The Netherlands has long ballet traditions, already in the first half of the 17th century the first regular ballet performances took place in Amsterdam. Besides Amsterdam, The Hague was also a center for the development of classical ballet, and until the end of the 19th century, the dance had a central position in the country. Choreographers such as Piet Grieve and Andries Voitus van Hamme created popular ballet works, including several harlequinades. The latter also stood in 1844 for the first erection of Giselle.
Around 1900, ballet interest diminished, and the country’s only regular ensemble largely participated only in opera performances. Only from the late 1930s did classical ballet regain its foothold in the Netherlands. Yvonne Georgi’s school became the starting point for a new ensemble, which in 1941 became officially associated with Amsterdam’s Stadsschouwburg. In the interwar period, well-known dancers such as Lilli Green and Conny Hartong made use of modern dance forms, but it was not until the 1950s that interest in modern dance gained momentum that resulted in the establishment of several new companies. Hans Snoek formed the 1945 company Scapino, which was first aimed at children and adolescents, but which later also addressed an adult audience. The repertoire has consisted of the works of modern choreographers, and the Scapino ballet has hosted the Bergen Festival.
Mascha Ter Weeme formed the Ballet of the Low Countries in 1947, and in 1949 Darja Collin founded the Dutch Opera Ballet. The same year, the Russian-Dutch Sonia Gaskell formed the group Ballet Recital, which in 1954 joined the Dutch Ballet. Ballet der Lage Landen and Nederlands Opera Ballet merged in 1959 with the new Amsterdam Ballet, which in 1961 again joined Gaskell’s Nederlands Ballet and formed Het Nationale Ballet, the country’s current national ballet. Gaskell was chief until 1969, the last couple of years with Rudi van Dantzig, who in the 1990s still leads the company.
Developments since 1970
However, the ensemble that has made the Netherlands one of the leading European ballet nations in the post-war era is the Nederlands Dans Theater, formed in 1959 by the American choreographer Ben Harkarvy together with a group of dancers from Nederlands Ballet. The company is led by internationally renowned choreographer Jiří Kylián, who has since 1975 created more than 50 works for this famous ensemble which is considered among the world’s most important modern dance theaters. Kylian has also gone new by not only forming a youth ensemble with dancers from 17 to 22 years alongside the main company, but also in addition a group consisting of older dancers over 40 years, and in this way created a unique artistic profile that appeals to a wide audience.
Mention should also be made of the Rotterdam Dance Group (until 1988 Werkcentrum Dans) under its artistic director Käthy Gosschalk, who has played a significant role in the development of postmodern dance both in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe since the 1970s.