This gala from Dutch National Ballet featured the complete roster of principal soloists in works that they had chosen, producing a rich mix of old and new; of home-grown ballets and those imported from further afield. The programme included a world premiere and a company debut that had taken 66 years to arrive in Amsterdam.

Anna Ol and James Stout in the world premiere of Alignment
© Hans Gerritsen

The world premiere was Alignment by Juliano Nuñes, which was created by Anna Ol and James Stout working with the choreographer distantly over Zoom. The insistent, anxious strings in Thunders and Lightnings by Ezio Bosso brought dramatic tension to this flowing duet that seemed in keeping with these troubled times. Oliver Haller’s skin-tight leotards in yellow and orange gradations gave a striking visual impact that gelled with both the drama of the music and the starkness of Nuñes’ stretching, hyper-flexible choreography for Ol with Stout as her dependable porteur, enabling these challenging positions and the transitions between. It was an explosion of contemporary ballet that absorbed my attention throughout.

The programme understandably revived parts of works by the current artistic director, Ted Brandsen, and his immediate predecessor, Wayne Eagling. Ol was the only dancer to appear twice as she had previously partnered Artur Shesterikov in Eagling’s Duet, premiered by the company in 1995 and not revived for many years (Shesterikov has been with DNB for 14 seasons and had never previously seen the work). Choreographed to Wagner’s Liebestod, Eagling’s eponymous duet has a slow and beguiling start that belies the challenging torrent of steps in the rest of the work, allowing barely a moment for the dancers to draw breath. One sequence of partnered turns with their hands clasped together must have required a lot of rehearsal to perfect. These two elegant dancers gave a passionate performance that absorbed the heightening power of the music.

Vito Mazzeo and YuanYuan Zhang in Replay
© Hans Gerritsen

The two extracts of Brandsen’s choreography came in a brief solo to the Gavotte from his Classical Symphony, which premiered in October 2020, danced with enigmatic verve by Remi Wörtmeyer. The music, best known to balletomanes from Romeo and Juliet, originated two decades previously in Prokofiev’s First Symphony. The second of Brandsen’s pieces was from Replay, a duet danced with consuming intensity by Vito Mazzeo and YuanYuan Zhang with Philip Glass’ The Hours played onstage by pianist, Ryoko Kondo.

Qian Liu and Semyon Velichko in the pas de deux from Giselle
© Hans Gerritsen

Zhang is a dancer that I had not particularly registered before but will look out for in future. That same feeling of discovery is equally true of Qian Liu and Jessica Xuan. The former gave a delightful, impassioned performance in the Act 2 pas de deux from Giselle, opposite Semyon Velichko as Albrecht; and Xuan was enchanting in her exactitude as Aurora in the Grand Pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, partnered by Jakob Feyferlik. Both these performances were so outstanding that they have whetted my appetite to see the same pairings in the full glory of these ballets. The gala had begun with a curtain-raiser from Giselle in a charming performance of the Pas de quatre by Salome Leverashvili, Nina Tonoli, Jan Spunda and Sho Yamada.

Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen in Delibes Suite
© Hans Gerritsen

Anna Tsygankova and Constantine Allen danced with joyful optimism in the penultimate work, the Delibes Suite (a mix of his compositions including extracts from La Source and Coppélia), which led to an explosive finale as Maia Makhateli and Young Gyu Choi breezed through Pyotr Gusev’s Soviet showcase of virtuosity in The Talisman Pas de Deux. Premiered in Leningrad, in 1955, this was the first time this gala workhorse has been performed by Dutch National Ballet. The superb match of filigree artistry from the divine Makhateli and exciting vigorous power from Choi will be hard to match if it is ever to be repeated.

The only modern piece that I had previously seen live at Het National Theater was Wubkje Kuindersma’s Two And Only. This male duet was performed by Jozef Varga and Timothy van Poucke (I had seen the latter perform with Marijn Rademaker, back in 2018). This piece brought further live music on stage with Michael Benjamin performing two of his songs, accompanying himself on guitar for Long Overdue, and on piano for From Blue to Red. Kuindersma’s flowing choreography is endearingly sentimental without being mawkish. Like Nuñes, she is an emerging choreographer to note.

Young Gyu Choi and Maia Makhateli in Talisman pas de deux
© Hans Gerritsen

It was a surprise not to see any work by Hans van Manen but the venerable Dutch choreographer was not to be denied! Anyone who stayed to watch the full credits roll by would have been rewarded by a fleeting appearance of the Dutch Master in front of the red curtains at the very bottom left-hand corner of their screens. For a performance that screened live on Easter Monday it was a special and appropriate Easter Egg (a surprise special feature in a film) even if unintended; although I would like to think it was a deliberate reminder of the great man's indelible presence!

This performance was reviewed from the Dutch National Ballet video stream