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Dutch National Ballet's Mata Hari ambitious but flawed

by Helma Klooss
February 26, 2016
Dutch National Opera & Ballet Muziektheater
Amstel 3
Amsterdam, OT (Netherlands) 1011 PN
+31 20 625 5455
Helma Klooss is a Netherlands-based dance writer and festival organizer. More about her dance festivals can be found at www.danskaravaan.nl, www.danskaravaan-educatief.nl and www.stranddans.nl
Ted Brandsen, artistic leader of the Dutch National Ballet successfully choreographed an evening long ballet inspired by the turbulent life of Mata Hari, a Dutch woman (1876-1917) who became famous as an exotic dancer in Paris and for being a courtisane. During World War I Mata Hari was tragically accused for spying and executed by the French.

Although Brandsen has chosen to express her life chronologically, he didn’t choose to emphasize the tragic. The ballet and its music don’t get emotional.

Brandsen instead used poetic license to add interesting episodes to her period in Paris by staging modern dance contemporaries such as Isadora Duncan and figures from the Ballet Russes, exuberantly danced, which made the evening one not easy to forget.

Composer Tarik O’Regan (1978) created for the libretto by Janine Brogt, a two hour symphonic score, played live by the Ballet orchestra. The scenery was cleverly designed by Clement & Sanou and resembled the interior of Paris' Gare du Nord (North Station), in which smaller sets easily rolled in and out.

The character of Mata Hari in the ballet is called Margaretha and is alternatingly danced by solists Anna Tsygankova and Igone de Jongh. The latter danced on February 7 program.

In the beginning, when the story unfolded, the corps de ballet moved elegantly around in the quickly consecutive scenes. We follow Margaretha as a small child dancing with her father who left her when she was young, leaving behind his red scarf. Brandsen uses the red scarf as a symbolic element throughout the work, a brilliant idea. As an adult, Margaretha marries a soldier. Jongh expresses through her light sensual dancing and sweet laughs how thrilled she is to be married. She accompanies him to Indonesia (a Dutch colony in that time), where she gives birth to a boy and a girl and is surrounded by men who admire her beauty and flirt with her.

The scenery is set in a tropical setting with the dancers dressed in white. They dance between palm trees, long chairs and servants. Margaretha becomes familiar with Indonesian dance, gracefully performed with angular arm and leg movements. Asian dance is characterized by dancing very close to the ground with bent knees and in bare feet.

Margaretha's son dies and the marriage ends. We then see Margaretha in a combative duet with her husband. Alone and without a penny, she goes to Paris where she is taken in by the nightclubs as an exotic dancer. Paris is well known for its exuberant social life, with many dance clubs. The city attracts artists from around the world. This section of the work is the most virtuoso, colorful and full of joy. The music follows closely the different dance genres, can-can, acrobats, Spanish dancers, Javanese temple dancers. A scantily dressed Magaretha adapts smoothly to what her audience wants.

Unfortunately her popularity in the theater diminishes; it is Isadora Duncan who fills the theaters with her turns and scarf dances. Also Diaghilev isn’t interested in hiring Magaretha.

World War One comes upon Paris and her German boyfriend, danced by Vito Mazzeo, starts using Margaretha as a spy. She then falls in love with a Russian soldier and is accused by the French of spying for the Germans. This is played out in a sensitive duet between Jongh and dancer Vadime de Masloff.

The ballet concludes with Margaretha wearing her red scarf, proudly awaiting the firing squad, her eyes wide open, refusing a blindfold.

Although it is brave to choreograph an new evening long ballet for the 76 classical dancers plus 13 from the Junior Company about a legendary figure, it creates high expectations. First, it would have helped if the music had more emotional parts for the more difficult moments in the life of the protagonist so she could have given her solos the full breadth of emotion.

Although the ballet holds our attention fully, too many things come along too fast and Margaretha doesn’t get a chance to deepen her character. Less is more. Secondly to introduce the development of modern dance around that era would have been an opportunity for these classical dancers to display a serious confrontation of modern dance versus classical. These dancers proved in the past to be excellent in a modern piece as well. Nevertheless, all performers were magnificent and the Dutch National Ballet has a new ballet epic to be proud off.
Igone de Jongh and Edo Wijnen

Igone de Jongh and Edo Wijnen

Photo © & courtesy of Marc Haegeman


Igone de Jongh, Vito Mazzeo and Sebastien Galtier and other dancers.

Igone de Jongh, Vito Mazzeo and Sebastien Galtier and other dancers.

Photo © & courtesy of Marc Haegeman


Igone de Jongh and Vadime de Masloff.

Igone de Jongh and Vadime de Masloff.

Photo © & courtesy of Marc Haegeman

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