Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nederlands Dans Theater 2

presented by City Dance
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco
February 16th, 2015

With undeniable mystique, creative presence and choreographic risk-taking, each performance of Nederlands Dans Theater draws its audience in. Monday night at the Palace of Fine Arts was no exception as City Dance presented Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in a one-night engagement. The diverse and varied program included four short contemporary dances created over the past twelve years: Johan Inger’s “I New Then”, “Sara” by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, and two works by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, “Shutters Shut” and “Subject to Change”. The company dancers were at their technical and artistic best; the choreography was breathtaking and challenging; the house was packed. It was a great night of contemporary dance performance in San Francisco.

The evening opened with the longest of the four works, Inger’s “I New Then” from 2012. Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, “I New Then” managed to span the dance genre spectrum, utilizing narrative expressionism, abstract contemporary movement, old-school unison jazz, and the requisite absurdity of dance theater. From a pure movement perspective, “I New Then” was fast-paced, engaging and very entertaining. Inger’s choreography is clever and it is dynamic. No question. But the choreographic phrase material and the overall structure of the work felt disconnected. There was a lot happening on stage, perhaps a little too much. The ongoing narrative (while deconstructed rather than linear) got lost in the constant stylistic shifts. And the two vocalization sections were precarious. Vocalization is common in dance theater, often used as an emphasizing or sometimes even an anesthetizing theatrical tool. In “I New Then”, the vocalization felt extraneous and not woven into the larger sense of the work.

A delightful dance interlude followed the first intermission, León and Lightfoot’s “Shutters Shut” (2003). A duet mixing stylized mime with contemporary choreography, “Shutters Shut” was both gorgeous and compelling. In just four minutes León and Lightfoot made a rather broad and successful statement on specificity, with distinct movement, gestural precision and facial enunciation.

Photo: Rahi Rezvani
Amid a smoky atmosphere, a waved, cycled lighting design set the stage for Eyal and Behar’s mystical, otherworldly “Sara” (2013). The brilliance in this dance is how it managed to appear futuristic and substratal at the same time. Coordinating movements (right arm and right leg) were favored over typical opposition (right arm and left leg), giving the work a primitive, animalistic tone. Then, it moved seamlessly into the ultramodern age. A group of dancers upstage right marched and shuffled in place while a center stage soloist lip-synced to the score in an exaggerated fashion. Very avant-garde.     

NDT2 definitely saved the best for last with 2003’s “Subject to Change” by León and Lightfoot. Aside from some more unnecessary vocalizations, “Subject to Change” was a pure joy from start to finish. The dance began with stoic formality as four men ceremoniously maneuvered a large rolled carpet (later revealed to be red in color) upstage. Soloist Alexander Anderson stepped across the carpet and into a technically stunning variation, where sky-high extensions spoke of artistry, not acrobatics. All of the dancing was just beautiful - the expansive and big phrases as well as the intricate and subtle sequences. My favorite moment was of a quiet nature, where soloist Katarina van den Wouwer slowly walked up Anderson’s leg, her feet articulating like a cat’s paw. Throughout the dance, the red carpet was shifted, adjusted, folded and spun. Sometimes the alterations were anticipated; sometimes not. Circumstances and situations were in a constant state of flux, hence the well-chosen title. And as the two soloists navigated these changes, we saw a host of genuine reactions – surprise, struggle and steadfastness.

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