Review: Nederlands Dans Theater in ‘Wings of Wax/Signing Off/Tar and Feathers’ at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 2 - 5 Apr 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 3 April 2008

NDT’s special formula creates a unique dance style. It is obviously to do with great dancers – who stay – working with the same great in-house choreographers; the product is unending, rich, nectarean fluidity in their movement quality. Nectar is the mythological drink of the gods and that sounds about right.

This brief Sadler’s Wells engagement, the beginning of a Dance Consortium UK tour, presents a double Dutch helping of Ji?í Kylián’s modern masterpieces, starting with *Wings of Wax* (1997) and concluding with the more recent *Tar and Feathers* (2006). Actually, there isn’t a great deal that is Dutch about the current make-up of NDT, since only one of their 26 dancers is home-bred, a refreshingly non-nationalist profile when one considers how much angst there is about the lack of British dancers in the Royal Ballet.

*Wings of Wax* _is right up there in the pantheon of modern dance classics and one of Kylián’s finest works. It is themed from the story of Icarus (who flew so high that the sun melted the wax in his wings) and the curtain opens to the beautiful, intensely dramatic imagery of a large tree suspended upside-down over the stage, circled by a perambulating spotlight. The shading impact of this simple travelling light on the eight, darkly-costumed dancers – under the stark symbol of the proud tree turned on its crown – is mesmerisingly effective. Dramatic imagery is also central to _*Tar and Feathers*, where a piano on stilts sits many feet above the stage and what appears to be a block of ice, wrapped in bubble wrap and lit from within, sits upstage in the right-hand corner. Sound, too, plays a major part in Kylián’s theatrical wizardry; the pace of Wings of Wax changes dramatically as the score travels to and from the early and late Baroque compositions of von Biber and Bach, intermingled with the modern work of Cage and Glass; in Tar and Feathers, Haubrich’s original music, based on Mozart, is overlaid with sound of an angry dog snarling and the bronchial delivery of Samuel Beckett’s final, deathbed poem, ‘What is the word’. The latter was effective, the mad dog much less so and more annoyingly interruptive.

Sandwiched between these two works was *Signing Off*, by NDT resident choreographers, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León, providing an enigmatic interlude, which resembles Kylián’s theatricality from the off; with Shirley Esseboom performing a sinuous solo as the curtain rises, only for a second curtain to fall momentarily to reveal, when drawn up again, a new dancer (Valentina Scaglia) in the same poses; this trickery continues with another curtain drop exchanging the girl for four men. Dance is performed against the effective backdrop of a huge proscenium-high swathe of black silk, rippling in the wind. Lightfoot León’s movement doesn’t have the range and depth of the dance in Wings of Wax, but their choreography incorporates the most diverse ways to spin from any angle.

The performance qualities of the thirteen dancers showcased in this programme was consistently brilliant. Of particular note were the four exhilarating duets that formed the backbone of Wings of Wax and the slow, feline grace of Lydia Bustinduy as the dominant feature of Tar and Feathers. The whole programme’s dance content only just topped an hour but the remarkable excellence in every aspect of the performance made us feel anything but short-changed.

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