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Nederlands Dans Theater

Nederlands Dans Theater


                                 by R. Pikser 

In its too-short stay at City Center, the Nederlands Dans Theater gave us a nearly three hour long evening of pieces, each of which demonstrated in its own way that the vocabulary of what is called Contemporary Dance can be used to express ideas of some depth.  The three pieces also demonstrated the international character of the company.  One was by Argentinian Gabriela Carrizo, one was by former company member Marco Goecke (originally from Germany), , and one was by company directors Sol Léon (Spain) and Paul Lightfoot (England).

The opening piece, by Ms. Carrizo, The Missing Door, is just as relevant, if not more so, now than it was in 2013 when it was created for the NDT.  A light on the dark stage calls our attention.  As the lights come up, we see a man and a woman sprawled, one on a chair, one on the floor.  They might be dead or they might have simply passed out.  When a formally dressed butler-type person comes in and pulls the woman into the space behind a door, one question is answered:  She is dead.  But other questions arise.  The man is left on the chair as the butler starts to meticulously clean the floor.  What is the status of the man?  Why does the butler ignore him?  The butler, working harder and harder, starts to spin on one knee and to do other difficult steps, but not to show off to us.  The steps are merely part of his intense cleaning.  Eventually, the cloths start to get away from him, taking on a life of their own and his pursuit of them lets us see more extraordinary technique, but always in the service of the idea being conveyed.  Then the man sits up and the woman comes back.  They embrace and she is shot by someone behind a mirror.  She rises and falls.  A maid enters bringing a chair.  Later, she carries out washing.  Another couple appears.  Maybe they are alter egos.  There are embraces between them, too, but more violent.  Their duet is like a rape, which the woman doesn’t even seem to resist.  Doors on the two sides of the set open and close of their own volition.  At one point the butler tries so hard to open a locked door that he shakes the entire wall of the set and nearly brings it down.  From time to time, a man operating a floodlight shines it on one or another of the dancers.


What is happening?  The world is out of control.  The dead may rise again.  Or they may not.  We cannot control our environment, try though we may.  Perhaps we are all being raped.  What should we do?  Clean up and remain uninvolved, like the maid and the butler?   Are we truly locked in to our world?  Is there hope?  The most hope comes from the energy of the dancers, always in supreme control of their bodies no matter how they may seem to fling themselves around the stage.  Perhaps if they can survive, we can, too.

Mr. Goecke’s piece, Walk the Demon, is a critique of relationships rather than of society.  The repetitive, staccato movements but are contrasted from time to time with more lyrical and sensual movement.  The held in, jerky movements, whether performed by soloists or groups, come to seem like masturbation, while the more lyrical movements seem, from time to time, to reach out and embrace one or another dancer, though not with completely satisfactory results.  The main effect is of frustration.  The problem is that the audience, too becomes frustrated.  The choreographer needs to point up what he is trying to say, rather than reenacting it.

The final ballet of the evening, Shut Eye, premiered in 2016 in the Netherlands.  In contrast to Ms. Carrizo’s detailed set, the choreographers used distorted projections of objects and sometimes of amorphous shapes to help create a world that was meant to be surreal.  We started with a projected moon, under which a dancer, seemingly a sort of satyr judging from his sensual yet awkward movements, danced, first alone, then with a partner.  Again, the dancers’ total control of their bodies was extraordinary, yet always at the service of the movement, rather than of the dancer.  After a while, an ordinarily dressed couple entered through a door upstage center, which eventually became the entrance and exit for all the dancers, and seemed to lead to another world, or to provide the dancers from another world entrée into this one.  The ordinary folks danced with an edge of hysteria but it was not clear why.  This ballet had the most interesting shapes, whether in duets or in lines reaching from group to group when more people were on stage together.  These complex shapes were paralleled and reflected in the abstract projections.  Finally, the satyrs appeared again, as did the moon.  Whatever had transpired was not clear, but it was interesting and attracting as only live performance can be.

After the show, this reviewer heard some audience members saying, as a compliment, that Shut Eye could have been a film; surprisingly, they seemed unaware that, though the lighting effects and their integration with the choreography had been excellent, in the last analysis what had pulled us into the piece was the physical energy and discipline of the performers, and it was that physical energy that had so moved us.


Nederlands Dans Theater
March 3rd – 7th 2020
City Center 131 West 55th Street
New York, NY
Tickets $50

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