Dutch National Ballet opens 2019 with a David Dawson programme that brings together his 2017 Citizen Nowhere and a new creation, Requiem.

Dutch National Ballet in <i>Requiem</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Dutch National Ballet in Requiem
© Hans Gerritsen

The first things that strikes in David Dawson’s Citizen Nowhere is Edo Wijnen’s superb treatment of the dance phrases. He executes them naturally, making good use of pauses. This is important as Dawson’s choreographies can at times feel relentless, though they are aesthetically pleasing, instantly recognisable with signature emphatic extensions. Dawson impresses most when the dynamic between stillness and lyrical movement is emphasised. Citizen Nowhere premiered two years ago and Wijnen has matured in what was his first major solo role. He is able to express the underlying story of the piece, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince’s and his anguish over missing the Rose, his love interest, very clearly. The stage-wide double film screen, designed by Eno Henze, features an interstellar void, with phrases from the book as well as a recording of the Rose projected onto it. The Rose is danced by an emphatically present Sasha Mukhamedov, whose aura remains on stage when she doesn't through Altin Kaftira’s intimate film. Szymon’s Brzóska’s score is an adequate and beautiful accompaniment, conveying solitude. The piano is calm in the beginning, the violins haunting and the trumpets seem to weep, perhaps a bit too loudly towards the end for the little Prince. Even the snake has his own theme.

The world première of Requiem set to music by Gavin Bryers makes up the second half of the evening. It's mostly successful because both choreographer and composer treat the subject with the required reverence. It stays clear of any superficial emotional effects, grand without trying to be. The performance underscores the liturgical tradition of the requiem, making this religious rite – a mass held in remembrance of the deceased – relevant for a larger audience. The Latin texts and liturgical steps such as the Kyrie Eleison, Agnus Dei and the final In Paradisum are maintained. The subtitle ‘The behaviour of angels’ seems to suggest this Requiem is an invitation to come and be consoled.

And consolatory it is: the music and the singing are beautiful, and the dancing is unusually varied and uplifting. It is well paced as it goes through most of the requisite steps of the Requiem in ten parts, marked by helpful silences. The excellent choir of the Dutch National Opera is led by Ching-Lien Wu. Nicole Fiselier, Itzel Medecigo, Bora Balci and Tigran Matiyan are wonderful soloists and they thoughtfully carry the liturgy forward. The duo decided on an alternating and often gender specific use of the choir. This choice is often mirrored by the cast on stage (all male / all female) to great emotional effect. Matthew Rowe’s Ballet Orchestra does an exemplary job of guiding us through the different tempi of what is a beautiful and at times meditative series of compositions.

The dancing itself is contained between two massive mirrors on each side of the stage with a charcoal burnt background (Eno Henzo). Together with Bert Dalhuysen's calm lighting, these make a sober yet expansive picture. Yumiko Takeshima’s beautiful skin-tight neck to ankle length costumes come in matte brown, green and blue, further complementing the sobriety of stage design. Only the music and the dance "shine".

The choreography is articulated around a trinity of angels – James Stout, Sasha Mukhamedov and Joey Massarelli. Dawson’s regular use of travelling patterns – which see the trio stride from the rear to the front of the stage, then striding backwards from the front to the back – provides structure. The movements of the angels are full of protracted lifts and the highly synchronous tableaux are very pretty. The proportion of dancers on stage is great for the most part. But sometimes there is too much to see at once: like a spectacularly well executed spinning lift by Dario Elia and Floor Eimers that could have easily been missed. The piece is enhanced by precious individual performances and harmonious pairs and trios. Joey Massareli’s solo towards the end is aerial, powerful and controlled, set to a beautiful clarinet solo. Stout’s and Mukhamedov’s interaction is as solid as always and at times dazzling. As we move towards the In Paradisum, the female and male parts of the choir come together as the dancers disperse. The variation of music and choreography is so sublime that its very occasional 'busy-ness' can easily be forgiven. This Requiem is nearly flawless.

****1