“Not all dancers are ballerinas. Not even all first solists in companies are ballerinas” states Dutch National Ballet's director Ted Brandsen in one of the short fluid movies (by Altin Kaftira) in between the performances of this gala-like long evening. Casey Herd (first solist) points out that a ballerina needs to be strong enough to see her own faults and improve on them constantly. And she must be strong enough to lead the company on stage. For a true ballerina there is no hiding and there are no excuses. She dedicates her entire life and being to ballet. Tonight the ballerinas get to show off their favourite pieces. And it is a delight.

Romeo en Julia © Angela Sterling
Romeo en Julia
© Angela Sterling

The evening starts with an upbeat, up tempo Paquita where a row of female coryphées, grand sujets and three solists strutt their stuff. The dancers are dressed in happy, radiant, simple yet opulent costumes (yes, that is possible). It is gorgeously coloured work (like Raï two years ago) by François Noël Cherpin that enhances the sense of occassion. Young Gyu Choi, Naira Agvanean and Milena Sidorova dance a well timed pas de trois. Choi (gaining presence on stage since Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten’s Body of the National Ballet and Juanjo Arquez’s Roulette) is fast in his turns. Agvanean in pink is controlled and sharp, and Sidorova in purple strikes strong poses in between light tap while achieving significant airtime. In green, Victoria Ananyan's variation is lyrical, soft and tall. Dressed in blue, Vera Tsyganova's legswoops and turns are impressive, showing her versatility. Megan Zimny Kaftira in pink is always light and good on her turns. In yellow, Gian Liu's balances are tall and strong. The piece climaxes with Anna Tsygankova doing an uncountable number of pirouettes and double pirouttes to the delight of the audience. Jozef Varga is full of varied high jumps and flight elements. Each dancer is pushed to their limits, the level of ambition for the evening set.

Igone de Jongh and Casey Herd follow with the balcony scene from Rudy van Dantzig's Romeo en Julia. De Jongh is vulnerable, playful and fast. Herd strides and turns quickly, he is strong but sensitive. The scene is fast, fluid and convincing. These dancers can also act. The lifts are easy and Igone struts like a happy little jewel. One longs for an immediate reprise of the piece on the Dutch stages.

Duet © Angela Sterling
Duet
© Angela Sterling

Christopher Wheeldon's masterpiece Duet, originally made for the Presents programme of Dutch National two years ago, is danced with great sensitivity by Jozef Varga and Anna Tsygankova. In the movie preceding the piece, Tsygankova expresses her love and admiration for Wheeldon and his work. “He must have access to some great source of inspiration.” The large dance vocabulary of Wheeldon is beautifully combined in this pas de deux set to a background that could be dusk or evening with a red sun (Keso Dekker). Varga is totally in his element here, moving smoothly and serenely with not a step too many. Tsygankova's intepretation of the piece and music (Ravel's Pianoconcert in G Major, part 2 adagio assai) is smooth and deep. She dissolves into the emotion. Olga Khoziainova’s piano, the clarinet and flute all together with the dance is worthy of a small pause at the end of the work.

Manon © Angela Sterling
Manon
© Angela Sterling

Next, Jurgita Dronina’s Manon is indomitable. She moves and throws herself head over heels on Isaac Hernandez who lifts and throws her across the floor in this fiery MacMillan with some great floorwork.

Larissa Lezhnina, the famous dancer for whom this will be her last production as a Ballerina looks over the audience, stern but relaxed. She claps her hands and moves surely and with great timing across the stage, skilfully partnered by Artur Shesterikov. Koziainova plays a great piano while Lezhnina turns fast with a royal gaze. Maia Makhateli and Remi Wortmeyer's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is fast, controlled and light. Both are athletic and exhibit skill and joy to a roaring audience reception.

The world premiere of Replay, the new piece by Ted Brandsen to a re-arranged The Hours by Philip Glass (with Ryoko Kondo on piano) is sleek and sexy. It fits Igone de Jongh like a glove. She and Vito Mazzeo carry each other beautifully in abstract long poses and lifts. There are hints to other work by Dutch choreographers like van Manen but this piece is very much its own and bold. Brandsen best work so far.

Replay © Angela Sterling
Replay
© Angela Sterling

The evening ends with Larissa Lezhnina showing off her acting skills for the last time as Ballerina in a rather angular but fun Van Manen piece, starting with a groovy J J Cale carrying the title of the piece The Old Man and Me. She tries to seduce Alexander Zhembrovskyy who at first is not an easy flirt, but they get the laughs from the audience. The relationship develops and the final fight and break up is displayed not in dance but in stills where each pose is preceded by darkness. As the light turns on for the last time, they are separated.

Matthew Rowe of Holland Symfonia skilfully manoeuvres his orchestra from one very different piece of music to another. If there is any criticism on this evening, it is that a choice made by a group of individuals yields an evening of very different and non-even tempered pieces which take some adapting from the audience.

Tuesday the 20th of May will see Larissa Lezhnina finish her career as a Ballerina on the last night of this short running programme. Although she will return as evil stepmother in Cinderella around Christmas, for her and the other dancers, this night it is another absolute must see.