Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nederlands Dans Theater

presented by Cal Performances
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
October 23rd, 2013

Cal Performance’s dance season is off to a brilliant start with Nederlands Dans Theater’s two-night, mid-week engagement. These days, contemporary dance can be, and is, a lot of different things: mixed media, post-modern, interdisciplinary, dance theater. Though this variety and innovation is exciting for the genre, contemporary technique and contemporary movement can get a little lost in the overwhelming crowd of theatrical entities and performance tools. Nederlands Dans Theater has found the right balance. They are a true contemporary company – forward-thinking, risk-taking and cutting-edge – but at the same time, actively in pursuit of technical proficiency and clarity. If there ever was a company that defined what contemporary dance should be, it is this one.

Opening the program was 2009’s “Sehnsucht”, co-choreographed by Artistic Advisor Sol León and Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot. Created in Sonata form and accompanied by a phenomenal classical score, the work had a very clear tripartite structure, comprised of an exposition, development and recapitulation. Part one introduced a trio of dancers: a soloist, posed slightly right of center, and a duo inside of a large scene box that was suspended and inset in the scrim. Throughout this beginning statement, the scene box continually rotated as the two dancers performed a soulful duet. As the set changed, postures were altered; standing became sitting and then suddenly, morphed into swinging. Question arose - what plane were they dancing on; what surface was the floor? So, right from the start, it was clear that “Sehnsucht” was expressing and examining two different, but related themes: perception and perspective. And while the piece’s narrative and design challenged ‘what should be’, ‘what is expected’ and ‘what is’, the choreography was equally insightful. Incredible extensions and dramatic off-balance positions were coupled with low attitudes and simple tendus à la second.

Company members of Nederlands Dans Theater perform "Sehnsucht" Photo courtesy of Nederlands Dans Theater

As the men’s and women’s ensemble entered from the wings, the development of “Sehnsucht” was underway. Again, the audience was confronted with a new perspective and different perception – the arriving cast (both men and women) was costumed only in black pants. For this lengthy second segment, the stage was full of NDT’s remarkable dancers, flying through the air, eating up the space. Absolute wonder exuded during a recurring group sequence (developpé écarté followed by a side split jèté). The final recapitulation brought us back to the beginning scene and “Sehnsucht” concluded with a fitting cadence: the same contemporary pose that had opened the work.

This intermission was more than just a break, instead, it was an ‘audience choice’ situation. You could certainly go out into the lobby; however, if you opted to stay in the theater, the longer, twenty-five minute intermission was like an old-school, post-modern ‘happening’. Three dancers took turns slowly moving across the stage; methodically, carefully and at a snail’s pace. And while this Butoh-inspired pedestrian circuit was in progress, the curtain had been slightly raised, so you could also the crew transforming the stage for the second work.

As the lights went down, 2010’s “Schmetterling” (another piece of León/Lightfoot co-choreography) occupied the space. “Schmetterling” is a delightful and at times, very humorous, series of primarily solos, duets, and trios set to music by The Magnetic Fields and Max Richter. Another strong and clear narrative, the dance spoke to individuals and individualism but “Schmetterling” was not quite as compelling as “Sehnsucht”. Too much extra ‘stuff’ was present. The trench coat/dress/beret costumes were a little distracting, and there was a ton of ‘dance theater’ style facial expressions and vocalizations. Each of the variations in the piece was beautifully performed and creatively crafted and because of that, these extraneous elements weren’t really necessary. The dance and the choreography was abundantly strong; it didn’t need ‘more’.

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