A triple bill of youthful power and energy from NDT 2

Sadler’s Wells, London
February 19, 2022

Describing NDT 2 as Nederlands Dans Theater’s ‘junior’ or ‘second company’ company always feels slightly belittling. There is absolutely nothing ‘second’ about this fine ensemble of young, emerging artists as this varied triple shows. Combining the unique expressionism of Marco Goecke, the modern classicism of Hans van Manen, and the quirkiness of John Inger, they make the dance come truly alive. It’s a real treat not to be missed.

Made soon after his father’s death, Goecke’s 2021 creation The Big Crying more that touches on the inevitability of parting, while also managing to celebrate life and the joy of living. When dancers scuttle on one by one and leap into the arms of a man, it feels like they are saying goodbye. What follows suggests a series of memories, things done; but perhaps things not done too. As the lyrics of ‘Blood Roses’, one of several dense but poetic Tori Amos songs heard in the soundtrack says, “Can’t forget the things you never said.”

Auguste Palayer, Cassandra Martin and Nick Daniels of NDT 2
in The Big Crying by Marco Goecke
Photo Tristam Kenton

Darkly lit by Udo Haberland and with costumes by the choreographer that reference the curtains of a hearse, it is deeply handsome. The staccato movement could only be Goecke. Runs are with quick short steps, arms held tightly to the body. In duets, the accentuated, animated, jerky movement suggests conversation. Bursts of energy feel like bursts of thought as dancers try to come to terms with, and deal with, their bottled-up pain. They grimace, scream silently and use their hands to show flowing tears. It has a tense fluidity and is in its own way very beautiful.

The precision is pin-sharp. The cast leave you wondering how such fast, dissonant, stop-motion type movement can be so clear, and be so loaded with meaning. Not only does the power and energy of the dancers leap from the stage, but so does the message of The Big Crying as a whole. It is an utterly compelling opening.

Hans van Manen has always been fascinated with interpersonal connections. As he once quipped famously, “As soon as I place two people in an empty room, I express a mood or relationship.” Simple Things, created a little over 20 years ago, and a gentle piece for two men and two women, does just that.

It opens and closes with a duet for the two men. Like a couple of best friends joshing happily, Emmitt Cawley and Kele Robinson dance high-spiritedly for each other to the upbeat accordion music of Alan Bern’s Scarlatti Fever.

Cassandra Martin and Emmitt Cawley in Simple Things by Hans van Manen
Photo Tristram Kenton

When they are joined by Cassandra Martin and Annika Verplancke for a series of pas de deux, Haydn piano compositions help give the dance a more elegant, gentler, softer tone. The modern classical choreography flows like a dream. Lines are lean and long, lifts and leaps are light and airy. And yet, does the fact that each dance is watched from a distance by the other man suggest something a little deeper is also at play. Just a hint of jealousy, perhaps?

Four people. Relationships. But perhaps not so simple after all. Even so, after the edginess of The Big Crying, Simple Things brings easy relief, a work to sit back and watch with a smile.

The evening ends with Johan Inger’s IMPASSE, a look at the effects of peer pressure and how we can so easily fall under the spell of and follow what others say or do. It is a deep subject, although Inger never comes too heavy, treating it with a light touch. Indeed, you could probably ignore it if you wanted to, and just enjoy the fantastic, exuberant dancing for what it is.

It opens enigmatically, slightly comically but with a hint of film noir. A girl emerges from a barn-like house outlined in neon strip lights. An almost immediate change of mood sees Verplancke, Austin Meiteen and Emmitt Cawley emerge from the building, like children coming out to play. Their dance is lively and carefree as it bounces along good-humouredly to French-Lebanese composer and trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf’s seductive jazzy score.

Annika Verplancke and Austin Meiteen in IMPASSE by Johan Inger
Photo Tristram Kenton

But, slowly, dancers in black appear and hem them in. The dance becomes more of a blur, the mood taking an aggressive turn. As they succumb to peer pressure, the original threesome lose their freedom and individuality. A rumba sees the arrival of a third group, this time a bunch of assorted carnival-style figures led by a woman in a glittering sequined leotard and blue-feather headdress. It’s a colourful, chaotic, riot. Again, Inger invites us to see how easily people follow the crowd.

But Inger does leave us with hope and a way out. As the scrim starts coming down, the threesome manage to escape (just!) despite the best efforts of the others to drag them back. It ends as enigmatically as it started as, now alone, and quiet, they look quizzically at each other and us.

It’s a super end to an evening of outstanding choreography featuring incredible young dancers. Don’t miss it as it heads off on tour.

NDT 2 continues to Norwich, Nottingham, Plymouth, Canterbury, Inverness, Newcastle, Dublin, and Edinburgh. Visit danceconsortium.com for dates and booking links.