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Nederlands Dans Theatre

'One of a Kind'

by Julia Skene-Wenzel

June 15, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

What defines "One of a Kind"? For more than fifteen years, Jirí Kylián and the companies of the Nederlands Dans Theater have defined this standard in London. Loved and cherished, their return is an eagerly awaited event and this year’s London season of the Nederlands Dans Theater 1 certainly lived up to expectations -- the company, a slick and elegant collection of some of the world's best dancers, executing each step with precision and poise, and the choreography showcasing Kylián at his best: an accumulation of breath-taking duets, playing on their classical form in never-ending variations.

Act One opens with a single female dancer on stage exploring the space around her. In feline fashion, her body pulses between reaching out and withdrawing from this strange new world. Her journey encountering couples and formations of dancers with whom she occasionally has violent clashes, but mostly leading her to safe and distant shores from which she can observe the unfolding events.

"One of a Kind" is a celebration of the Dutch constitution, a carefully assembled piece in three acts. All sections are clearly defined by the stunning set designs of Atsushi Kitagawara, which frame Kylián’s playful phrases that allow an arabesque to break just before it reaches perfection and permits two bodies to intertwine in a moment of closeness before the angularity of the movement drives them apart again. The atmospheric music score is heightened by Matthew Barley’s onstage cello playing, whose dark and intensive sound rip through the space and caress the dancers to greater heights. The work climaxes in Act Three, which reveals a sacred space, separated by strings of golden beads. Couples enter and exit in waves of motion while the heroine watches from the sidelines, until in a moment of calm collection, she eventually crosses the fluid boundary and ascends into the unknown.

"One of a Kind" submerges the audience into a sensual swirl -- but does it live up to its label? While all parts of the collage are exceptional, Kylián’s choreography does not seem to challenge any of his own standards. Thus while his play on the classical form is unpredictable, his use of gender remains firmly within the traditional framework and his linear line up of couples rarely breaks into a trio or a quartet. This might have been a deliberate decision, reflecting the ordered character of the Dutch constitution, but it does not allow enough creative freedom for the piece to stay fresh. All elements add to a dated look, a beautifully danced, but typical Kylian creation. The London audience loved it nevertheless, proving that London, Kylián and the Nederlands Dans Theater will always have a one-of-a-kind connection.

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