The Body of the National Ballet

By Welmoed van Ens

Traditionally, famous classical ballets feature a dramatic love story with a beautifully outfitted young couple stealing the spotlight. Engrossed in their world, we tend to forget about the dozens of dancers in the corps de ballet, who have not been given the status of soloist, who are also an important part of the magic. The Dutch National Ballet is about to change that by giving the corps de ballet the lead in the latest addition to their repertoire, titled Corps.

The night opens with Les Sylphides, a beautiful classical ballet featuring long white skirts and soft movements. Fokine, who choreographed it in the early 20th century, abandoned the tradition of storytelling and refused to infuse his choreography with impressive tricks that were supposed to entertain the audience. The Dutch National Ballet challenged its corps by asking it to dance as one, and dance as one they did. Despite this only being the dress rehearsal, Les Sylphides was beautifully executed.

Les Sylphides is followed by Corps, a contemporary piece choreographed by van Manen in 1985. Twelve men appear on stage in outfits that, albeit slightly awkward, show off their muscles quite nicely. Their movements are strong and the air is filled with tension and bottled up aggression. One by one three women enter to engage in progressively more troubled duets with one of the men. Although recognized as a masterpiece in the world of ballet, I did not find Corps particularly moving.

The third and final performance was by far the most interesting one. Het lichaam van het nationale ballet was utterly strange and truly compelling. Choreographers Greco and Scholten focused on the energy behind the movements instead of the esthetics, creating a completely different atmosphere. The corps de ballet displayed the impressive ability to dance to silence alternated by a symphony of sounds that had no apparent melody or rhythm.

Overall, I can recommend this experience to everyone. Yes, also those of you that have a strong aversion to men in tights. I found myself completely lost in it, blissfully unaware of anything outside the stage. And that, is a sign of art in its purest form.


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