This story originally appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Pointe.
Biographical ballets are having a moment, finding success in the real-life stories of famous women. Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, which premiered at The Royal Ballet last May, and John Neumeier's Duse, which premiered at Hamburg Ballet in December, were both explorations of complex personal histories. Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari at the Dutch National Ballet, will offer another depiction of a woman who was an artist, muse and performer herself.
The sensationalized life of Mata Hari, the Dutch dancer and courtesan, has always fascinated Brandsen. She was convicted of, and executed for, spying on behalf of Germany during World War I—and has since held public imagination in the Netherlands and beyond. Her story of changing fortunes provided the perfect backdrop for a new narrative ballet, which premieres February 6. “I was looking for a subject that was intriguing and had a relationship to dance," Brandsen says.
Brandsen is taking some artistic license, due to limited historical knowledge and the need to tell a dramatic story. Mata Hari will focus on the highlights of the Dutch performer's career by presenting snapshots of her life story and using characters both historical and fictional.
Is it coincidence that multiple choreographers have recently found inspiration in the lives of famous women? Brandsen thinks so. “Sometimes you find there's something in the air," he says. “But it's interesting and important to create new, strong roles for women and men—to create new stories. These are ballets about real people and real emotions—what drives someone to live their life. It's easier to express in dance than in words."
In preparation for the premiere, the Dutch National Ballet has made a series of gorgeous behind-the-scenes videos, including everything from costume fittings to choreography, to composing the score. Check them out below!