Dutch National Opera and Ballet: two art forms, one identity

From this month De Nederlandse Opera, the Dutch National Ballet and The Amsterdam Music Theatre will operate as one organisation, the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, with a new identity created by Lesley Moore. We talk to the studio’s co-founder Alex Clay about the project

From this month De Nederlandse Opera, the Dutch National Ballet and The Amsterdam Music Theatre will operate as one organisation, the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, with a new identity created by Lesley Moore (original designers of Mark magazine among other things). We talk to the studio’s co-founder Alex Clay about the project



The Dutch National Opera & Ballet officially adopted its new name on February 17. The two companies (opera and ballet) will keep their own brand names, but from now on will operate together as one house, operating out of the same building which opened in 1986.


A new website, (below) designed by Tam Tam in collaboration with Lesley Moore uses a selection of stunning Gifs derived from trailers created by photographers Petrovsky & Ramone to dramatise upcoming productions




Design: Lesley Moore. Animation: Simon Francois. Music: Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt)


CR: The Dutch Opera, National Ballet and Amsterdam Music Theatre have merged to form the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, each keeping its own name but operating as one house, that sounds like a tricky issue to resolve as a designer. What was the reason for retaining the two names? Did you try to persuade them to operate under just one?

AC: Opera and ballet are very different art forms which draw different audiences, although there is some overlap. We felt it was important to respect those differences. So we were on one page with the client on keeping the separate names. At the same time they were looking for a visual identity which tied everything together. That was indeed a challenge to resolve; a typographic solution putting emphasis on the art forms came out of that.



CR: Can you explain a little more about the ‘storytelling’ concept which underpins the identity?

AC: In essence, storytelling is what both opera and ballet are about. Both art forms are strongly influenced by tradition and history. To really appreciate opera and ballet we believe that some knowledge is important. As an institution, National Opera & Ballet wants to educate their audience in order to make them get the most out of it. The themes of the art forms are often universal, as relevant to us now as they were 300 years ago. Both the National Ballet and the National Opera are focussed on translating those themes to the 21st century.

The Dutch National Opera & Ballet also has ambitions to share more of what happens backstage with their audience. Traditionally the focus has been solemnly on the performances. What is shown on stage is world class, but to really grasp that it is important to understand what has been done to get there. From the artistic choices being made, the military-like repetitions, the historical research, the workshops and the craftsmen behind every performance.

Visually, we translated these multiple stories into layers on top of each other. As a story has a certain chronology, the layers do too. The layering also refers to the nature of theatre; on- and backstage.



Season brochure cover



CR: Can you explain how the identity system works?

AC: The logo works as a frame, creating space for the story being told at that specific moment. Top left [on the website and posters] is always the typographic logo, bottom left always the icon of the theatre.




CR: Why was it felt necessary to include a drawing of the building in the lock-up?

LM: An important aspect of the new strategy, is to focus more on the location as a hub for creation, production and presentation. Until now the theatre itself has been very anonymous, despite the success of the two companies. The icon of the building emphasizes this shift, and illustrates the brand architecture; one house, two art forms.



CR: What is the typeface used and why did you choose that one?

LM: The main typeface is Edward (Our Type), a ‘descendant’ of Edward Johnston’s typeface for the London Underground. Johnston’s typeface was based on Roman inscriptions which still forms the basis for our alphabet today. Using craft and tradition as starting point for a contemporary expression fits well with the mentality of the Dutch National Opera & Ballet. And it is something we strive for with the design of this identity.



CR: Petrovsky & Ramone’s images are beautiful – what is the extent of their involvement? How will their work be used beyond the website?

LM: From the very start, we knew that photography would be play an important part in the identity. Hence the logo as a frame. When we proposed the overall concept for the campaigns, the keyword was ‘movement’. Traditionally, the focus had been static images. Communication is moving more and more towards online, and considering the nature of the art forms, ‘sound and motion’ seemed like a logical step to take. We wanted to use video as a starting point, and extract still images from that when needed. Petrovsky & Ramone were among the names on the shortlist we proposed to do the job, and we are very excited about what has come out of it. Their background is mainly fashion, which gives an edge to the imagery which suits what happens on stage.



It’s interesting to see how some of the more forward thinking opera and ballet companies around the world have been utilising spectacular imagery on their websites. The New York City Ballet and New Zealand Opera, for example, both feature stunning, full-screen images to emphasise the promise of the experience they offer.

The new Dutch National Opera & Ballet site is a beautiful addition to that trend. Faced with a tricky brief, the identity works well both online and on posters with the ‘layered’ element top left quickly and simply identifying the art form while the main lock-up, running bottom left, emphasises the merged offer of the institution.

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