It needs to be said

by Hans van Manen, choreographer & former artistic director

choreography: feestgericht by hans van manen
photo: ed van der elsken
written by: astrid van leeuwen

The first programme of NDT, premiering in 1959 in Ostende, presented two pieces by Hans van Manen: a piece created for Marianne Hilarides and Jaap Flier, Maan in de Trapeze, and Van Manen choreographical debut Feestgericht (photo), created in 1957 for the Ballet of the Dutch Opera. “The whole programme had to be rehearsed in secret, because the Nederlands Ballet was not allowed to know about our coup,” says Van Manen. He misses out on the big success of the first performance, as he already left for Paris. Here he joins Roland Petit’s Les Ballets de Paris and dances with superstars as the flamboyant Zizi Jeanmaire and Hollywood star Cyd Charisse. At Petit he also meets his later muse Gérard Lemaître. Together they leave for the Netherlands a year later – “in Paris there was nothing left to experience in the field of dance” – and join Nederlands Dans Theater. After six months Van Manen is appointed artistic director, next to Benjamin Harkarvy, a position he would hold for over ten years.

'Situation', 1970.

One of the more than 25 ballets, created by Van Manen in this first period with Nederlands Dans Theater is Situation (1970). Where the lion share of the choreographers ballets are set to beautiful scores, he decides to use irritating sounds for Situation: gunfire, jet noise, mosquito buzz. “Because the entire ballet revolves around aggression and violence. But also as a statement against the prevailing opinion of that time, that a choreographer should enter into a dialogue with the music. I thought: ‘Well, then I go into dialogue with those sounds.’” Mockingly: “More dialogue is impossible!” Put differently: “I didn’t want to enter into a dialogue with music, I want, when I look at dance, to see the music. Those choreographers who go into a dialogue with the music, create musical wallpaper.”

Those choreographers who go into a dialogue with the music, create musical wallpaper.

Hans van Manen

After having been house choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet for fourteen years (1973-1987), Van Manen returns to Nederlands Dans Theater in 1988, where he makes a little more than thirty ballets for NDT 1, 2 and 3 in the years that follow. Among  others, the biggest international success of NDT 3: The Old Man and Me (1996). “I knew, when I was asked to create a piece for NDT 3, immediately that I wanted to make something for Gérard (Lemaître) and Sabine (Kupferberg), two incredible stage personalities.”

The famed scene in which the two of them blow each other up, as if they were Michelin Man, dates back to the sixties, when Van Manen made many ballets for television and had to wait long hours during the recordings. Laughingly: “Chuck (NDT-dancer Charles Czarny – ed.) and I regularly blew each other up to pass the time.” Regarding the beautiful final part Van Manen says: “I left Sabine and Gérard sitting on a bench, completely turned into themselves, and said: “You can only look up when I say so.” Well, that took a damn long time!… But they immediately understood.”

'The Old Man and Me', 1996. Photo: Joris-Jan Bos.

During his last years as house choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theater, Van Manen also created many ballets for NDT 2 and always “with great pleasure.” One of those ballets is Solo (1997), “a masterpiece in only seven minutes”, as remarked by the Dutch press. Van Manen creates his ‘solo’ for three NDT 2 dancers dansers – Vàclav Kunes, Joe Kanamo i en Patrick Marin – “because Bach’s ‘Partita for Violin’ is impossible to dance by one person due to its incredibly fast pace.” Regarding the dancers he says: “Those boys could do something, they wanted something… They were incredible. If I had made this ballet for three other dancers, it would have never been the same.”

While working with NDT 2, Van Manen also met Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, at that moment “two young, fabulous dancers.” “During my last period at Dans Theater I made a significant amount of ballets and always with them.” Two pieces that stand out for him are Kleines Requiem (1996) and Kammerballett (1995). The first is set on Górecki’s ‘Kleines Requiem für eine Polka.’ Music Van Manen recounts with fierce full passion: “I knew immediately: that crazy third part had to remain. That’s like being in the middle of a Shakespeare drama and running onto stage with two lids hitting against each other.”

'Solo', 1997. Photo: Joris-Jan Bos

With their works and that of choreographers they aligned to the company, they ensured that Dans Theater remained Dans Theater. That the company continued to be internationally renowned.

Hans van Manen
'Kammerballet', 1995. Photo: Joris-Jan Bos.

The cast of both Kleines Requiem and Kammerballett is characterized by Van Manen as the ‘old guard’: “A wonderful, extremely inspiring generation of dancers.” From the outset he knew he wanted Sol León for the magnificent final solo of Kammerballett, “absolutely!”. As if being still surprised: “It was an extremely easy collaboration.” Laughingly: “That has been different though. She often had a big mouth. I once sent her away from rehearsal. The next time she returned with two pieces of tape crosswise over her mouth, as asign she would keep quiet” Affectionately he calls her ‘a very sympathetic bitch’. “What I find particularly wonderful about her, is that she is absolutely real.”

The enduring friendship with León and Lightfoot is something he cherishes dearly. Van Manen is also the godfather of their daughter Saura. Moreover, he greatly admires what the two of them have accomplished over the last few years with Nederlands Dans Theater. “With their works and that of choreographers they aligned to the company, they ensured that Dans Theater remained Dans Theater. That the company continued to be internationally renowned.”

From: Nederlands Dans Theater | 60 – EAN 9789462622425