Nederlands Dans Theater is one of the best dance companies in the world, if not the best dance company in the world IMHO. It’s a bold claim, but on every occasion that I have been fortunate enough to see them in performance, I have been totally blown away. My perfect dream weekend away would be to go and see Arsenal play Ajax in Amsterdam, and then go to a Nederlands Dans Theater performance in their home city of The Hague. Last year I managed to get to The Hague to see the premiere of their Strike Root programme, so managed one out of the two but I guess the Arsenal/Ajax game will have to wait for another time! So whenever they are performing in the UK I try to see them. I am lucky to live relatively near Sadler’s Wells, the contemporary dance theatre, which makes it easier for me to see them when they perform in London.
Last night I managed to get tickets to see NDT2, Nederlands Dans Theater’s second dance company for young dancers aged between 18 and 23. Any fear that this would be like watching a school or student performance and that they wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as NDT1, their main company, were very quickly put aside. There was no shortage of technical mastery to go alongside youthful exuberance and the exceptionally lithe, supple bodies of youth like mercury flowing on the palm of your hand and as though all their tendons had been removed and replaced by elastic bands. Just how do they manage to get from lying down to standing up in 2 seconds as though they are puppets pulled up by their strings?
The London programme was a mixed bill of five pieces. The first three pieces, Schubert, Sad Case and Some Other Time, all by house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, ran without a break until the first interval. The music ranged from the sublime Adagio from Schubert’s string quintet in C, through Thermodynamics by Max Richter to a selection of up-beat Mexican mambo music in Sad Case. The music couldn’t have been more diverse, and yet each piece strangely complemented each other, and pulled at the emotional heart strings, having me in tears within 30 seconds at the beauty of the Schubert through to laughing out loud in the tremendously fun and ironic Sad Case. Between the first and second intervals were two intriguing pieces; Mutual Comfort by Edward Clug and Solo by Hans van Manen, the latter being performed by a tag team of three solo dancers who raced on and took turns to dance solo in this incredibly energetic piece set to Bach’s partita number 1 for solo violin.
The programme finished with Cacti by Alexander Ekman, set to music by a range of classical composers including Schubert, Mahler, Haydn and Beethoven. I’ve seen Cacti before, and it is brilliant; witty, funny, and a visual feast as well as again being energetic and rhythmic and requiring incredible precision in timing. The lighting, costumes and décor are all incredibly clever; the blocks that the dancers start dancing on become walls and platforms, the phallic cacti are an intriguing prop which contrast with the costumes which make the dancers seem identical and genderless, and the voice-over gently mocking and making fun of the process of dance was amusing and surprising even though I’d seen and heard it before.
Often with a mixed bill, you get some pieces that are superb and others that I can take or leave, but with this programme it was all jaw-droppingly brilliant. It was quite literally breath-taking at times; I found myself sitting with my mouth open, jaw dropped and holding my breath. Whenever I see NDT, whether NDT1 or NDT2, I am always incredibly impressed by their ensemble – they are just so together, and their timing is split second perfect with a level of ensemble that I have never seen in a British company like Rambert or English National Ballet. Although Cacti was the final piece, and a perfect finale at that, my favourite piece of the evening was Sad Case which I thought was utterly brilliant.
I left the theatre floating on a cloud of exhilaration, and can’t wait until I can see them again. If they come to a theatre near you, do everything you can to get a ticket for a night to remember for a long time.