Artistic Director: Gerald Tibbs
Choreography: Sol León &Paul Lightfoot, Edward Clug, Hans van Manen, Alexander Ekman
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Nederlands Dans Theatre, founded in 1959, is one of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies, now under the artistic direction of former NDT dancer Paul Lightfoot. In 1978, NDT founded NDT2, its junior division specifically focusing on the development of younger dancers aged 18-23, acquainting them with a variety of contemporary dance languages and working with new and established choreographers and top class dance theatre production, music and design. But this is a junior company almost in a league of its own.
NDT2 for their 2016 tour – their first to the UK since 2009 – present a repertoire of six works, new and older. The first section of the evening comprises three smoothly-linked but diverse works by in-house choreography team of Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, including two UK premieres.
Opening darkly, the three pieces move through darkness and light, with a set design of large, moving black screens, which redefine the space throughout and manage the transitions between the pieces neatly, concealing and revealing the available space and the entrances and exits of the dancers.
Schubert, set to Schubert’s String quintet in C – Adagio is an exquisite and highly technical duet of retrained but fluid precision, expressing love. The musicality is precise and detailed and it is light in touch and utterly compelling. This flows neatly into Sad Case, a piece for five dancers set to a selection of Mambo tunes. This older work – from 1998 – is strange and surprising. Witty and beautifully styled, it demonstrates the impressive creativity of the choreographers and the extravagant physicality of the dancers. The dance vocabulary is the kind of broken, distorted, extreme classicism shared by Wayne McGregor, but with an earthly humour, underpinned by the ‘silliness’ of the music, that makes it less cerebral and more emotive. It is a delight with outstanding performances by the cast.
There is a transition from lightness to dark with the final piece, Some Other Time, which is a transfixing piece of meltingly austere beauty. The music – Max Richter’s languid, heartbreakingly-mournful contemporary classical – combines with the finely-considered, precise choreography to create a work of haunting loveliness and elegant emotion. Sol León and Paul Lightfoot’s costumes and staging and Tom Bevoort’s subtle lighting create the perfect setting for each piece.
The second section of the evening contains two pieces: Edward Clug’s mutual comfort and Solo by NDT veteran choreographer and former-NDT dancer Hans van Manen. mutual comfort is for four dancers and set to PErpeTuumOVIA by Milko Lazar. This is another detailed, considered piece of choreography full of precision, connection and disconnection. Eleven minutes of pure pleasure. After a pause, comes Solo, ironically for three dancers, taking turns to undertake quickfire solos of impressive technicality. Rooted in ballet, it is a fantastic opportunity to see three male dancers cut loose in solos that are both innovative and classical. This is set to a similarly vivid piece of Bach. Dazzling as it is, the lack of narrative or emotional content makes Solo more of a showcase than a fully-realised work and its interestingness suffers as a result.
Finally, the longest work of the evening: Cacti by another NDT alumnus and now-established choreographer Alexander Ekman. Unusually for Ekman, this is set to classical music, and finally utilises the full company of 18 dancers. Cacti is an enthusiastically-staged piece on the nature of dance theatre and art, with a vogueish use of voiceover – and a rather postmodern, deconstructivist approach to presenting dance as a medium rather than using dance as a medium to convey something else.
Cacti has some remarkable visual moments – driven by Tom Visser’s striking lighting. The company are winning and precise, but the postmodern irony and challenging approach create a sense of frustration, not helped by the fussy use of props – yes, cacti, and individual plinths that the dancers have to lug around as much as dance on. Cacti is the kind of dance theatre that likes to remind you that you are watching a piece of dance theatre, which creates a distracting disconnection and separation, especially in the final sections.
NDT2 are an extraordinary company with the kind of creativity and quality that makes you realise that you are seeing something special and that you perhaps don’t get to see as often as would be desired. Their visit is important.
However, the evening is slightly one of diminishing returns. The show opens with work of such remarkably satisfying beauty that there is a sense of unravelling as the final works arrive. This may be a matter of personal taste. But overall, a memorable and rewarding evening of top-of-the-range contemporary dance.
Runs until 20 April | Image:Johan Persson