Dutch National Ballet has a very strong tradition of bringing modern ballet to its stage. Its director Ted Brandsen dares to programme young choreographers frequently. Tonight is a mix of disparate strong pieces with clear distintive qualities. 

<i>Homo Ludens</i> (Juanjo Arqués) © Hans Gerritsen
Homo Ludens (Juanjo Arqués)
© Hans Gerritsen
Humo Ludens

(playing man) is Juanjo Arques' new creation. The dance, music, costumes and stage design are all tightly integrated into a coherent piece of work in which ‘play’ and the ‘game of love’ play a central role. The piece stays clear of the – too often used – overtly sensual elements, to focus more on the playful element as five couples in slithering brown are directed by Cupid. The latter (Young Gyu Choi) storms the stage in a series of classically inspired virtuoso jumps to the flute music of Marc-André Dalbavie (Concert for Flute) played by a fiery Sarah Ouakrat. Choi's opening solo is of the kind you would usually find in the final act of a full length ballet. Ouakrat is put on top of the orchestra pit ‘talking’ directly to Choi connecting the audience to the stage. Choi controls, directs and manipulates the five couples getting them to play when finally the table is turned on him. The use of swings is a nice surprise and the acrobatics of the dancers are thoroughly enjoyable.

In Transit shows people living past each other. Meisner’s style – though clearly influenced by Van Manen and Brandsen – is developing to be more fluid than before, with fast legwork, good transitions and very effective changes of rhythms. The resonant and often beautiful music of Joey Roukens by the same title contains a great xylophone and subtle violin. There's plenty to enjoy here: great duets like Nancy Burer and Sem Sjouke’s side-kicking moves and the one and only really purposefully emotionally connecting duet of Igone de Jongh and Daniel Camargo.

<i>Romance</i> (Ton Simons) © Hans Gerritsen
Romance (Ton Simons)
© Hans Gerritsen

This one contrasting pas de deux shows us how the other dancers live disconnected. At one point the corps the ballet drags in the ladies carrying them as objects, suitcases, to be put on the floor: a pretty object, not a person. And the guys are carriers, not individuals. All the dancers wear a shirt with a large photo of themselves. In this age of disdain for family life and exaltation of the shallow individual it is extra painful to see that the one couple that did connect go separate ways. Meisner holds up a mirror. 

Romance by Ton Simons is a reprise, a subtle modern piece with only two dancers Erica Horwood and Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair. An intimate portrait of two people set to Romance (Mozart pianoconcerto in D flat minor), tender, never arrogant, respectful. Alternatively you could also call it 'Sunday afternoon at the Horwoods'. It is accompanied by images of both dancers just before and after the dance; focused and recuperating.

The evening ends with Hans van Manen’s powerful Frank Bridge variations. On a simply organised but well lit stage the dance leads, from the strong to the subtle, from the ultra fast to the nonchalant walking off stage. Fine performances by all the dancers involved. Daniel Camargo exudes an easy masculinity throughout and his pas de deux with Van Manen’s ever present muse De Jongh is subtle and focused. 

<i>Frank Bridge Variations</i> (Hans Van Manen) © Hans Gerritsen
Frank Bridge Variations (Hans Van Manen)
© Hans Gerritsen

Anyone who wants to gauge the current state of modern ballet should really pay a visit to Amsterdam in the coming two weeks.