Mediaeval myth as contemporary ballet

Tristan + Isolde

David Dawson, Het Nationale Ballet

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Choreographer David Dawson breathes new life into the timeless love story of Tristan and Isolde, with his abstract narrative and elegant dance style. It is a story about the passionate and doomed love between two young people who come from historical and socially opposed camps and who die a tragic death for love. Dawson asked the Polish composer Szymon Brzóska to write a new composition for this old myth. Tristan + Isolde is an enduring story of eternal, burning love: sacred yet forbidden, healing yet destructive.

background information

The origins of Tristan und Isolde, one of the oldest known European love stories, lie far back in the mists of time. This Celtic legend tells of a magic spell that ensnares Isolde, princess of Ireland,  and Tristan,

her enemy and the man entrusted to bring her to England to marry the king. Their burgeoning love cannot be destroyed. This is a bond too strong for earthly powers to break. Neither Tristan’s loyalty to his uncle, King Mark, nor Isolde’s feelings of guilt towards her dead lover can temper their attraction to one another. At the heart of the story of Tristan and Isolde is one thing, and one thing only: a bottomless, eternal, burning love.

Following countless novels, Richard Wagner’s opera of the same name as well as film adaptations, these immortal lovers have now been recast through the ballet vocabulary of David Dawson. The first narrative ballet of this multi-award winning choreographer was Giselle, now, together with the Polish composer Szymon Brzóska, he tackles this ancient myth. David Dawson’s typically elegant style, underscored by the modern, heart-rending sounds of Brzóska’s new composition, will breathe new life into this enduring love story.

David Dawson on the topicality of his adaptation: “Tristan + Isolde tells the tragic story of finding and losing true love, of meeting your ideal partner and then being forced apart by moral and social constrictions. When you look at the world today, these problems still exist: the world around you imparts signals about how you should live, while your heart sometimes tells you something completely different. The heart knows no prejudice, rules or boundaries. We don’t choose who we fall in love with. But we sometimes forget to listen to our hearts. We are so busy trying to survive the rules, trying to be a part of the race that characterises the world today, that we do not take care of love, and always judge people who are different. Tristan and Isolde remind us that love has to be stronger than boundaries and rules.”



David Dawson (1972, London, United Kingdom) was resident choreographer with Dutch National Ballet from 2004 to 2006. Since 2015, he has held the position of ‘artistic associate’ with 

the company. Dawson was also resident choreographer with Semperoper Ballett and the Royal Ballet of Flanders. His ballets are performed in more than 25 countries and are included in the repertoire of a great many leading companies, such as The Royal Ballet, Boston Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, English National Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Staatsballett Berlin, the Hungarian National Ballet and Wiener Staatsballett. Dawson trained at the Rona Hart School of Dance, Arts Educational Schools London and The Royal Ballet School. After his training, he danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Dutch National Ballet (1995-2000) and Ballett Frankfurt, where he worked with William Forsythe. Since 2002, Dawson has been focusing completely on choreography.

In 2000, Dawson created his first large-scale work in The Amsterdam Music Theatre (now Dutch National Opera & Ballet), while he was still a dancer with Dutch National Ballet: A Million Kisses to My Skin. Dawson received a Benois de la Danse award for The Grey Area (2002), which was also created for Dutch National Ballet. In 2005, at the invitation of the Mariinsky Ballet, he created Reverence. He was the first British choreographer to create a work for this company, and he received a Golden Mask Award for the ballet. In 2006, he won another prestigious award for a piece created for Dutch National Ballet: the Choo San Goh Award for The Gentle Chapters.

For Dutch National Ballet, he has created timelapse/(Mnemosyne) in 2011, day4 for the programme Present/s, in 2012, and Overture, in 2013, for which he was nominated for a ‘Zwaan’ award for the best dance production. His work was included in Cool Britannia and Transatlantic, which were showed at the Holland Festival. In 2013, the Holland Festival showed the world premiere of his version of Le Sacre du Printemps, made for Dutch National Ballet. In February 2015 he created a full-length Tristan + Isolde for Semperoper in Dresden. Since 1 January 2015, he has been associated with Dutch National Ballet again, as an artistic associate. In April 2016, he created a contemporary version of Swan Lake for Scottish Ballet. In 2017 Citizen Nowhere was a huge success (Dutch National Ballet). Dancer Edo Wijnen was nominated for the ‘Swan’ (Most Impressive Dance Performance) for his solo performance in this choreography.

Dutch National Ballet is a regular partner of the Holland Festival. Over the past 50 years, the Dutch National Ballet has evolved into one of the world's foremost ballet companies, and occupies a leading position in the cultural scene of The Netherlands. With a unique and wide repertoire, a tradition of innovation and 76 dancers and the Junior Company from all over the world, the company is one of the major players in the Dutch cultural landscape – and well beyond. It is by far the largest dance company in The Netherlands. The Dutch National Ballet performs ballet at the very highest level: from classical to contemporary, from narrative to abstract, and from their own repertoire to international works. The company operates between tradition and innovation, combining respect and love for classical ballet knowledge handed down from generation to generation with an impassioned curiosity about new ways of experiencing dance. Ballet in all its manifestations, from historical works to brand-new creations – that is what the Dutch National Ballet stands for.

Originally from Poland, Szymon Brzóska graduated from the Music Academy in Poznań, Poland as well as the Royal Flemish Conservatory in Antwerp, Belgium. Brzóska has a particular interest in the synergy between music, contemporary dance, theatre and cinema.

In 2008 he composed the score for Sutra, a collaboration with choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, sculptor Antony Gormley and monks from the Shaolin temple in China. Sutra’s success led Brzóska and Cherkaoui to join forces on two more projects: Orbo Novo (2009) and Dunas (2012), a duet between Cherkaoui and celebrated flamenco danseuse María Pagés.

He also worked with Małgorzata Dzierżon, a Rambert Dance Company member, Dutch choreographer Joost Vrouenraets, Polish dancer and choreographer Kaya Kołodziejczyk and  New Movement Collective. Brzóska’s orchestral score for Labyrinth, a ballet commissioned by Het Nationale Ballet, which premiered in Amsterdam in June 2011 and score for m¡longa (2013) created for the Swiss Théatre Jorat, were yet another opportunity to revisit his artistic relationship with Cherkaoui.

In 2013 he wrote a score for Overture, a ballet choreographed by David Dawson for Het Nationale Ballet. The music, written for large string orchestra and piano was performed by Holland Symfonia conducted by Matthew Rowe, and a pianist Barbara Drążkowska. Contemporary dance performances with his music have been presented in prestigious venues around the world like Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Centre in New York, Esplanade in Singapore as well as at the Festival D’Avignon.



choreography, concept, scenography
David Dawson
Szymon Brzóska
set design
Eno Henze
Yumiko Takeshima
Bert Dalhuysen
Valeska Stern
Dutch National Ballet

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