Choreographers Love Affair with Ballet
By Han Sang-hee
Ballet is a priceless art that offers many aspects but for Hans van Manen, it is simply the love of his life.
Van Manen, 76, Netherlands's legendary choreographer, recently visited Korea to watch one of his famous pieces put on stage by the Universal Ballet Theater (UBT), the first time in Asia. The local troupe, led by Julia H. Moon, presented their ``Modern Ballet Project,'' consisting of three modern pieces including those of van Manen and also celebrated choreographers William Forsyth and Christopher Wheeldon.
``It's wonderful that UBT has brought `Black Cake.' You always have to do classic ballet because it (demands) a lot of fantastic dancers and you can develop, but with modern repertoire, you can build up a tradition which is also very important,'' van Manen said during an interview with The Korea Times last week at the Universal Ballet Theater.
For the ballet master, creating a piece is one thing while watching the dancers executing it is another. Although the concept of the work must be similar, it is important to have individuality and he said he saw this with the UBT working on ``Black Cake.''
``I don't want the ballet to be completely the same whenever they work on it, please no. It's like there are 12 great piano players executing the same piece by Beethoven, and they all play the same notes but it sounds like twelve different feelings. That's what I like,'' said van Manen.
``Black Cake'' was created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) by the request of Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian, and so the piece is more of a comedy ballet, with an ending where all the dancers get tipsy.
``I was so happy that Kylian mentioned that he wanted a cake (for the concept) because that meant I could do something light and festive. But it's very difficult to make comedy ballets because if you don't have a punch line, then everything falls apart,'' he said.
Music is an essential part of choreography, and even for masters like van Manen, choosing the right number is not easy.
``The most difficult thing in doing ballet is finding the music, always. Music is very important for me. Sometimes you have the music already, but most of the time you don't, because if you always know the music in advance you may always make the same things. And it's very strange, when you find the music, then you know that's the piece you want. You become absolutely sure that that's the one you want,'' he said.
From the age of seven, van Manen knew that he wanted to dance. So when he had the chance to work backstage, he willingly jumped at the opportunity, until he became a young man.
``When I was 18 years old, I thought if I don't start dancing now then I can forget it, it was already ridiculous because I was 18 years old and in that time in the Netherlands, there was hardly a boy who wanted to dance,'' Van Manen said.
``But when I saw something, a dance, I knew it immediately. I only had to look at it twice and I knew all the steps,'' he added.
The famed dancer started out as a member of Sonia Gaskell's Ballet Recital and moved to the Nederland's Opera Ballet and the NDT and the Het Nationale Ballet as a choreographer. He has staged ballets for numerous troupes, including the Stuttgart Ballet, the Berlin Opera, and the Royal Danish Ballet. He was also given the ``Knighthood in the Order of Orange Nassau'' by the Queen of the Netherlands in 1992.
Does he ever miss dancing?
``No, because I still dance with the dancers. When I choreograph, I'm still a dancer. I never make a single step at home, never. I choreograph with the dancers the moment I have to direct a ballet. To work with dancers is fantastic. I like to work with dancers who are risky and not afraid to make mistakes. I don't care about mistakes. Sometimes dancers can make genius mistakes,'' said van Manen.
``Dance is love. From the first moment on stage, the first ballet step I did in my life, there is no difference today. It's always fantastic and wonderful. I was not once disappointed, not once. Love is forever,'' he smiled.