Review: NDT2 40th anniversary programme presents “some of the finest dancers in the world!”

Nederlands Dans Theater -mutual comfort © Joris-Jan Bos

Emily May reports from Berlin.

As you enter the packed, buzzing Haus der Berliner Festspiele (House of Berliner Festspiele in Berlin), a short walk away from the famous Kurfürstendamm, there is no doubt that Nederlands Dans Theater’s (NDT) reputation has preceded them.

However, it is not the main company that has attracted this ebullient audience, this is NDT2, the second company of Nederlands Dans Theater for dancers between the ages of 17 and 23. Though you would be mistaken if you thought being the junior company meant their performance was of a lesser exquisite and technical nature – it is in fact safe to say that these dancers are some of the finest in the world!

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, NDT2 has arrived in Germany with a diverse showcase of four works that are being shown in Berlin for the very first time. And what a treat it is the witness their premiere in the German capital.

First up is a mutual comfort by Romanian choreographer Edward Clug, which at first appears to be a work of pure abstraction. The quartet of two male and two female dancers are all dressed in skin tight tops, so that the audience can see and articulation of their torsos as they twitch and writhe in a manner which we are informed by the programme is typical of Clug’s choreography.

The performers seamlessly transition between these sharper, staccato isolations and liquid fluidity, providing great contrast and diversity in the unique, quirky movement language, which utilises the dancers’ technical aptitude, but does not fall foul of chucking in virtuosic steps that do not serve the physical exploration.

Nederlands Dans Theater mutual comfort © Joris-Jan Bos
Nederlands Dans Theater mutual comfort © Joris-Jan Bos

Whilst there is something inhuman and cold in the dancers’ exacting precision, the audience cannot help but read intimate relationships into their performance, especially when they break off into duets, as one female dancer pecks her male partner on the face suggesting a cheeky intimacy, whilst another tries to attach himself to an embracing couple suggesting isolation and jealousy.

One of the simplest but most interesting peculiarities of the piece is that the dancers stay engaged with the action even when standing still, though, this being said, they are never really still. Observing their fellow performers from across the stage, the dancers maintain a rippling energy through their bodies, that at times looks like a cool, relaxed, and encouraging nod of the head.

Nederlands Dans Theater Sad Case © Rahi Rezvani
Nederlands Dans Theater Sad Case © Rahi Rezvani

Sad Case, a work by long term NDT2 house choreographers Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, was originally created in 1998, and is (in this humble critic’s opinion) the stand out piece of the night. With a soundtrack of nostalgic Mexican mambo music, the dancers explode onto the stage, and perform bursts of crazy laughter, before snapping into neutrality, back into forced smiles, and then back to cold expressionless faces. These abrupt changes of emotional state, along with the mud smeared costumes and harsh, almost self-destructive movements, give the dancers an air of insanity.

However, their derangement is not pitiful, it is in fact rather amusing, reflecting Leon and Lightfoot’s “continual search for the tension between satirical and classic moments”. One of the main sources of humour is the direct correlation between the dance and music, as large hip thrusts and sexy bum wiggles are perfectly timed with sudden trumpet explosions.

It is worth noting that this piece was created during Leon’s pregnancy with her and Lightfoot’s first child, and therefore the emotional ambivalence seems to reflect the hormonal changes women experience during pregnancy.  

Nederlands Dans Theater Sad Case © Rahi Rezvani
Nederlands Dans Theater Sad Case © Rahi Rezvani

The last two pieces are harder to key into as, whilst every piece in the programme is largely abstract and non-narrative, this final pair seem to be less thematically strong, with Marco Goeckes’ Wir sage uns dunkles mainly being born out of encounters in the studio with the dancers, and Lightfoot and Leon’s Subtle Dust using the music of JS Bach (which has been hugely influential on their oeuvre) to explore the loose theme of transformation.

This being said, they still demonstrate the incomparable skill of the performers, and demonstrate unique choreographic choices. Goeckes’ piece is a veritable feast of influences, with the angsty music of Placebo sitting side by side with classical masters such as Schubert and Schnittke.

Nederlands Dans Theater Wir sagen uns Dunkles © Rahi Rezvani
Nederlands Dans Theater Wir sagen uns Dunkles © Rahi Rezvani

The dancers’ breath also forms a strong part of the sound score, and is utilised to keep them in time as they form tight, unified phalanxes, their silver fringed trousers accentuating their movements and giving a rock and roll edge to the work.

Meanwhile, Subtle Dust has a celestial feel, with a planetary-esque projection opening the piece, as two dancers bathed in a circle of light orbit each other with their limbs. As the piece expands and the Bach kicks in, it is a smorgasbord of avant-garde dance movements, yet there is still allusion to the context of the music in the subtle details of the costume, including a ruffle necked shirt, striped jester like trousers, and a long black dress coat.  

Reviewed on 12 October at Berliner Festspiele.