Review: Nederlands Dans Theater 2 - Mixed Bill - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 17 - 20 May 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Thursday 19 May 2016

NDT2 'Cacti'. Katarina van den Wouwer & Gregory Lau  Photo: Johan Persson

NDT 2’s robust programme at Sadler’s Wells while being overwhelming in the number of works it includes, nevertheless wins prizes for variety, stellar dancing and sensational stage design. The seven pieces showcase NDT 2’s young dancers and give them scope to explore challenging work by a variety of choreographers. While all part of the Nederlands Dans Theater family, (with the exception of the Romanian choreographer Edward Clug), artistic directors Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, Hans van Manen and Alexander Ekman create such different works in terms of atmosphere and mood that the pieces really stretch the dancers in terms of their complexity and depth.

The first half of the programme which features three works by Lightfoot and Leon are particularly special for their use of space, flexible architectural design and seamless segue-ways that eradicate any notion of fixed boundaries or conventional beginnings or endings. What is great here is the sense that the dancers create their own fluid performance room which they shape and re-construct by moving around the screens, sweeping the stage or laying down flooring. These functional actions are integrated into the choreography and give the dancers control of the pieces.

Schubert is a joyous duet in which Katarina van den Wouwer and Alexander Anderson chase each other around the movable screens and constantly re-negotiate their relationship. Crisp choreography, white costumes and Schubert’s uplifting String quintet in C make their performance engagingly extrovert. Schubert morphs into the raucous, Mexican mambo- inspired Sad Case. Five clowns in sullied corsets perform earthy movements that feature hip thrusts and a great emphasis on the pelvic region. They grope their private parts, reaching deep between their legs or lift each other in open, orifice revealing leg positions. There’s an interesting tension between the graceful classical extensions and carnivalesque genital swaggering, the lusty yet melancholic music and the fluctuation between the comical and the tragic.

Black costumes, introverted focus, subdued lighting and an evocative sound score contribute to the exquisite minimalism of Some Other Time. Tom Bevoort’s tasteful lighting sculpts not only the dancers but the maze of rooms which they form through manipulation of the black screens. Muted scenes unfold in which the dancers watch each other from behind the screens, moving behind, in front and through them in patterns of engagement and disengagement. Madoka Kariya and Xanthe van Opstal are lyrically exceptional in their understated display of complicated emotions. Faces surprise with open mouthed grimaces, there are flickers of hope as the space is briefly opened up with the wall of screens stripped back. However they are soon returned to create dividing barriers and a sense of mournful loneliness and inability to communicate ensues as the shadowy dancers seem to disappear into the black screens.

The rest of the programme although full of ideas and powerful performances feels bitty and lacks the sophisticated subtleties of the first section with its nuanced physical language and its inventive shaping of space. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti with its theme of a human orchestra is great to witness: each cast member kneels, planted on their own miniature platform, dramatically lit by spot lights while their upper bodies perform musical visualisation to an eclectic mix of orchestral greats. But the annoying, pretentious voice-over lecturing us on how art should be perceived, the arrival of many cacti plants and a toy cat thrown on stage reminds me of experimental student work that lapses into incoherence and doesn’t know when to stop.

Clug’s Mutual Comfort depicts four dancers in a cold dystopian landscape, stranded souls who watch each other but can’t seem to be able to enter each other’s world. Tormented in their neurotic head nodding and ungiving partnering the performers convey the awkwardness of humans and their inability to understand each other in a rapidly fractured, uncomfortable world. Clug does well with this pared down, reflective choreography and the dancers convey a maturity beyond their youthful years.

Bach’s Partita nr.1 throws three male dancers across the stage one by one in van Manen’s Solo. Here idiosyncratic movement quality is displayed but through a communal physical language of super-fast turns. Gregory Lau, Helias Tur-Dorvault and Miguel Duarte form a powerhouse of endurance and speed in this more classical crowd- pleasing piece. Yet although Solo could just be a macho display of technical ability it isn’t. The speed of the music keeps choreography restrained and egos in check. What emerges are three introspective character sketches of the men conveyed through sheer determination to keep on the beat.

Continues to Friday 20 May

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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