Defining contemporary dance today: Nederlands Dans Theater in London

Sadler’s Wells Theatre
June 28, 2018

Maggie Foyer

NDT made a welcome return to London with two works by the directorial duo, Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, plus the sandwich filling of works by Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke. It was a packed evening of contemporary dance, right in the moment and never less than fully engaging.

In some ways Crystal Pite’s work, The Statement, is the most distinctive, arising from a different place, it is a dance-drama in the mould of Betroffenheit. Four well-intentioned people seem to be engaged in an exercise of self-preservation in a situation where the paradigm has shifted. The moral compass is loosened as human rights issues, never legally anchored, are appropriated to justify brute force in solving problems from hell.

Pite translates the inner turmoil in anxious nervous movement as the dancers perform a sort of latter-day Green Table, gesticulating across the boardroom. Her movements are articulated with luminous clarity by the versatile dancers aided by the voice overs from Jonathan Young and colleagues. It’s a riveting work on a very present ethical dilemma.

Nederlands Dans Theater in The Statement by Crystal PitePhoto Ravi Rezvani
Nederlands Dans Theater in The Statement by Crystal Pite
Photo Rahi Rezvani

The works of Marco Goecke, the acclaimed German choreographer are seldom see here, which is a pity as he has a lot to offer. He has a special brand of high intensity, brilliantly coordinated movements that twin with the rasping tremolo in Jeff Buckley’s voice, seeming to operate just under combustion point. Woke up Blind is set to two of Buckley’s love songs: ‘You and I’ and ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’. Far from typically romantic, he sings of love that is harsh, real and sometimes painful and the dancers writhe and stretch to find a similar emotional core. It’s a combination made in heaven.

Shoot the Moon, León & Lightfoot’s award-winning piece from 2006 grips from the very beginning. Philip Glass’ music unsettles in just the right measure, stripping any protective layer so each note finds a nerve end to set aquiver. The wallpaper and frocks hint at another age but the emotions, the intimate contact and the fractured communication is timeless. It is also one of the most inspired compositions: three revolving rooms are interlinked while cameras in the wings catch the view hidden from the audience and project it above the set. The setting shows the corporeal reality while the movement catches the deeper relationship. Pent up emotions seep through the walls, doors and windows encapsulating the complexities of life in movements that speak of longings and desires.

Nederlands Dans Theater in Stop-Motion by Paul Lightfoot and Sol LeónPhoto Rahi Rezvani
Nederlands Dans Theater in Stop-Motion by Paul Lightfoot and Sol León
Photo Rahi Rezvani

Stop-Motion to Max Richter’s music is another highly complex piece of art from León & Lightfoot, an amalgam of movement, sound and visuals. It is built on the qualities of the NDT dancers whose technical proficiency and artistic sensibilities enable them to create the finest nuances of expression. The stage is a canvas where ideas come to life in unexpected form. A monochrome projection of a young woman (Saura Lightfoot-León) is fixed in the top right corner of the stage; never imposing but subtly modifying each scene. She moves almost imperceptibly turning to present a pensive tear-stained face, or dribbling dust through her fingers and often simply showing her impassive back.

The choreography blends styles and shapes echoed in costumes that are only suggested through a fragment. There are allusions to the past and hints of the future as ideas build, transform and are destroyed in a pile of dust. The white powder is delivered, as one might expect, in a piece of innovative choreography as a load is dumped centre stage. White powder on sweaty bodies and clouds of dust pieced by shards of light create magic in the latter half of this utterly compelling work. Each of the company dancers deserves mention, each is singular, distinctive, unique and as a collective NDT is the dance voice of the century.