For the 2014 Holland Festival, the Dutch National Ballet impresses with the world première of a new and large-scale production of The Tempest by resident choreographer Krzysztof Pastor. The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s most complex works, as it has many layers and it is open to many different interpretations. Therefore it is not just an inexhaustible source of inspiration, but also a big challenge for choreographers. It is a challenge that suits Krzysztof Pastor perfectly, as he is familiar with creating full-length ballets inspired by existing works. With this production he successfully takes his audience on a journey into a dark, enchanting and utterly fascinating world.

The Tempest © Angela Sterling
The Tempest
© Angela Sterling

Pastor’s production is not a literal representation of Shakespeare’s original play. The title refers to a storm caused by Prospero, usurped duke of Milan, who was banished to an island by his brother, Antonio, and Alonso, king of Naples. He uses the storm to get revenge against them, but in the twelve years he spends on the island with his daughter Miranda, the native Caliban and the spirit Ariel, he goes through a psychological process that makes him a wiser and more austere man. In his version, Pastor emphasizes themes of forgiveness, power, and particularly the process of ageing. All of which are displayed in four tempests.

The Tempest © Angela Sterling
The Tempest
© Angela Sterling

The performance opens with a poetic scene that shows the old Prospero (Abbas Bakhtiari) staring into the distance on a nearly empty island. The stage design consists of a tree that changes during the course of the performance, and is accompanied by images of the sea projected on the backdrop. Dim lighting and the enchanting music of Tomas Tallis create a truly magical and melancholic atmosphere. The old Prospero is looking back at his life, and the performance is presented as if the audience is looking at his memories. He announces the beginning of every tempest by playing the Persian daf drum, producing a rich array of sounds and rhythms that accompany the group of dancers perfectly. They twist and turn, powerfully yet harmoniously, like the gulfs of the sea, their long skirts swaying as they carry the bodies of the young Prospero (Jozef Varga) and his daughter Miranda (Jurgita Dronina).

The couple is greeted by the Caliban, the aborigines of the island. Pastor wanted a group of dancers, leaded by the muscular Rink Sliphorst, to symbolize intuition and lust rather than primitiveness. Prospero immediately tries to claim his domain, pushing the Caliban leader out of the red circle on the stage. The result is a powerfully aesthetic duet with athletic yet subtle movements and partnering. The theme of power and colonialism arises again when Stephano and Trinculo arrive on the island. The noblemen, humorously portrayed by Serguei Endinian and Roman Artyushkin, seem totally lost in this environment. They greet the Caliban with bows and silly hand gestures, and it immediately becomes clear that they think the Caliban inferior. Still the Caliban take advantage of the gentlemen by setting them up against Prospero to get back both the island and reclaim their dignity.

The Tempest © Angela Sterling
The Tempest
© Angela Sterling

The most pressing subjects though are romance and ageing, reflected by Prospero’s daughter. The pas de deux danced by Miranda (Jurgita Dronina) and Caliban is playful and passionate, something that suits the light and charismatic Jurgita perfectly. Prospero has difficulty watching his daughter grow up attracted to Caliban, and confronts him. Ariel (Koen Havenith), a somewhat mysterious being between spirit and human, appears to keep peace on the island. When Miranda gets into a second romance with Ferdinand, danced by the versatile and always radiant Remi Wörtmeyer, Prospero realizes that he has to accept the fact that his daughter is growing up, and with it comes the realization that he is getting older. Prospero is exhausted by all the struggles, and dies on the island as a wise old man. What happened to the young Prospero can be left to everyone’s own interpretation.

The Tempest © Angela Sterling
The Tempest
© Angela Sterling

It is a challenge to work out all the themes in The Tempest, but Krzysztof Pastor and his team managed to present a clear and well-structured production that is not only remarkable for its rich and refined choreography, but for the piece as a whole. Shirin Neshat provides the ballet with breathtaking video images relevant to its themes and environment. The images are fascinating on their own, yet never distract from the dancing. Jan Pieter Koch selected a beautiful range of baroque music, performed by Holland Symfonia and counter tenor Dave ten Kate. Together with the inventive stage design, the simple yet creative costumes and a very strong cast of dancers, this ambitious production of The Tempest is a special one that challenges and captivates audiences.