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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



DVD REVIEW

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Hans van Manen
DVD1
Introduction [17.00]
Déja Vu, Solo, Kammerballett, The Old Man and Me [63.00]
Netherlands Dans Theater
Set and Costume Design by Keso Dekker
Directed for TV and Video by Wilbert Bank
rec. for NPS television in 2000
DVD2
Introduction [22.00]
Frank Bridge Variations, Two Pieces for Het [38.00]
Het Nationale Ballet
Set and Costume Design by Kesso Dekker
Directed for TV and Video by Jellie Dekker
rec. for NPS television in 2007
Picture format: NTSC/Colour/16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Dutch. Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. Notes in English, Dutch and German
Full track details at end of review
ARTHAUS 101501 [2 x DVD: 140.00]


Hans van Manen (b. 1932) was an innovator of ballet at a time, the early sixties, when the art of dancing was considered to be as good as dead. His career as a dancer and choreographer is intrinsically connected with the Netherlands Dans Theater, as he was one of its original members when it was created in 1960 and joint artistic director (first with Benjamin Harkavy and then with Glen Tetley) until 1971. At this time, he left the company to pursue a freelance career. In 1973, van Manen joined the Dutch National Ballet (Het Nationale Ballet) as resident choreographer and ballet master, a position which he held until 1987. He rejoined the Netherlands Dans Theater in 1988 as resident choreographer, only to leave again in 2004, as he felt that the management was neglecting his work and it was being performed too infrequently. The artistic director of the National Ballet, Ted Brandsen, openly welcomed Hans van Manen and so he returned as their regular choreographer.
 
As a rule, Hans van Manen’s work avoids the use of narrative structure and dramatic incident. Instead, he prefers to explore form and style and to pursue the idea that dance is about itself and the dancers. However, this does not mean that his ballets are abstract creations, existing only for the beauty of the movement, virtuosic steps or stylish ensemble tableaux. Van Manen has a consistent theme throughout his work, which is the complex and sometimes conflicting relationships between men and women.
 
This two DVD set, from Arthaus, contains six masterpiece choreographies by Hans van Manen that perfectly demonstrate his artistry and creative force. Five of these, he created between June 1995 and June 1997, almost as an answer to his critics that he was no longer fresh and had exhausted his sense of innovation. You only need to watch Déja Vu and Solo, the first two pieces on DVD 1, to realise that van Manen had anything but lost his individualistic, original touch for creating something that nobody had ever done before. Like Balanchine, his choreographies are rooted in the classical technique but he develops them with twists and turns, fluid movements, creating dance pictures of incredible beauty and expression. However, he goes further than Balanchine, fully integrating the choreography with the music, as if the gestures, steps and jumps emerge from the score in as natural a fashion as the notes. While Balanchine often depicts a story, even if not in a logical narrative format, Hans van Manen is true to his belief that dance exists for itself and does not need to tell a story. Some of Van Manen’s ballets are based on a central tableau, a central composition, carefully put together, as if he is going to take a photograph, and then the dance movements and steps flow in a liquid, crystal clear stream from the original picture until the whole stage area has been covered like a dancing wave created at the centre.
 
To me, the most impressive of all six pieces is Solo and the most original The Old Man and Me. Solo is an amazing, short piece (it lasts less than ten minutes) with three male dancers alternating on stage with nearly lightening speed, each performing a solo of incredible fluid virtuosity, which looks deceptively simple. The piece is stylish, very original and truly beautiful. The title, Solo, is appropriate because the dancers are never on stage together, except for a split second as one leaves and another enters and then in the finale when all three come together in a dazzling display of jumps and turns, wonderfully synchronised as if they were one. The Old Man and Me is an unusual choreographic work because it was specifically created for two older dancers, Sabine Kupferberg and Gérard Lemaître who were then aged forty-four and fifty-nine respectively. This is a piece that makes full use of the comical and expressive talents of the two dancers. It is a sensual, elegant ballet, composed to a set of very different scores brought together by dance, which is always one of Hans van Manen’s objectives. The beginning is particularly funny with the woman, Sabine Kupferberg, attempting to seduce, to the sound of J. J. Cale’s blues, an imperturbable and indifferent man, wonderfully portrayed by Gérard Lemaître.
 
Thematically, the ballets in this two DVD set are all around the topic of men’s and women’s relationships but where the women are never subordinates. Men and women are equal forces in dance and this is present throughout all of Hans van Manen’s works. Apart from the common theme of the interaction between male and female characters, the ballets have another common ground: They are always choreographed to non-dancing music (like Bach’s Partita No. 1 for solo violin in Solo) or to a combination of different scores from composers sometimes hundreds of years apart (as for example J. J. Cale and Mozart in The Old Man and Me or Scarlatti and John Cage in Kammerballet), but the music is always brought together through the unifying force of dance.
 
The ballets that the choreographer created for the Het Nationale Ballet differ considerably from the work he created for the Netherlands Dans Theater though they are still recognisable as pieces by Hans van Manen. This is possibly because the company tries to combine tradition with innovation and has a repertoire, which is a mixture of classical-romantic, neo-classical and modern. The ballets on the second DVD, Frank Bridge Variations, set to music by Benjamin Britten, and Two Pieces for Het, to music by Errki Sven Tüür and Arvo Pärt, are based on a purer classical line than the four works on DVD 1, created for the Dans Theater. Van Manen often makes use of stylised attitudes, fouettés and pirouettes to express ideas and to create new movements and pictures of elegance and grace, illustrating the music with his own personal interpretation. He does not make use of the pointe technique but it is often implied in the way the dancers move around or sometimes walk on stage. The lifts are understated but designed in a carefully marked though not rigid, harmonious classical style, which is not always present but underlines the choreography like a hint or a suggestion of an idea in the background.
 
Hans van Manen was also a professional photographer and the choreographies presented in this DVD clearly demonstrate this fact. He often puts together a stylish composition, creating a “perfect” picture and giving us a sophisticated brief image, from where movement flows and dance evolves as naturally as a stream of water emerging from a spring on a mountain slope. This is taken to an extreme in The Old Man and Me where in the final part of the ballet, Van Manen creates static, perfectly still images of his dancers. They appear in a balletic pose or as illuminated silhouettes, drawing an expressive dance gesture against a dark, plain background, but do not move. To further create the illusion of photography, the lights then go fully out, leaving a black, empty screen. When they are again switched on, the dancers have assumed a different position; and the sequence is repeated in a quick succession of various pictures as if we were watching a slide show.
 
The direction, camera work and lighting in the filming of the six ballets are very good and try to enhance the beauty, artistry and difficulty of the pieces to make it all a very enjoyable experience. This is achieved throughout, though dance is an art which is not made for the small screen. The close ups of the individual dancers are very effective at showing their expressions or the details of their movements and steps but the shots of the ensembles cannot bring across the power of great dancers on a real live stage. This is not a technical problem or due to lack of confident direction, it simply demonstrates the fact that ballet must be watched live in order to be appreciated and understood in its full glory.
 
The sound quality is good and clear though the music does not appear to have been recorded live with the musicians present at the same time as the dancers. Various recordings of varying quality are used but they all do their purpose, which is to serve the dance throughout. An interesting curiosity is the fact that the recording used of Stravinsky’s Circus Polka for The Old Man and Me, appears to be one of the CBC Symphony Orchestra from 1948, with the composer himself conducting though this is not clearly stated anywhere in the accompanying booklet. The notes contained in it are clear and informative but not exhaustive and the ballets are not all presented with the same level of detail.
 
To finalise, this two DVD set makes enjoyable viewing, if you like modern dance and contemporary ballet, and is a very good document of Hans van Manen’s beautifully stylish, unmistakable choreographies. Each ballet is introduced by the man himself in the shape of an informal conversation with another person whom we do not actually see but only hear the voice. These are definitely worth viewing more than once. It is interesting to listen to Van Manen’s own explanations before you watch a piece and once you have seen it, it provides a better insight and understanding of the choreographer’s world, his creative process and his opinions on dance.
 
Margarida Mota-Bull
 
Full track details DVD 1
 
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935) Fratres for violin and piano (1980)
Déjà Vu [11.45] Rani Luther, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano (dancers)
Choreography by Hans van Manen
Netherlands Dans Theater
Tasmin Little (violin), Martin Roscoe (piano)
Set and costume design by Keso Dekker
Light Design by Joop Caboort
Directed by Wilbert Bank
rec. for NPS television & National Dans Theater II in 2000
 
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Partita No. 1 for solo violin (ca. 1720)
Solo [7.07] Mario Zambrano, Amos Ben Tal, Miguel Oliveira (dancers)
Choreography by Hans van Manen
Netherlands Dans Theater
Sigiswald Kuijken (violin)
Set and costume design by Keso Dekker
Light Design by Joop Caboort
Directed by Wilbert Bank
rec. for NPS television & National Dans Theater II in 2000
 
Kara KARAYEV (1918-1982), also spelt Gara GARAYEV, 24 Preludes for piano Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 (1951/1952)), Vladimir Yurigin-Klevke (piano),
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757), Sonata in C major K 159, Allegro, Sonata in B minor K87, Andante (ca. 1699-1756), Ivo Pogorelić (piano)
John CAGE (1912-1992), In a landscape (1948), Stephen Drury (piano)
Kammerballett [24.45] Carolina Armenta, Fiona Lummis, Amos Ben Tal, Sol León, Elke Schepers, Jean Emile, Paul Lightfoot, Damien Welch (dancers)
Choreography by Hans van Manen
Netherlands Dans Theater
Set and costume design by Keso Dekker
Light Design by Joop Caboort
Directed by Wilbert Bank
rec. for NPS television & National Dans Theater I in 2001
 
J. J. CALE (b. 1938), The Old Man and Me (no date available for the piece), performed by J. J. Cale
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971), Circus Polka (1942), CBC Symphony Orchestra/Igor Stravinsky
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791), Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major
K 488, Adagio (1786), Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano), Philharmonia Orchestra
The Old Man and Me [16.59] Sabine Kupferberg, Gérard Lemaître (dancers)
Choreography by Hans van Manen
Netherlands Dans Theater
Set and costume design by Keso Dekker
Light Design by Joop Caboort
Directed by Wilbert Bank
rec. for NPS television & National Dans Theater III in 2000
 
*Full track details DVD 2
 
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976), Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937)
Frank Bridge Variations [25.40] Igone de Jongh, Alexander Zhembrovskyy, Ji-Young Kim, Cédric Ignace, Rosi Soto, Juanjo Arques, Charlotte Chapellier, Matthieu Gremillet, Jaione Zabala, Peter Leung (dancers)
Choreography by Hans van Manen
Het Nationale Ballet
Set and costume design by Keso Dekker
Light Design by Bert Dalhuysen
Directed by Jellie Dekker
rec. for NPS television and Het Nationale Ballet in 2007
 
Errki-Sven TÜÜR (b. 1959), Crystallisatio (date of composition unknown, recorded in 1996)
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935) Litany (1994)
Two Pieces for HET [11.41] Sofiane Sylve, Alexander Zhembrovskyy (dancers)
Choreography by Hans van Manen
Het Nationale Ballet
Set and costume design by Keso Dekker
Light Design by Jan Hofstra
Directed by Jellie Dekker
rec. for NPS television and Het Nationale Ballet in 2007



 


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