The Netherlands has a strong tradition of modern ballet. Some of these are classics that make for a great romantic night out as the Dutch late summer lingers with a blazing 30 degrees celsius over the opening programe of Dutch National Ballet's new season.

<i>Episodes of Fragments</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Episodes of Fragments
© Hans Gerritsen

Episodes of Fragments (a world première) is, according to the nearly 80-year-old choreographer Toer van Schayk, a pas de quatre for two dancers Young Gyu Choi and Qian Liu on the one hand and two musicians, Jeroen van der Wel (violin) and Michel Mouratch (piano), on the other. Episodes is typically Toer; quite ingenious, very immediate in its delivery on stage, while the dancers act out a difficult relationship in separate unconnected fragments. Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe's Extase is gorgeously played. The set and costumes are austere, the lighting simple. The dancers – though capable of advanced athletics – dance in the same rhythm, intricate forms without grand gestures. Nothing detracts from the couple's interaction and their connection to the music, and it serves the bigger purpose. It is the emotion that trumps the rest of the elements.

<i>Four Last Songs</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Four Last Songs
© Hans Gerritsen

Rudi van Dantzig's classic Four Last Songs (Strauss) easily takes you along, with great vocals by Barbara Haveman and horns. Vito Mazzeo is an imposing angel of death who watches over four couples, some which are in the twilight of their life, in an atmosphere of melancholy but also of gratitude. Edo Wijnen's solid partnering and Suzanne Kaic's fluid turning lend the first pas de deux a lovely elastic quality. It is nice to see how van Dantzig challenges the dancers: James Stout and Sasha Mukhamedov's dancing is technically advanced, with nice arm work, and advanced lifts carried out in great synchronicity. Artur Shesterikov (winner of the 2016 Alexandra Radius Prize) and Anna Ol pull out all the stops for the most demanding pas de deux of the piece which features many virtuoso moments, including a daring 'throw and drop' by Shesterikov. Ol commands the stage and moves surprisingly fast. Their performance is at times breathtaking! The excitement in the audience is palpable. Igone de Jongh and Jozef Varga's dance is light, subtle and long, with strong balances and turns around each other in a natural concentrated connection. If you have the dancers for it, you need to programme this piece!

<i>Adagio Hammerklavier</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Adagio Hammerklavier
© Hans Gerritsen

Set against a waving white curtain, Adagio Hammerklavier is a controlled, calm and subtle work set to a heavy Beethoven score: great drops backwards and floor-level movements caught just in time, slow and controlled. The work is expertly carried out by the first soloists here. Varga shows again that he has the ability to clearly remain in contact with his partner while he dances his own choreography, able to serve a princely role even in modern works. De Jongh's evident command of Van Manen's work is always an aesthetic pleasure.

Van Schayk's Mozart Requiem is the last piece of the evening. It is full of strong statuesque poses, large group movements, fear, collective finger-pointing and running away from our responsibilities, as judgement day approaches. It is a warning as to how we use our planet and treat the defenceless. It is not an in-your-face warning of moral decline, but this piece from 1990 is still impressive in its scale, symbolism and continued urgency.