SOL & PAUL XXX at Zuiderstrand Theater in Den Haag and on tour

Sol León and Paul Lightfoot have provided the artistic and creative backbone from which the Nederlands Dans Theater has developed over the past thirty years to become one of the best, if not the best contemporary dance companies in the world. Sol & Paul XXX, which was premiered last night, celebrates those three decades.

Bringing together five seminal pieces by the couple provided a masterclass in not only how to do contemporary dance but theatre itself. León and Lightfoot are very aware that dance is theatre and no aspect of that art and science are overlooked or neglected. In fact, I think the show should be called Sol & Paul and Tom Bevort Too because the lighting for all of the pieces was spectacularly amazing and often came close to upstaging the dancers.

First up in the evening, something that the French would describe as le best of, was Start to Finish, the oldest piece, dating from 1996. The first impression as the curtain rose was of the lighting with a row of about a dozen or so spots on a single truss running up and down stage, about three meters off the ground.

Inspired by the sad story of George III of England and his decline into and subsequent recovery from madness, Start to Finish likewise reveals the progress of a relationship. In the semi-darkness we hear rather ominous drumming as the pair of dancers enter from upstage as the lighting rig gradually rises, providing the only lighting for the piece. He, an excellent Guido Dutilh, is shouting, ranting with incomprehensible words and sounds as the drummers slowing move forward, line abreast, out of the darkness. They are four middle-aged men in old military-style uniforms, looking quite sinister. The music starts, Purcell’s Funeral March for Queen Mary, and the drummers, as if by magic, are playing in time to it. They fade away, their work done, and the piece goes through several changes of mood as more dancers appear. The music veers between Thomas Tollet and the Cranberries, Albinoni and Handel as the relationship develops.

In the final moments a low spotlight is shone into the audience and a television is wheeled on, showing a grainy old black and white film. Maybe all relationships, no matter how passionately they start, finish in front of the telly. Finally, all the dancer strip off and make their way, naked, off-stage into the gloom, leaving just the flickering television proclaiming a doleful Fin.

Next was a short front-cloth piece, Shutters Shut, a charming and witty amuse-bouche, nicely performed by Aram Hasler and Chuck Jones to an original 1912 recording  of Gertrude Stein reading her poem If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.

Subject to Change provided a masterclass in creative carpet rolling and manipulation. The fine pas de deux by Yukino Takaura and Oliver Coeffard was performed on a three meter square carpet which was constantly being moved by four men in suits to the second movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.

The penultimate piece, Shoot the Moon, was another spectacular major production, taking place in a series of adjoining rooms provided by an ingenious three-way revolve. As we moved through the rooms – a hotel? an apartment block? – we meet the sad and lonely occupants. Danced to Philip Glass’s (of course) Movement II from Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra we feel like voyeurs, a feeling enhanced by the use of live, surreptitious video projected above the rooms, into a world of almost Edward Hopper-like solitude.

Last, but by no means least, was Same Difference, performed again to the ubiquitous Mr Glass (I sometimes think contemporary dance would not exist without him). This was a playful piece, like an entertaining nightmare where the only thing the seemingly random elements have in common is that they are all in the same dream.

Again, as in the first piece, and unusually for dance, there were a lot of verbals coming from the seven dancers who spoke in strange tongues, sometimes with a hint of French, a bit of Japanese, some pseudo-posh English and a lot of gibberish. Wonderful though the performances, concept and choreography were, it was Tom Bevoort’s lighting which was, to me, the star of this piece. The ever-changing, constantly moving array of light with the beams cutting through the haze like probing searchlights, was remarkable and I think I can safely say that it was the most spectacular lighting I have seen on a stage, save perhaps for a major rock concert.

With Sol & Paul XXX, NDT, as usual and predictably, has proved and enhanced its status. It is always a jaw-dropping joy to watch them but amazingly, even when reprising existing work, they are always fresh and exciting.

The best evening I have spent in a theatre in a very long time and all thanks to Sol and Paul, and Tom too.   Michael Hasted   11th May 2019

 

 

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