The Ballets of Hans Van Manen

I am not often moved to write about dance, but the recent programme given by the Dutch National Ballet was so extraordinarily satisfying that my feelings about it have to be communicated. It has to be said at once that choreographer Hans Van Manen is a genius. I have now seen sixteen of his works, and what strikes one always is the freshness of his ideas and imagination. There is nothing repetitive, nothing conventional and there is a huge variety of content and style in his dances, as was perfectly exemplified by the four works in this programme.

Metaphors (1976) is all about visual patterns in movement, symmetrical and elegant; it is aesthetically pleasing.

Twilight (1972) entertainingly draws a parallel between John Cage’s music for prepared piano (plonks galore) and a game between a male and female dancing duo of attraction and rejection that reaches its climax when she removes her high heels.

Two Gold Variations (1999) continues the battle of the sexes theme, but with sinuous intertwining and strong rhythmic play between the couples.

And finally there is Live, created in 1979 and a masterpiece of invention. A cameraman projects onto a screen images of the ballerina, the famous Igone de Jongh, as she explores solo dance ideas. Seeing her live in red costume juxtaposed with intimate black and white close-ups ofher body in movement is astonishingly effective in demonstrating the emotional significance of movement. Then, on the screen we follow her as she leaves the auditorium to find in the theatre foyer her (ex-) lover. There would seem to be some hope for the relationship as a pas-de-deux between tables, chairs and pillars expresses affection but also mistrust; so he leaves. What follows is a video, a flashback to a violent scene between them in the dance studio performed in silence except for the striking of feet on the wooden floor. The music resumes, she returns to the auditorium, but leaves it again perhaps seeking a reunion. We see her outside the theatre disappearing among the pedestrians and cyclists. A brilliant piece of drama as well as of expressive dance. Finally, for me, the most moving moment of all, as Van Manen, aged 83, appears on the stage, to resounding cheers from one and all.