Nederlands Dans Theater
Shoot the Moon, Woke up Blind, The Statement, Stop-Motion
London, Sadler’s Wells
26 June 2018
Before the show I was asked what was special about Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT). “Amazing, world-class dancers.” was my reply and this quad bill, all of the works created on the company, really rammed that home and sent me away happy. Note not a word about the repertoire itself – which is mixed from 5 stars brilliant to 2 stars perplexing/indulgent – or it would be in lesser hands – it’s the dancers’ polish and power that raises all they do up another level.
Of the four pieces it was Crystal Pite’s The Statement that most stood out on the bill – she is the hottest contemporary choreographer in the world and justifiably so. Pite is taking dance in a new direction where the emphasis is not on the individual, or duets, but is often on groups of dancers organically working together in mesmerising ways. The Statement confirmed her stature, and in just 19 minutes with four dancers. Created with regular collaborator, playwright and actor Jonathon Young, it’s about political intrigue and dirty doings. The soundtrack is mostly words/and thoughts from the four protagonists – two from a department that has fuelled conflict overseas that now needs to be disowned and the other two from higher up the food chain trying to sort out a statement that pins the blame on anybody but those at the top. Pite translates all the words into blindingly direct movement – aggressive, passive, thoughtful, passionate movement that sees the group fracture and work in various combinations as they each try to shift the blame to stop themselves from being publicly “shafted”, as they would see it. Inventive and intelligent use of words is matched by inventive and clever dance and The Statement is the 5-star piece on the bill.
Marco Goecke’s Woke up Blind is also short at 15 minutes and doesn’t outstay its quirky welcome. It contrasts Jeff Buckley’s laid-back vocals and offbeat guitar with the twitchy and jerky movement of young men and women diving into love and emotional interactions. A dramaturge is listed as helping form the piece, but my main feeling was just being impressed by the speed, power and snap of the dancers in very fast and angular material.
The remaining two pieces, which bookended the night, are by long-term collaborators Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon (NDT artistic director and artistic adviser respectively) and these also impressed as providers of exciting movement that you can’t really imagine other companies doing the same justice to. But their staging is all about showmanship. In Shoot the Moon it’s a revolving stage showing three rooms and live video projections as three linked relationships are put under the microscope to some incessant Philip Glass. From the off Marne and Myrthe van Opstal grab attention for their technical ability and as the work progressed that’s what continued to impress – not the drama or live video which didn’t seem to add much above “Oh – the video is live”. Video was also a feature of the closing Stop-Motion – a rambling and beautifully shambolic piece about ghostly farewells and transformation, powered appropriately by a Max Richter’s dreamy piano and strings score. Besides the video (in slow-mo mode this time) we have chalk dust in abundance and, as the dancers flail and move around in it, we get stunning images, if I was moved not a jot emotionally or intellectually. There was a nice flying owl though. But ultimately I was still leaving the Wells on cloud nine thanks to the dancers.
When I reflect back I think Crystal Pite knows how to make amazing movement but, as importantly, how to make her point to the audience – certainly in The Statement and also in her recent pieces at The Royal Ballet and Scottish Ballet. The other pieces on this NDT bill also show off the dancers well, but they don’t connect with the audience so clearly – they perplex (possibly in a nice way for some) and look beautiful in their clever staging. But you get the feeling of too much busy slickness and navel contemplation going on – stripping back and concentrating on base communication would be a good thing. But then, as I keep saying, the NDT dancers are stunning enough to carry the day, be the repertoire stunning or otherwise.