I much prefer contemporary to classical ballet. One of the reasons is its equality. In classical the boys are there in more of supporting role, literally, for much of the time, whereas in contemporary dance there is a complete equality with the girls often giving physical support to the boys. It’s all about working together, team work. And, as it happens, that was very much the theme of Bending the Walls, sub-titled An Ode to the Imagination.
This was part of a strand jointly sponsored by the Korzo and the Nederlands Dans Theater to bring on new choreographers. Although Spanish dancer and choreographer Fernando Hernando Magadan is not new and has been around for a long time – he joined NDT 2 in 2001 – this is his first major, full-length piece.
The decor for Bending the Walls consisted of a couple of dozen bricks, sometimes arranged in neat patterns, sometimes in a random pile, sometimes in a makeshift wall and sometime piled on the back of one of the dancers. The bricks were a metaphor for the value of collective strength – a lone brick is just a lump of baked clay but a strict, orderly arrangement of bricks is a wall. But, contrary to the work’s title, walls do not bend. When a wall loses its shape and structure it becomes weakened. So too, some would claim, does society. And this was what Magadan’s piece was all about – the individual trying to break away from the group and constantly being restrained or brought back.
For the four male and three female dancers, dressed in rust-red, green and brown colour co-ordinated tops and trousers, it was a constant struggle to keep the group intact, there was always one individual trying to break free.
The piece started in complete silence with a lone male dancer standing in a ring of bricks like a statue in an ancient stone circle. He is joined by five other dancers, moving together. It always amazes me that there can be such total silence in a large room with an audience of three hundred or so.
After a few minutes a solitary male figure crawls on from down stage right and the group withdraws to a rectangle of light in the opposite corner and watches. The lone dancer is gradually absorbed into the group and it is revealed that he has a brick on his back. The silence is broken and the struggle to keep the group together ensues to a soundtrack conceived by Luis Hernaiz. Sometimes aggressive percussion, sometimes semi-soothing piano and frequently speech, written and spoken by Gary Hill, the often mesmerising soundscape was an integral part of Bending the Walls. Peter Lemmens subtle, though often dramatic lighting, created the right mood and Annemarije van Harten’s costumes, though all different, just hinted at Big Brother uniforms.
This was not the first piece by Fernando Hernando Magadan who has created many short ballets and has been an important figure as a rehearsal director with NDT but with this, his first long work, we see the potential for him to become an significant and influential choreographer. I shall look forward to seeing his future projects. Michael Hasted 17th March 2018
Photo by Joris Jan Bos