Dance Review: Nederlands Dans Theater performs in Auckland

A feeling of anticipation in the theatre before the performance starts. Three dancers stand on the stage outside the curtain, their backs to the audience. Everyone slowly falls silent, clearly expecting to see something remarkable over the next couple of hours. They aren’t disappointed.

The production opens with Safe as Houses, choreographed by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, a work inspired by the I-Ching and the influence of changing spaces on humanity. A revolving wall creates different spaces as it slowly moves around the stage, with different dancers performing in groups, pairs and alone. A monochrome stage and sharp, strong movements give an abstract impression of different places and eras. Contrasting music echoes the change of the physical environment that the dancers find themselves in, and the movements of the group, along with melting walls and recurring characters, speak to the ability of people and patterns to survive changes and challenges.

A short break takes us to Marco Goecke’s Wake Up Blind, performed to two Jeff Buckley songs and embodying the feeling of young love. The first song is slow, and dancers move through the music, with strong, often jarring movements. The second piece is faster and the dancing matches it. The movements are intricate, energetic and physically demanding, and are barely constrained, almost losing control. Bodies twitch and tremble, then morph and blend in complicated, mesmerising steps. The passionate and extremely physical piece engages the audience and they respond positively to the energy and emotion.

Crystal Pite’s work is next, and it brings that energy to a climax. Modern, dynamic, and completely different to the other pieces, The Statement immediately arrests the audience’s attention. A dramatic work, performed to a script, it is engaging and engrossing, offering a cynical view of corporate life. The dancers are standing around a boardroom table, moving to a heated conversation which much of the audience can relate to. Amusing and almost comedic to start, the audio changes to a remixed version of the argument. The quick, sharp movements dissolve into a confusing dystopian mass, showing a grim reflection of a blameful society and corporate immorality. Darker than the other previous two works, there is a feeling of being trapped and unable to leave the inevitable cycle of the conflict and blame. Dramatic lighting creates vignettes on and off the table and the choreography uses the strength of the dancers to create fluid, seemingly effortless transitions. The effect is gripping, stark and somewhat disturbing.

In contrast, Stop-Motion (Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot ) is a beautiful, lyrical piece that feels almost like watching a dream. Supported by video transitions and with gentle echoes of the opening work, it plays with light and shadows, giving the audience a strong connection with the dancers. The dancing seems to give the music form and substance and is a sheer joy to watch. There is the sense of sharing a common vision that transcends the usual roles of performer and observer. At the end, all sense of artifice falls away, with the dancers performing on an unadorned stage, yet somehow the magic still remains.

Overall, the company performs beautifully, demonstrating their strength and technique. Despite the sheer physicality of the different performances, the dancers seem light and effortless with no visual indication of the effort some of the movements take. The simple, often androgynous costumes are modern and very understated, ensuring all attention is focused on the dancing.

The works are relatively abstract, with less form than many local productions. They seem to tug at fleeting ideas and emotions, leaving the audience uncertain about just what they’ve seen they speaks to them so powerfully. The production explores ideas of possibility and loss, yet the overall is effect is peaceful, serene, and absolutely beautiful to watch.

This review first appeared in Theatreview

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