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Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Linbury Studio Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Linbury Studio Theatre

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company, Linbury Studio Theatre

Bright young things impress at close quarters

Bright young things: the thirteen current members of Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company

It's always a bit of a thrill descending to the Linbury Studio Theatre in the Royal Opera House. A black box deep buried in the ground, it feels far away from all the glamour and glitter, but also the prices and pressure, of the main stage, plus the Linbury's steeply raked stalls bring the audience amazingly - excitingly - close to the dancers.

 Last night, Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company arrived as part of the Linbury’s Springboard series of shows featuring young or development companies, a way so simple and brilliant of bringing together dancers in need of experience and audiences in search of something new that it practically defines win-win.

The DNB Junior Company is a new venture (in its second year). There are currently 13 dancers, aged 18-20, who are spending two years in the company, one as they finish their training at the National Ballet Academy, one as members of the main company.  All the while they benefit from the mentoring and performance opportunities offered by the Junior Company, one of which is this international tour.

Jessican Xuan and Nathan Brhane in the white swan pas de deux from Swan LakeThey need to impress, sure, which I guess is why the programme features gala fodder excerpts from Swan Lake, Diana and Actaeon, and Sleeping Beauty alongside the far more interesting offerings from Ernst Meisner, the Junior Company’s artistic director, and other contemporary choreographers.  Second-year star Jessica Xuan starts her impressive evening’s work in the first of the Meisner pieces, a meditative, Max Richter-scored duet called Embers which showed off her long, expressive back and storytelling face. In the challenging White Swan pas de deux, Xuan and partner Nathan Brhane (pictured right) have to work much harder and are visibly more nervous, but there are glimmers of a promising acting talent as Xuan’s face register’s the swan-woman’s melting from timidity into sensual joy.

Another talented second-year, Michaela DePrince, and her partner Sho Yamada, give us the gala favourite Diana and Actaeon.  It’s a good way to show off DePrince’s formidably elastic grands jétés (pictured below left), but Yamada’s heavy landings impress less, and for all their engaging flair the two look a little awed by, and raw for, the demands of this big dance. They are far better in Saltarello (2012), a joyful quartet set by Meisner to Mendelssohn which reminded me of Martin Lawrance’s To Dance and Skylark in its speed and sunny éclat, and which is lit up by DePrince's dazzling smile. The other champion smiler of the first half is Daniel Montero, who gets to charm the audience in Eric Gauthier’s Ballet 101, a jokey solo narrated by a deadpan voiceover artist, who instructs the dancer to demonstrate 101 ballet positions, first in order, then – with increasing speed – out of order, until the poor chap “explodes” at the end. Great fun.

Michaela DePrince (top) with other dancers of DNB's Junior CompanyThe second half of the programme ditches the statement pieces (which have more than a hint of what the theatre school brats in Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes called “m’audition”), in favour of two polished ensemble numbers that give us a much better sense of these young dancers as potential (and in some cases already actual) members of a grown-up company. Hans van Manen’s 1974 Kwintet will be a soothing draught to anyone whose craw has been inflamed by the last decade’s MTV explosion of scantily-clad female backing dancers “ho-ing” (it’s a technical term) behind hip-hop stars. Clad in royal blue and white, wholesome as Delft ware, Kwintet deploys four men as backing dancers to the superbly assured and classical Nancy Burer. The patterning is geometrically square, but is saved from verging on figuratively square by the comically adoring eye lines van Manen gives the men, and by Burer’s truly charming stage manner.

English National Ballet Associate Artist George Williamson has had so much exposure recently, I’m half-expecting him to turn up on Strictly Come Dancing. After his Firebird (2012) was revived in ENB’s WWI commemorative Lest We Forget in April, he directed and choreographed for a pop-up show in the National Portrait Gallery, curated a recent choreographic showcase for ENB dancers, and now appears in the DNB programme as the author of a fittingly sparky closing number.  Dawn Dances (pictured below right), which Williamson created on the company last year, combines the refined contemporary ballet idiom that looks best on these classically-trained bodies with the fresh, bubbling enthusiasm their faces just can’t hide.

Dutch National Ballet Junior Company in George Williamson's Dawn DancesIt looks like tremendous fun, and it proves – far better than the confused narrative of Firebird – that Williamson has the brain to match the chops we already knew he had.  As well as a confidence that would trick you into believing this creator far older than his 23 years, there’s a sense of intelligence and purpose here that reminds me strongly of Christopher Wheeldon’s best work. With more than a touch of the DGV about young American composer Judd Greenstein’s kinetic woodwind and brass score, Dawn Dances showcases a whole lot of very talented people doing their thang with smarts and style.

In their hands – and the hands of the clever managers at Dutch National Ballet – ballet’s future looks bright.

  • The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company is performing the same programme at the ROH Linbury Studio Theatre tonight, Thursday 29 May.


George Williamson has had so much exposure recently, I’m half-expecting him to turn up on Strictly Come Dancing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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