INT_Het Nationale Ballet - Live © Hans Gerritsen - 0SEP8960.jpg

Dutch National Ballet - Maia Makhateli in Live. © Hans Gerritsen

in Amsterdam


Choreography by Hans van Manen


GERARD DAVIS reviews a milestone classic

It’s hard to believe that Hans van Manen’s Live was created 41 years ago, so suited is it to today’s socially-distanced predicament. It’s a simple but ingenious idea. The stage is bare except for a cinema screen on the back wall and a video camera on the floor. The first thing that happens is a cameraman walks on stage, picks up the camera and points it at the audience. The cinema screen then pops into life and shows a live relay of what the camera’s filming. Once the audience have got over their nervous giggles at seeing themselves writ large, a female dancer walks on stage and thereafter hogs the screen-time.

As the dancer rides through the batterie of Van Manen’s distinctive choreography, she alternately flirts with the camera and is made vulnerable by it. A brief vision of a man interrupts her flow and she walks up the aisle and out of the auditorium, camera in tow, to find said man waiting for her in the theatre’s lobby. There, on the carpet, they dance a lyrical but sad duet, presumably being watched on the screen by the auditorium-bound audience. The duet ends with an abrupt departure by the man and she, bereft, wanders back into the auditorium where she’s immediately haunted by a pre-recorded flashback of an argument played out in a ballet studio rehearsal.

Saddened by the memory, the woman leaves the auditorium once more, picks up her coat and drifts off into to the Amsterdam

night, where the camera leaves her to her own conclusion.

Live is so well crafted that it could have been created last week and still look original. In fact, this revival was only filmed last month and Maia Makhateli was captivating in it; not only impeccable in the virtuosity of her technique but also in getting her emotions across in  a series of close-ups where giving less meant so much more. Artur Shesterikov was less magnetic but offered up a fine contrast between the reluctant resignation at the end of the affair and the violent frustration that prefigured it.

The piece questions, of course, the entire nature of what live performance is and putting it up as an online streaming was a stroke of brilliance. Whether it was strictly filmed live or if it was edited, I don’t know, but it wasn’t streamed live and although there was a small audience in the theatre, the vast majority of the audience would have been safely tucked up at home watching the dancers and the big screen on their own small screen. Furthermore, the voyeur that is the on-stage cameraman is now himself being spied on by not one but by several cameras, as are the in-house audience. Who’s watching who watching who? Despite today’s world becoming increasingly video-centric, Live still manages to confound expectations while delivering superb choreography and an emotional punch. What more can you ask?

Live is available to watch on the Dutch National Ballet website until 7 November 2020 for €2.95 (which gives you 48 hour access) and although the piece is only 26 minutes long it’s supplemented by an interview with Coleen Davis (creator of the female role), Henk van Dijk (the original cameraman) and, something of a rarity, Hans van Manen himself. There’s also some excellent footage from the original 1979 rehearsals which gives fascinating glimpses into the development of the work and the progression of technology. Trailer below.