Review – Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Birmingham Hippodrome, 3rd May 2016

NDT2This was one of those no-brainer bookings. We haven’t seen NDT2 perform since 2007, having discovered them in 1997 and seen them seven times over the following decade. You could call them the youth faction of the Dutch National Dance Company, its performers being strictly limited to those aged between 18 and 23. After that they get promoted to the Premiership level of NDT1. And for those aged over 40, there’s an NDT3 too. Over the years we’ve seen them rise to the challenges of fantastic choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Hans van Manen, Lightfoot Leon, Johan Inger, Ohad Naharin, and many others.

I new thenPaul Lightfoot, currently Artistic Director of Nederlands Dans Theater, is quoted in the programme as saying “we don’t do strong narrative works”. I read that in the first interval, having tried desperately hard to find a narrative in the first dance of the evening, Johan Inger’s I New Then. It was with some relief that I realised that Paul Lightfoot had already tacitly agreed with me that there wasn’t one. What was clear from the very start was that the quality of NDT2’s dancers is as amazing as it ever has been. Whether in the solos, or partner work, or as part of a full ensemble, the precision, the commitment, the athleticism and the sheer exuberance of each dancer is remarkable.

Gregory LauIn an attempt to find the narrative (that wasn’t there), it seems to me that the strength of I New Then comes from the dualities of freedom of expression versus imprisonment, of control versus submission. Expect the unexpected with this dance; whether it be the sudden appearance of a forest of poles that you didn’t realise were there; or the slow undressing by two of the dancers (don’t worry, they don’t go all the way); or the abstract vocalising by one of the dancers as he witnesses this undressing, which takes on a life force of its own. Mrs Chrisparkle wasn’t convinced by this series of ohs that culminate in a shrieking sequence. Not that Guido Dutilh didn’t do it brilliantly (there’s a star in the making, for sure) or that the audience didn’t appreciate it – indeed many audience members were laughing their socks off. She just wasn’t sure of its relevance to the piece, other than simply finding a new way to do something different in the world of dance. But then she’s never been convinced of avant garde for avant garde’s sake. I understand where she’s coming from though – that aspect of that dance was perhaps a trifle tedious.

Cacti no CactusOur second dance of the night was Edward Clug’s mutual comfort (deliberately no capitals, apparently). Again, no point looking for a narrative; this dance for four people is characterised by a fascinating choreography that combines sparky, disjointed, and almost brutal actions with really smooth and silky moves. This was the first appearance that evening of the dancer Gregory Lau who struck me as being the company’s truly outstanding dancer of the night. But I also thought Katarina van den Wouwer danced superbly in this deceptively simple short piece – just eleven minutes. After a pause we were treated to a stunning performance of Hans van Manen’s Solo, where three dancers (ironically) all perform aspects of one character. It was an exceptional display, with Benjamin Behrends, Miguel Duarte and Gregory Lau all giving us immaculate spins, remarkable fluidity of movement and a true opportunity to show off their athleticism and power. Even though it’s only seven minutes long, afterwards Mrs C commented, “that was worth the ticket price alone”. It certainly was. A real tour de force.

CactiThe final dance of the night, occupying the traditional “crowd-pleaser” slot, was Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, a very tongue-in-cheek piece that deconstructs beautifully all that pompous pontificating by dance reviewers. Instantly full of high impact, as it starts with all sixteen dancers on the stage, perched on what appear to be recycled packing pallets, making as much noise as they like by tapping, patting, thumping and stomping around, not forgetting making all those gasps, sighs and other aspirations that us unfit people make when we’re overdoing the exercise. In other scenes these pallets are upended, with the dancers performing behind and partly on top of them, as if they were swimmers in a pallet sea, constantly creating visual jokes that work wonderfully well.

G DutilhInterspersed with the exhilarating rhythms that really encourage the athletic dancing, there are some wonderfully po-faced spoken word tracks that try to dissect and make sense of the dance, always in the most riotously pompous way. At one stage, the opinion is voiced that the true power of the dance stems from the cacti themselves (yes there are real (or very good look alike) cacti as part of the performance. There’s another wonderful scene where you can hear an imaginary conversation between two dancers as they work their way through their routine, essentially providing a running commentary on what they’re doing, and whether they think any particular movement has intrinsic artistic merit. It’s all very funny and cleverly done. And who can forget the dead cat?

dancersWe didn’t stay for the Q&A session afterwards as we had a train to catch and it seemed very naughty being at large in Birmingham after 10pm on a school night. Thank you to Dance Consortium for bringing NDT2 back to our shores; we have missed them very much and it’s a thrill to see that they are as exciting and rewarding a watch as ever. They’re still to tour to Plymouth, Nottingham, Brighton and Sadler’s Wells – don’t miss the opportunity to catch them.

Production photos by Foteini Christofilopoulou

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