Imre and Marne van Opstal, and Hofesh Shechter: Shadow’s Whispers by Nederlands Dans Theater

Live Stream from Zuiderstrandtheater, The Hague
February 15, 2021

Maggie Foyer

NDT 1 is a company that offers innovation and thrills. A company that strives to engages both heart and mind, it seldom disappoints but is was a very mixed bill. From England with Love, by Hofesh Shechter, an established choreographer, contrasts with Baby don’t hurt me, by Imre and Marne van Opstal, siblings and former NDT dancers now making their mark as choreographers.

Chloé Albaret and Donnie Duncan Jr. in Baby Don't Hurt Me by Imre and Marne van OpstalPhoto Rahi Rezvani
Chloé Albaret and Donnie Duncan Jr
in Baby don’t hurt me
by Imre and Marne van Opstal
Photo Rahi Rezvani

These are autobiographical times as isolated people find themselves in solitude and search for self-expression. The Van Opstals engage seamlessly in this world guiding the dancers as they explore the notions of identity and test the boundaries of real and artificial. These are tricky waters to navigate as the possibility of presenting the real person recedes as the dancer takes the stage as part of an artistic creation. Stripping down to underwear doesn’t hack it, revealing your unvarnished self may be good therapy but is this the real self? And is there a more interesting multi-facetted person hiding behind this mask?

Baby don’t hurt me moves to firmer ground as dancers select a clothed identity and find expression in movement. It is in the duets where the innovative choreography works well to reflect complex relationships. Nicole Ishimaru with Scott Fowler, two extrovert clubbers temper individual needs with mutual attraction to negotiate a shared space. Passions are aroused as Chloé Albaret and Donnie Duncan Jr eventually find harmony in an intense and quirky duet.

The company has some of the world’s best contemporary dancers but delivering text is another matter. Lydia Bustinduy, however, proves herself a consummate dance actress, bringing to life the small detail, first in words then in movement and in a variety of costumes. The work closes on a close-up of her face contorted and close to tears before she leaves the stage in a flood of light.

NDT 1 in Baby Don't Hurt Me by Imre and Marne van OpstalPhoto Rahi Rezvani
NDT 1 in Baby don’t hurt me by Imre and Marne van Opstal
Photo Rahi Rezvani

Hofesh Shechter’s From England with Love is the choreographer’s take on his adopted home. It’s always fascinating to see which aspects of a different culture grab the visitor’s attention. Shechter, surprisingly, goes for traditional home county tropes with Edward Elgar’s Nimrod and the hackneyed ‘royal wave’.

The large ensemble, all neatly dressed in school uniforms move in structured blocks of pulsing expectancy in the riveting movement style that has made Shechter’s work so popular. The hypnotic moves continue even as the music accompaniment moves upmarket to Tomas Tallis and Henry Purcell.

NDT 1 in From England with Love by Hofesh ShechterPhoto Rahi Rezvani
NDT 1 in From England with Love by Hofesh Shechter
Photo Rahi Rezvani

The ‘England’ of the title is well chosen as the work side-steps the multicultural vibrancy of London and the ‘love’ is heavily laced with irony. Shechter’s contemporary music takes over and the pumping beat brings out a rebellious streak in the ‘kids’. Neck ties become bandanas and shirts are unbuttoned as a slow motion riot results, and in the blinding light, dancers crawl around the stage to the sound of breaking glass.

The work closes on the funerary hymn, Abide with Me, the stage bathed in a red glow and dancers firing imaginary rifles. England is a divided country, think of an eccentric version of the USA. There are the comfortable pockets of Little Englanders, which catch Shechter’s attention, and the theme of rioting public school children which has been touched on so successfully in British cinema. But this cliched descent into a dystopian future seems an altogether too easy way out.