is an ode to the Russian Imperial ballet, with all its refinement and grandeur, complete with glitter, romantic choreography and Tchaikovsky’s music. The ballet moves from variation to variation with the charming female corps de ballet dancing in beautiful changing formations. Anna Ol, a petite and delicate dancer but with a commanding stage presence, showed off her strong Russian technique and was a perfect fit. She was accompanied by Jozef Varga, undoubtedly one of the most princely dancers of the Dutch National Ballet. The corps de ballet of the company did not quite reach the perfection of that of the Russian Imperial, but was nevertheless very disciplined.

Despite being one of Balanchine’s oldest works still performed nowadays, Apollon musagète still has a modern look and feel. Balanchine used classical ballet technique as the base, but added new elements to it, from unusual lifts and jumps with bended knees to odd steps on the heels and off-balance positions. Especially remarkable was the birth scene of Apollo, in which mother Leto wildly moves her head and upper body and throws back her long loose hair, something that reminds a bit of contemporary dance. Nevertheless the ballet remains dreamy and devine, with three beautiful feminine dancers (Sasha Mukhamedov, Floor Eimers and Wen Ting Guan) portraying the muses of poetry, mime and music teaching Apollo (principal dancer Artur Shesterikov) their special gifts. It’s a timeless work of unearthly beauty and an ode to dance in its purest form.

<i>Apollon musagète</i>: Sasha Mukhamedov, Artur Shesterikov, Floor Eimers, Wen Ting Guan © Angela Sterling
Apollon musagète: Sasha Mukhamedov, Artur Shesterikov, Floor Eimers, Wen Ting Guan
© Angela Sterling

After that we’re presented a short but vibrant Tarantella, with dancers Maia Makhateli and Remi Wortmeyer seemingly giving a whole night’s energy in just six minutes. Fresh in the repertoire of the DNB, it is everything you would expect from a tarantella: fast steps on folk inspired music (Grande Tarantelle by Louis Gottschalk), cute costumes and the inevitable tambourines trailing colourful ribbons. Maia and Remi are proven virtuoso dancers but here they truly seemed to have fun, their enthusiasm quickly transferring to the audience.

<i>Tarantella</i>: Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer © Angela Sterling
Tarantella: Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer
© Angela Sterling

To close the programme came Stravinsky's Violin Concerto, another example of pure dance. This ballet is as an ode to Stravinsky’s music and premiered in 1972 at the Stravinsky Festival, an evening organised to remember the composer one year after his death. The ballet consists of four movements – an introduction in which the soloists present themselves, two pas de deux and a final group part. Especially interesting are the first pas de deux, in which angular movements and feisty pointe work bring excitement, and the finale with a playful touch. This kind of classic choreography with a modern touch suits the dancers of DNB very well, and generally the dancers looked stronger than in Theme and Variations. The magic of Apollo and the energy of the Tarantella cannot be excelled, however this work is a masterpiece on its own in which the music truly becomes visible and multiple viewings are needed to discover all the beauty in it.