A friend of mine – who isn't a regular at the ballet – once remarked that when it comes to Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos, he wanted to see it on shuffle on his screen and plaster it to the wall as a living painting. I tried it, as part of Dutch National Ballet's Ode to the Master programme and, well, he is right; van Manen's movement does fit with tango: confident, and alternatively intimate and grandiose. This really comes across in first soloist Maia Makhateli's performance. She is delicious on the dance floor, rhythmical and precise. She hooks your attention in signature van Manen well-timed contrasts between her and 6 men, akin to the push and pull of the bandoleon, right until the moment she parades off the stage. Even those last few metres are magnificent.

Maia Makhateli and Daniel Camargo in <i>5 Tangos</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Maia Makhateli and Daniel Camargo in 5 Tangos
© Hans Gerritsen

Musicians practise until they get it ‘right’, pianists, it is said, until they can’t get it wrong. Let’s say Makhateli is not any musician. Like the Dutch football player and free-kick-turned-goal scourge of the Spanish football fields of the 80s, Erwin Koeman (who used to train 15 minutes of free-kicks after each match), Makhateli’s technique is honed, beautiful, precise and (deadly) on pointe. This is even more impressive if you consider the fact that she became a mother only four or five months ago.
 
Daniel Camargo’s crisp energetic solo has the audience give an enthusiastic applause. Jean Paul Vrooms' effective black and red costumes lead the eyes to the movement of the legs. Carel Kraayenhof’s Sexteto Canyengue (live until the end of September) do Piazzolla very, very well. All around, the dance performances were good in this evening-closer.

<i>Symfonieën der Nederlanden</i> (Symphony of the Netherlands) © Hans Gerritsen
Symfonieën der Nederlanden (Symphony of the Netherlands)
© Hans Gerritsen

Another evening delight was Symfonieën der Nederlanden (Symphony of the Netherlands, score by Louis Andriessen). Happy, lightly mesmerising and (deceptively) easily danced by an excellent corps de ballet. Deceptive indeed, when you realise that a misstep – especially in the collective jumps of up to 24 people -  by any individual dancer would stick out like a sore thumb in this blue pants, black and white dressed, square lined, expertly churned composition. It's no mean feat to pull off. Go and watch it for sheer awe. It is an equally pleasing performance as 5 Tangos is a showstopper. If the Dutch national football team were the orange clockwork of this piece, the Low Countries would be well on their way to the World Cup.

I was struck by the almost cartoonish interaction in Sarcasmen (1981), which this time, never turned slapstick. Sarcasmen features a pianist with a couple who intimately and repeatedly profess a feigned lax of interest in each other. On this occasion, this mature interaction was performed by Marijn Rademakers, who is masculine and independent, and Igone de Jongh, who is both bold and fit for a fight. It's a great, compact composition, a quintessentially Man-esque masterpiece.

Marijn Rademaker and Igone De Jongh in <i>Sarcasms</i> © Hans Gerritsen
Marijn Rademaker and Igone De Jongh in Sarcasms
© Hans Gerritsen

On the Move (which premiered in 1992 with the Netherlands Dance Theater) opened the evening and features typical coherent group dances and contrasting duet works which make great use of silence. Liza Ferschtman (violin) and Matthew Rowe (Het Ballet Orkestra’s conductor), performing Prokofjev’s hefty Violin Concerto no. 1 in D major (opus) 19, gave the choreography a good run for its money. The contrast with the sober abstractness of this modern dance piece was, at times, large in my view.

The odd work out in this programme was a one-time only performance of ALLTAG (‘Every day’, 2014) by dancers of Ballet Am Rhein in which a man, a performer (Martin Schläpfer, the company's artistic director), has difficulty accepting the drudgery of daily life. As flashbacks of podium-triumphs reach his mind and ears, the music alternates abruptly between clownishly grand and every day banal. He seems to be daydreaming of former glory, and dances with a woman (his wife?). When they watch a younger couple dance, they seem to approve. Are these younger dancers their former selves, their children? Nostalgia or pride, who knows?

As generations of dancers move on and off the stage, working hard for their very short lived moment in the spotlight, we can rest assured that there will be many classic Van Manen pieces in the repertoire for them to dance. Schläpfer left his flowers centre stage for his friend van Manen, and we can all be grateful for the emotions, the narrative power, the intimacy and the vibrancy that the Grand Hans van Manen has created for the stage. A must-see for dance lovers.

*****