David Mead is at the Birmingham Hippodrome
May 3, 2016
Nederlands Dans Theater 2 got the theatre programme of the International Dance Festival Birmingham off to a cracking start at the Hippodrome in an evening that showcased wonderfully the youthful talents and energy of the dancers, and that just got better and better as it went on.
The best came last, Alexander Ekman’s witty and rather tongue-in-cheek Cacti, which does indeed include lots of cacti, alongside a clever set of blocks, sort of mini personal dance stages manipulated by the cast, and a dead cat (yes, really!).
Cacti starts with the whole ensemble as a ‘human orchestra’, each dancer on their own plinth. The dancers echo and amplify the music (an arrangement of Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven) but better still create their own percussion as they breathe loudly, stamp and slap their way through the section. When the blocks are formed into a makeshift wall, we are treated to a fun game of hide and seek. There’s also a great sequence of dancers running on the spot. But the highlight is undoubtedly an extended duet (Katarina van den Wouwer and Gregory Lau) accompanied by a voiceover that allows us to hear the (supposed) conversation and inner thoughts that the couple have as the dance. It’s often very amusing. “You always get that wrong,” says one. “That was close,” says the other after a near miss.
There are deeper meanings and motives in Cacti, which is essentially a tongue-in-cheek mocking of all that is supposedly past-modern. Collaboration is what it’s all about, a voiceover tells us. ‘Can you really believe what you see?’ is an underlying question. Do the cacti really represent the journey of life from beginning to end, or is it all just some big joke. Is that cat an oblique reference to Schrödinger? Probably. Take it as you will, but do enjoy the absurd fun it all is.
Preceding Cacti, Hans van Manen’s Solo is a classic study in simplicity from the master of Dutch dance. Three men (Lau, Benjamin Behrends and Miguel Duarte) portray a single man examining his place in the world. Typical of van Manen, the dance is full of little looks as they acknowledge each other as they come and go in turn. The dance itself is a feast of fast leaps and sharp turns, the intensity and fluidity gradually increasing over the seven minutes. Great stuff.
The opening I New Then by Johan Inger to music by Van Morrison features an awkward man, sort of the guy left out amid all that is happening around him. He becomes tormented when he sees a couple of lovers from his hiding place in a forest of steel poles. He’s full of odd antics and vocals, screeches and howls, which can be seen as funny, but that I found slightly uncomfortable. It is a little difficult at first, but Inger’s choreography slowly draws you in and wraps itself around you. A huge breath of optimism shines through at the end as the whole cast strip to their underwear and dance exuberantly to Crazy Love.
Completing the programme, mutual comfort by Edward Clug is a sharply detailed quartet packed with tension-filled bodies. There are ballet references, but positions are angular and awkward and change suddenly. Poses are strange and complex. As throughout the evening, the dancers’ strength and clarity of line was at a level not seen as often as it should be. A fascinating if not easy watch.