The Dutch National Ballet opens its 2023-24 season with a fascinating programme. The largest ballet company in the Netherlands performs George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Hans van Manen’s Frank Bridge Variations and two new works – The Chairman Dances by artistic director Ted Brandsen and the world premiere of Full Frontal by Juanjo Arqués.
In 1946, George Balanchine choreographed The Four Temperaments to a piece of music which he’d commissioned some years earlier from Swiss composer, Paul Hindemith. Balanchine described the ballet as “an expression in dance and music of the the Greek and medieval notion that the human organism is made up of four different humors, or temperaments”. Each one of us, according to this notion, possesses these four humours, but in different degrees, and the dominance of one of them — melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric — determines our characters. Neither the music nor the ballet itself makes specific interpretation of the idea – it was merely the point of departure for both the composer and choreographer.
The Four Temperaments – an early experimental work for Balanchine – reflects the genius of the choreographer. A powerful and abstract ballet, the first of his so-called ‘black and white’ – or leotard ballets – with no costumes or stage set, was the forerunner of a number of consecutive works of this kind, a format which proved enduringly successful for the choreographer.
Hans van Manen – winner of numerous awards – is recognised internationally as one of the grand masters of contemporary ballet, having created more than 150 works, which all bear his distinctive signature. A former dancer with the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris, van Manen has worked with the two most important companies in the Netherlands today – he co-directed and has been resident choreographer for Nederlands Dans Theater, and is now resident choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet.
His Frank Bridge Variations is set to Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. Written in 1937 as a tribute to Britten’s first composition teacher, Frank Bridge, this piece comprises ten variations, each of which is intended to represent an aspect of Bridge’s character. The ballet reflects the simplicity of van Manen’s choreography, which is just beautiful, and again is unobtrusively costumed and set against a plain background.
The Chairman Dances, the third work on the programme, has been created by the company’s artistic director, Ted Brandsen. It’s billed as “a new ballet for a big ensemble’, and is set to John Adams’ compelling piece of the same name. This piece of music, written in 1985, is said to be an ‘out-take’ from Adams’ internationally acclaimed opera Nixon in China, and the first part of the piece depicts the scene in which Chairman Mao and his wife dance a foxtrot together.
John Adams is arguably America’s most well-known and successful composer. Winner of numerous Grammys, a Grawemeyer Award and a Pulitzer Prize, he has recently released a 40-CD box of his entire output since 1973. He has longstanding connections with both the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, wrote the opera which opened the San Francisco Opera centennial season and this coming season will see a new production of Adams’s El Niño at the Metropolitan Opera. Also a well-known conductor, Adams has led some of the major orchestras of the world, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera.
This programme by the Dutch National Ballet closes with the premiere performance of Juanjo Arqués’ new piece Full Frontal. A former dancer with the Company, he has achieved international success as a choreographer. This latest work, inspired by the effects of stress on our daily lives, explores the physical obstacles and challenging conditions that we face today. Full Frontal is set to Weather One by Michael Gordon, an American composer and co-founder of the Bang on a Can festival and ensemble.
Dutch National Ballet presents The Four Temperaments on the main stage of the theatre of Dutch National Opera & Ballet from 16th to 30th September. The Dutch Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Matthew Rowe. Further information and tickets are available on the Dutch National Opera and Ballet website.
Information sourced from:
Dutch National Ballet programme notes