Nederlands Dans Theater
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; July 7 & 9, 2010
And they came! One thing you can guarantee when Nederlands Dans Theater visit is that the theatre will be packed out. And why not, because when it comes to design, technically extraordinary dancers, and the sheer clarity of movement, the company can rarely be beaten.
NDT’s London season formed part of the grande finale of the company’s European Jubilee Tour of five cities that formed part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. Especially for the occasion, artistic director Jim Vincent decided to combine NDT I and NDT II in presenting two programmes that combined new works and classics.
The tour also marks the end of an era. NDT will be forever associated with Jiří Kylián, its artistic director from 1975 to 1999, and resident choreographer since. But after 36 seasons, Kylián has decided to relinquish his position this summer.
Dissolve in This, Subject to Change, Whereabouts Unknown
July 7, 2010
“Dissolve in This” is Johan Inger’s first work since his appointment as associate choreographer at NDT, and received its premiere only last October. Like Kylián’s, Inger’s work has become increasingly obscure, and this is no different. Set on a stage covered with small pieces of dark grey foam that give the impression of ash, Inger and designer Jens Sethzman place the dance in some shadowy post-apocalyptic world in which every step has been silenced, the only sound coming from the strange sounding, experimental score - except that is for the animalistic vocals in the middle of the piece, which sound silly and only serve to shatter the mood, although thankfully only temporarily.
It is dance that is both tranquil and disturbing. Dancers cross the stage, often moving individually, not even acknowledging one another. There are no real clues as to what it all means, although the sense of crumbling or wasting away is reflected in the title of the first piece of music used - Ian Andrews’ “Libidinal Decay” - and which has shades of Steve Reich. The significance of the circular halogen lights that stand atop tripods or the video of algae floating on top of still, silent, water, remains hidden however. Despite some starkly beautiful moments though, the work struggles to come together as a whole until near then end, when in a powerful and unexpected crescendo all the dancers join together, and at last there seems to be a unity of meaning or purpose.
There are no such problems with “Subject to Change”, resident choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol León’s take on “Death and the Maiden”, and danced to the second movement of Schubert’s string quartet of the same title.
The action all takes place on a square red carpet, rolled out and then manipulated around the stage by four menacing dark suited men representing death, and who move with amazing smoothness. On this the delightful Chiaki Horita and the bare-chested Percival Perks dance that is sometimes agonised, always mesmerising, although oddly lacking in the passion one might expect. Occasionally the corners of the carpet are lifted, following which the dance takes on a more tormented mode suggesting Lightfoot and Léon see it as a hiding place for our darker secrets. Eventually and inevitably the carpet is pulled away and rolled up. The harbingers of death finally have their catch.
Completing the first programme was Kylián’s 1993 classic “Whereabouts Unknown”, the best work of the evening, danced by the combined forces of NDT I and II. This is choreography on a grand scale. Set in a timeless landscape of sand dunes and bright desert light, and with references to Australian aboriginal dance, African masks and mythical figures and images, Kylián searches for the whereabouts of man’s existence. Where did we come from? What is our history?
Right from the opening it is hauntingly beautiful. As a man draws with a stick in sand, behind him the ladies of the company dance. Each remains largely on the spot, but their bodies, and especially their arms, move elegantly and in perfect unison. For once Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres”, over-used by choreographers worldwide, is the ideal accompaniment. It is utterly mesmerising. The calm is later interrupted by surges of energy as the men perform some dazzling solos that are always made to look so easy, and groups that rush and swirl around the stage, before Kylián returns to calmness, and a quiet, quite mystifying duet danced appropriately to Charles Ives’s “The Unanswered Question”.
Mémoires d’Oubliettes, Studio 2, Symphony of Psalms
July 9, 2010
“Mémoires d’Oubliettes” was Kylián’s final creation for NDT and marks his official farewell to the company. It reflects his move over time away from sweeping lyrical dance to more abstract works that, while still full of style, are darker and harder to fathom.
The piece certainly has the sense of saying goodbye for ever. An oubliette is an underground dungeon into which prisoners were thrown and forgotten. Here Kylián uses the idea to symbolise his time at NDT. The choreography is hugely layered, demanding and intriguing. It seems full of references to past works and his feelings about leaving. Dancers come and go as if memories, both his own and those of the ‘oubliette’. But they are memories over which he has no control. As he says, while our lives are ruled by what we remember and what we forget it is more complicated than that, adding the point that we cannot choose what to remember and what to forget, however much we try.
Some of the theatricality is outstanding and quite Kafka-esque. Tatsuo Unemi and Daniel Bisig’s computer-controlled projections suggest ghostly energy representing memories emerging from the dark walls of the set. It is all very edgy and slightly disturbing as fragments of voice are heard through the music. Later a dancer moves slowly round the stage with a large broom sweeping up tin cans, a metaphor for Kylián himself and his memories perhaps. Later the same figure is deluged by a shower of cans from above. But the precise meaning is left to the watcher to decide although there are clues such as at the very beginning when words fall out of the projected title: mères, emoi, oubli, restes… As Kylián says, “The facts of life are never just the facts of life. They are all open to interpretations, modification, adjustments or fantasies.”
As interesting as it was, after all that moody and meaningful dance, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León’s “Studio 2” came as something of a relief. The piece takes its title from the studio at the Lucent Danstheater in which much of their creative work has taken place.
Like the programme opener, “Studio 2” is about memories, this time the memories contained in this one room, its floor, walls and mirrors. The best parts come when six huge, moveable tilting mirrors are introduced that transform and effectively double the performing space, giving the audience a new perspective on events. At one point three dancers lie on a ramp, heads towards the audience, and perform class exercises and yoga moves that are perfectly reflected above with amazing grace and strength. It is a total integration of set with dance.
Kylián’s “Symphony of Psalms” from 1978 is one of his masterpieces. Performed against a backdrop of colourful hanging carpets, the choreography matches perfectly Stravinsky’s magnificent drama-filled score. The cast of 16 are on stage throughout the three variations that represent love, hope and faith. The simple costumes are in keeping with the often austere, angular, yet very spiritual movement. Particularly effective is the way they sometimes cross the stage in waves, the whole moving as one. There is no chance of losing interest as Kylián keeps coming up with new variations. Pain, longing, love and joy - they were all there.
It was a an uplifting way to finish two great programmes that managed to reflect NDT’s history and what the company represents today. Yes, much of the company’s work today takes place in an anxious and moody world, with meaning, the substance of the work, a little hidden. But it is there. And they do it with such style.
Looking ahead, Jim Vincent plans to increase the distinction between the two companies, with NDT II focusing on emerging and experimental choreographers, including from within the company’s own ranks. NDT I meanwhile will continue to work with associate choreographers Lightfoot, Léon, Inger and the recently appointed Crystal Pite.