A few years marking time in the back row of the Peasant Waltz will teach a young ballet graduate a great deal about stamina and discipline. With careful management, those with serious talent can gradually be plucked from the chorus and given solo opportunities, but there is always the danger that Odettes-in-waiting will wither and die if starved of limelight.
Dutch National Ballet, like a number of companies around the world, has addressed this apparent problem with a cadet force of 12 apprentice dancers selected from more than 120 candidates. The troupe, founded last year by Ted Brandsen, the main company’s director, has toured Spain and the Dutch regions and made its UK debut on Wednesday with a two-night sell-out run at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio.
The nine-course tasting menu was punctuated by a series of short videos in which the juniors give a quick summary of the charms and challenges of each piece. The rehearsal footage, shot in the company’s airy Amsterdam headquarters, is nicely done but the Girl’s Book of Ballet chat is probably more suited to outreach events in Gouda than Covent Garden’s more clued-up clientele.
The show opened with Embers, choreographed by Royal Ballet old boy Ernst Meisner (now the group’s artistic co-ordinator), who supplied three of the evening’s pieces. This workmanlike duet was sleekly delivered by Jessica Xuan and Nathan Brhane. The couple later offered a sincere and well-rehearsed White Swan pas de deux and both also shone in the evening’s finale, Dawn Dances, an eight-hander from English National Ballet’s associate artist George Williamson. Brhane is an attentive partner with a vivid stage presence and an ability to make soft landings on the Linbury’s rather unforgiving floor (a gift he might like to pass on to colleagues).
The gala extracts are doubtless intended to keep the dancers in good classical shape but were often callow and underpowered. Nineteen-year-old Sierra Leone-born Michaela DePrince has a jeté like a javelin and showed plenty of attack in Agrippina Vaganova’s Diana and Actaeon but this virtuoso party piece is only really bearable when danced to outrageous excess (the hero’s leopard skin minidress sets the tone here).
The trick with these things is to select work that both stretches and flatters youth and inexperience, but although Brandsen’s varied two-hour programme is slickly produced and bravely danced it does not always succeed.