50 jaar Het Nationale Ballet - Herinneringen van Wendy Vincent Smith

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Those Special Years with Het Nationale Ballet: 1966-1977

Door: Wendy Vincent Smith

It was quite by chance that I came to Amsterdam in March 1966, and then only with the idea of staying a couple of years (if engaged by this company of which at the time I knew nothing). But those couple of years were to become eleven, and in a decade of exceptionally creative growth for Het Nationale Ballet.

Mevrouw Gaskell, her health in decline, was in the process of stepping back from the directorship of Het Nationale Ballet (HNB), already a multi-national company with an extraordinarily impressive repertoire, and foreign tours on the agenda. Only the previous year, the premiere of Rudi van Dantzig's Monument voor een Gestorven Jongen had made a great impact on the dance world, and drawn attention to the young Dutch National Ballet. Most importantly, Mevrouw Gaskell had now commissioned Rudi to choreograph the full three act Romeo and Juliet, starting immediately in the autumn.

My colleagues from that time will join me, I am sure, in paying tribute to Rudi for a truly unique and deeply moving experience as he created every minute of this ballet, such a huge assignment over a period of six months (and not one that he took without many misgivings, I believe). Again by chance, it was decided that I should attempt to notate a dance score of Romeo and Juliet, as I had offered to pioneer the use of Benesh Notation within the company whilst employed as a dancer. Although I could not have anticipated the magnitude of the task, those rehearsals were the most inspirational I have ever known. They laid the foundation for my lasting affection and admiration for the company, and all those involved during the formative years. Every member of the company was involved in Romeo and Juliet, and for those of us who had just joined, each had their own little character created for this large production. The revivals over the years link today's dancers with all of us on stage in February 1967, and it remains a great and moving production. Not in evidence at first, Toer appeared in the studio one day, and then we began to see the first of his designs for all the beautiful costumes and decor. Key also to the unforgettable collaboration were Jan Hofstra as Stage Manager, and Guitty de Loor as Wardrobe Mistress, to both of whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for their talent, hard work and loyalty to HNB.

There were many high points in the years that followed, and I think all of us felt privileged and enriched by our various experiences and opportunities within the company, the wonderful repertoire not least, with such famous choreographers as Kurt Jooss to teach his Green Table, Anthony Tudor to teach his Dark Elegies, and works by Balanchine taught by his assistants. The great classics were central to the repertoire, yet there were always contemporary works being created.

Now, unbelievably, we come together to celebrate 50 years of Het Nationale Ballet, which must feel great pride in presenting an anniversary programme consisting of works by its three highly acclaimed Dutch 'house choreographers', Rudi van Dantzig, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk. Thank you, dear colleagues, for those happy years and friendships, and best wishes to all those who continue to build on the early successes.

Door: Wendy Vincent Smith, August 2011

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