The ballet is one of the few opportunities to really dress up in this city, which is reason enough for me. But let me preface this by saying that I genuinely love the ballet, not least because the writer in me is mystified by its ability to communicate narrative, humour and emotion without saying a word. And Tristan + Isolde has it all. If you’re unfamiliar with the opera the ballet is based on, or the 2006 film adaptation with James Franco, Princess Isolde is taken against her will to marry King Marke. Along the way, she falls in love with his soldier Tristan, and the double betrayal leads to many a secret rendezvous, heartbreak and an epically violent ending.
On arriving at the theatre, we were directed to a roped-off area to meet the other members of the Amsterdam Culture Club: a group of internationals with a shared interest in Amsterdam’s arts and cultural scene. We were treated to a backstage tour of the theatre, peeking into the dressing rooms and admiring the complex rigging that allows a ballet and an opera to take the stage on alternate nights. Our group was even given the chance to step onto the stage behind the curtain where the dancers, limbering up in the wings, would soon pirouette, chassé and grand jeté across.
After the tour, Rachel Beaujean, the Dutch National Ballet’s deputy artistic director personally welcomed us - another special benefit organised by the Amsterdam Culture Club. She introduced us to choreographer David Dawson’s vision, and explained her passion for the story, comparing it to a more grown-up version of Romeo & Juliet.
When the curtain rose, Eno Henze’s stylised and modern set designs created a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. Abstract, geometric shapes and neon strip lighting were used to create mobile scenery, setting the tone for a unique performance. Jagged black shapes represented mountains, a raised triangular platform indicated a ship, and my personal favourite, a single bar of neon light indicated that Tristan was imprisoned in a cell.
The costumes designed by Yumiko Takeshima were a particular highlight, and admittedly surprised me the most. For someone with my predilection for theatrics and texture, words like ‘minimal’ and ‘understated’ don’t necessarily get me out of bed in the morning. But the colours were piercing, the cuts beautifully defined - at times taking on a science-fiction futurism, and the military coats with pleats cascading across the back were all I could talk about during the intermission.
The production showcased Amsterdam’s exceptional performing arts scene, and the Amsterdam Culture Club enriched the experience even more. As a member, you’re invited to events throughout the year that are carefully selected for an international audience. It’s the perfect opportunity for non-Dutch speaking residents to get together, meet new people and attend exclusive events as a group. I for one will start preparing outfit options for the next one.
Become a member of the Amsterdam Culture Club.