Edinburgh Festival '98: Dance - Van really is the Mann

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The Independent Culture
WHAT IS a festival for, if not to do things normally impossible, such as bringing together works that will gain from juxtaposition? At Edinburgh this year that includes assembling three Dutch dance companies and 13 ballets created over 34 years to show the style and achievement of Europe's senior choreographer, Hanz van Mann.

The Dutch National Ballet, in sparkling form, led off with four works ranging from the oldest to one of the newest. Metaphors may be 33 years old but came over as fresher and more original than anything our present choreographers can offer. All its dances are based on mirror images, echoes or visual rhymes, yet they never look contrived.

Van Mann's bold originality has not deserted him. It is apparent in the latest work on this programme, Three Pieces for Het, premiered only last year, where he stands expectations on their head by starting big in a strong ensemble for two men, six women and then drops to a cast of two, but accelerating the impetus of invention in their breakneck solos before letting that same couple complete the pattern in a slow dying fall, an extraordinarily moving effect.

The middle period (Trois Gnossiennes) is a small, quirky duel, a duet that matches the elegance and eccentricity of Satie's piano music (played on stage with the instrument pushed around to slow the chase of the dancers). Using a big man and tiny woman allows him to move her in unexpected, amusing lifts; and at the end it gives an illusion that she floats right up and away out of sight.

A fine Dutch tango sextet, Canyengue, play Astor Piazolla's music for 5 Tangos, the programme's most familiar work, where the men of the ballet show brilliantly in their brooding obsessive power, while the women develop a quiet, self-contained response: excellent dancing in outstanding choreography.