Ballet turns life of Dutch double agent into dance

The name Margaretha Geertruida Zelle probably doesn’t mean anything to you. That’s because Zelle is better known as Mata Hari, one of the most iconic women of the 20th century. Dancer, lover and double agent, now Hari’s life is being brought to the stage in her native Holland by Dutch National Ballet (DNB).

Mata Hari is a collaboration between DNB artistic director Ted Brandsen and librettist Janine Brogt, with music by British composer Tarik O’Regan. The show will receive its world premiere at Dutch National Opera & Ballet’s home in Amsterdam on 6 February.

‘She underwent many metamorphoses, like a Lady Gaga or Madonna of a hundred years ago,’ said choreographer Brandsen, as he explained his interest in Hari’s story.

‘Everything she did was theatrical and of an intensified reality,’ added Brogt. ‘She was a goddess, she-devil, enchantress, diva and outcast. She was as changeable as the weather and had dozens of different faces. She is a mystery, a dream, a myth.’

The ballet will focus on Hari’s reinventions, taking in her life from well-to-do wife to exotic dancer and (supposed) double agent. Hari was killed by a French firing squad in 1917, having travelled extensively in Europe and taken many lovers.

DNB are not the first to take on the story, with acclaimed actresses like Greta Garbo, Zsa Zsa Gábor and Marlène Dietrich playing her on the big screen. There was also a Broadway musical about her life, as well as a television series.

The production is accompanied by Dutch Ballet Orchestra conducted by Matthew Rowe.