Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nederlands Dans Theater's Side A in Amsterdam

On our final day on the second leg of our journey to Amsterdam, I got to check something off my dance spectatorship bucket list when Richard and I attended a performance of the Nederlands Dans Theater's Company 1 at the ornate Stadsschouwburg in the Leidseplein neighbourhood. (Although the interior of the building has clearly had a major re-do recently, as the stunningly intimate presentation hall where we were looks brand new, and has a wonderfully deep stage and steep audience rake, which makes for near perfect viewing.) Overseen by the legendary Jiri Kylian for the past 25 years or so, but now it seems with longtime NDT house choreographer Paul Lightfoot installed as the current AD, NDT is renowned for the strength and virtuosity of its dancers, as well as for its commissioning of new work from top flight international choreographers (Vancouver's own Crystal Pite is an associate choreographer).

Indeed, the program we saw, Side A: Split into One, was comprised of three world premieres, all of them having a distinctive scenographic design element, and with the first two likewise structured around the musical oeuvre of contemporary pop composers. First up was Proof, by former NDT dancer Edward Clug. Kylian has a remarkable track record of seeding new choreographers from within NDT's own dance ranks, often by first providing opportunities to create work on NDT's Company 2. So it was with Clug, whose 2015 debut for NDT 2, mutual comfort, was very well received. In Proof, set to the music of Radiohead, we encounter seven dancers who move in and out of different duos and trios, sometimes with stunningly solicitous intimacy, and sometimes with bold aggression. Distinctive in each modality is the dancers' arm work, sometimes loose and looping, reminding me a bit of vogueing, and sometimes fast and choppy, as in karate. Clug is also not afraid of stillness, keeping several of his dancers frozen on stage as others move around them. The piece ends with a captivating bit of scenography, when a zeppelin-like installation descends from the ceiling, into which one of the dancers steps, and behind which another quartet, divided into pairs and attached at the waist, make ghostly silhouettes--all while another dancer impresses his head into one end of the plastic balloon. It was a wondrously powerful end to a terrific new piece.

The second piece on the program was a new work, SOON, by Mehdi Walerski, also a graduate from the NDT dance corps. Walerski  should be familiar to Ballet BC audiences who have seen his Petite Ceremonie, and who are no doubt eager for his take on Romeo and Juliet when it premieres at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next spring. For now, however, there is this beguiling new quartet, inspired by the music of Benjamin Clementine, a young British singer-songwriter who has been hailed as reinventing the art song, and whose albums I am going to be sure to download when I get back to Vancouver. As the curtain comes up, we see a male and female couple, clad in matching blue suits, standing in a circle of bright white light. The light is emitted by a lowered klieg light that is attached to a rotating contraption, at the other end of which is a large reflective disc. This device rotates continuously throughout the performance, at times blocking the dancers, but at other times becoming part of the choreography, as when the reflecting disc passes through the stilled and facing bodies of two of the dancers. The first couple is eventually joined by another, and in the tightly geometrical movement that Walerski composes for the quartet in the very centre of the white floor spot he seems to be drawing upon and reinventing aspects of the quadrille. At other moments, the dancers break off into pairs and also solo sequences, with one of the male dancers successively ghosting each of his fellow group members in a final bit of unison at the end of the piece, the space between the bodies, as with the switch to negative lighting that recurs throughout the piece, here suggesting the aspect of longing over time that is necessarily a part of any kind of belonging.

The evening concluded with Sisters, by NDT house choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon (they are also a couple). A work for six dancers, three men and three women, it aspires to be a surreal fantasy, complete with a splayed out roll of black plastic that dominates the set. Perhaps it's meant to evoke the inky depths of the unconscious, or the dark world of fairy tails. Whatever the case, I found most of the choices in this piece to be choreographic caprices, not least the decision to send out one of the women dancers with her right arm pinned to her chest inside her lyotard. Clearly there were no disability rights advocates in the house, as the audience gave the piece a standing ovation. Mostly I found the piece to be egregiously pretentious, and rife with imagistic cliches, as with the closing tableau, in which the three women, now clad in matching black cloaks, swaying their bodies in front of the men, bewitching them with their sorceresses' powers.


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