It’s nearly two years now since the Dutch National Ballet presented its full length ballet by artistic director Ted Brandsen about Dutch icon Mata Hari; a dancer, a spy and above all a courageous woman whose turbulent life inspired many writers and producers. By now, the archives are reopened, and while it’s still uncertain whether she was actually a spy or a victim of circumstances, the attention is back on Mata Hari and the Dutch National Ballet is back with a new series of even stronger performances with new interpretations and new impressions.

Dancers of Dutch National Ballet in <i>Mata Hari</i> © Marc Haegeman
Dancers of Dutch National Ballet in Mata Hari
© Marc Haegeman

Mata Hari was born as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Dutch province. She lost her parents at a young age and was forced to live with her wealthy and rather conventional family, something she couldn’t quite adapt to. This lead to her marriage to the much older captain Mcleod at the age of 18. It turned out to be a problematic and violent marriage, and, after losing her daughter, she started a new life in Paris where she became known as the exotic dancer Mata Hari. Zelle/Hari made acquaintances with officers and other important men which eventually resulted in her being accused of being a spy during World War one, an accusation that proved fatal. There is a mysteriousness that remains around her person and her life. Zelle/Hari was very good at moulding herself into different roles, and whether she was actually a spy or a victim of war games is a question that remains unanswered.

Ted Brandsen masterfully turns his ballet into a story which not only shows the most important events in Mata Hari’s life but also puts emphasis on Mata Hari as a person. It is not just a biography but an emotional journey of great depth with character development. Brandsen knows how to capture the audience with an excellent balance of narrative elements, emotional expression and dance which definitely pays tribute to the fascinating person Mata Hari was.

Brandsen succeeds in making a clear and smooth two hour storyballet out of Hari's eventful life. The ballet is fast paced, just like Mata Hari’s life was, and events are expressed succintly, yet powerfully.The set changes are smooth and simple, and the stage bare. A very nice addition is the use of leidmotivs throughout the ballet. At the end of each key moment of Mata Hari’s life, there is a short pause where the stage “freezes” and the same repeating music can be heard. It not only guides you through the main point in the story, but highlights the dramatic significance of the events unfolding in Hari's life.

Mata Hari is a timeless production and very strong in atmosphere. Everything from the costumes to the set designs to the music is harmonious and the modern and the traditional come together in a tasteful way. The stage sets are minimalistic, often just an empty spacious ballroom converted to different locations by adding a few classic pieces of Indonesian or Parisian furniture. The same goes for the costume designs: Mata Hari’s dresses are made of classic white lace and red silk amongst others, but have a modern day cut. The dance has clear roots in classical ballet, but has a modern touch with more expression in the upper body and here and there a playful element integrated. 

This reprise introduced us to a new Mata Hari: Anna Ol. She’s a beautiful dancer, delicate and finely built with soft arms and precise Russian technique. A rather modest Mata Hari compared to others, she’s nonetheless as captivating thanks to her unmatched charm and elegance. The moment she walks up the stairs in a gorgeous bright red evening dress, just after one of her performances as a dancer, and turns her head to the audience, is one of the many examples of how she turns simple movements and gestures into art and captivating moments. It’s also nice to see how she is able to express Mata Hari’s vulnerable side in her solos at the beginning and the end of her troubled life. Ol is more of the person of Mata Hari than the superstar.

At the time of the première in 2015 I wrote that the ballet had huge potential. After the reprise, I'm happy to say that I think it reached its full potential and I hope to see it in the company's repertoire for many more years to come. 

*****