The work of Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen is of inestimable value and forms an important part of the Dutch National Ballet’s repertoire. Now aged 83, Van Manen during his career created more than 125 ballets, some of which were performed only once despite their popularity with the audience. With Hans van Manen Live, the Dutch National Ballet presents some of the master’s earlier works, which not only provides the audience with a rare opportunity to see his iconic works being staged again but also shows the choreographer’s inventiveness and the development of his movement over the years.

<i>Twilight</i> © Angela Sterling
Twilight
© Angela Sterling

The evening opens with Metaforen, an early work created in 1965 which reminded me of some of Balanchine's works. The classy piece is all about the beauty of geometric shapes, lines and symmetry, its success reliant on a perfectly timed and synchronized execution. The ballet became famous for its male duet, which was considered provocative at the time of the première but looks rather ordinary now. The different parts of choreography smoothly run over into each other and the male duet merges in without being particularly shocking or even prominently present. The interpretation of Metaforen might have changed over time, but the beauty of its choreography is timeless.

Twilight was Van Manen’s first choreography for the Dutch National Ballet, and it's a very remarkable one. The choreographer decided to replace the woman’s pointe shoes by a pair of high heels, a symbol of seduction and mystery. This early van Manen contains some of the main ingredients characteristic of his works: the game of attraction and repulsion and the tension between man and woman. Anna Tsygankova is the perfect fit for this role being a power woman with a commanding stage presence and fierce yet elegant movements. In the very first seconds it becomes clear that she’s the one who is leading: in the midst of a series of folk influenced steps and turns she pulls Artur Shesterikov’s arm, walks away from him and returns after a short temperamental solo with quirky footwork and slow, persistent arabesques. Tsygankova overpowers her obedient partner, and though she challenges him, he does not reciprocate. Thus, there is no true spark in this rather subdued performance.

Two Gold Variations is the most exciting work of the evening with high energy dancing, a timely buildup of tension and unexpected contrasts. Originally created for the Nederlands Dans Theater it is performed in flat shoes and is a remarkably exuberant piece for the usually rather sober Van Manen. It is set to Jacob ter Veldhuis' Goldrush Concerto, a tumultuous piece for orchestra and percussionists. The work opens with six couples portraying a tense relationship. The men are holding the women tightly around the waist, swinging them from side to side while they offer resistance by bringing up their knees and tightening their upper bodies.

<i>Metaforen</i> © Angela Sterling
Metaforen
© Angela Sterling
As the tension in the music builds up, the dance gets faster and more aggressive with the dancers demonstrating incredible speed and strength in changing formations. This makes for a strong contrast with the sad and reserved duet between the central couple of Igone de Jong and Jozef Varga, who are getting involved in an increasingly fervent  but respectful dialogue.

One of Hans van Manen’s most famous and impactful ballets is Live. It features a ballerina and a cameraman on stage, which was truly revolutionary back in 1979. Nowadays video and modern technology can be seen often in contemporary dance, but Live still fascinates and intrigues like no other work can. It is a very intimate portrait of a female dancer, who can be seen both live on stage and in a close up on a big screen. The camera zooms in on every detail, from a pointed and turned out foot to a flexed hand. It also focusses on the dancer’s face, which requires her to retain a delicate and relaxed expression throughout while simultaneously concentrating on every detail of the movements. At some point Igone de Jongh leaves the auditorium and meets Marijn Rademaker in the foyer. Through flashbacks we learn that this relationship is characterized by pain and aggression. As strong and emotional as the choreography is, the rather cold atmosphere of the modern theatre and the empty studio do diminish the intensity of the ballet. Still Igone de Jongh walking out of the theatre into the Amsterdam night is probably the most powerful and meaningful ending of an iconic choreography and of an evening dedicated to the master that is Hans van Manen.