As I have said before on these pages, my only disappointment in coming to Holland has been the lack of drama in the theatres – I do miss a good play. However, in the performing arts this is more than made up for by the number of first-class contemporary dance companies in the country. And although dance, like football, recruits its participants from around the globe, it is good to see that there is ample opportunity in the Netherlands for discovering and bringing on its own talent. And it is good to see the country’s leading company, the Nederlands Dans Theater, running a programme to encourage and showcase those new young dancers.
The NDT’s Young Talent Project gives student dancers at Het Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague a chance to work with a professional company for three months and present the resulting body of work to a paying audience at the NDT’s currently makeshift home theatre, the Lucent Danstheater, in the centre of the city. Makeshift because the theatre is currently being rebuilt as part of a major development while the main companies perform at the Zuiderstrandtheater in nearby Scheveningen. The six short pieces in this programme were, very much by design, an extension of NDT’s normal repertoire and style.
Without giving much of a clue as to what was to come, the proceedings got off to a fairly conventional start with Lieder Ohne Worte to the Mendelssohn piece of the same name, premiered in The Hague in 1977. To the live accompaniment of an on-stage grand piano, four couples danced to Hans van Manen’s largely symmetrical choreography, culminating in a very nicely presented pas de deux.
For the second piece, Jiří Pokorný’s Walking in Colours, I spent the whole ten minutes with a big smile on my face. Loved it. It is not unusual in modern theatre for scene changes to take place in full view of the audience, so it was not surprising that after Lieder Ohne Worte two lighting bars were lowered to working height above the stage and technicians, dressed in the ubiquitous black, proceeded to adjust the lights and remove the grand piano. So, one hardly noticed when a girl, also in black, slowly walked on, stopped, inspected her wrist watch and then did not move. She was followed by others who wandered on, assumed a position and froze only to move on and be replaced a few moments later. All this in total silence as the technicians finished their chores. It was all very surrealistic.
Then a rather gruff American voice, belonging to Tom Waits, told an odd story of mistaken identity in a supermarket, followed by a song. By this time the movements had become faster and more numerous but the girl still patiently watched her watch. For a piece with very little “dance” and hardly any music, this was my favourite of the evening.
I also very much liked another ensemble piece, The Second Person by contemporary dance doyen Crystal Pite to music by Owen Belton, this also first performed by NDT in 1977. Danced by what seemed a younger group of steudents, the opening was breath-taking. On a sparsely lit stage the huddled, grey-clad, dancers appeared upstage left, operating and being led by a meter-high puppet which struggled forward but was constantly forced back by the wind as clouds scudded across the sky. It was a though we were watching a bunch of refugees or escaping prisoners. The excellent lighting added to what was the most exciting and dramatically satisfying piece of the evening.
Other smaller pieces were Link by Lukáŝ Timulak and Jiří Kylián’s Evening Songs. The finale was another excellent ensemble piece, the 2016 Bliss choreographed by Johan Inger to part of Keith Jarrett’s wonderful Cologne Concert. This was the most joyous moment of the evening and a fitting climax.
For me, the three pieces that involved the whole company were the most successful. The full ensemble of about forty young dancers was excellent. A few stood out, either because of their personality or technical ability, but it would be unfair to name names. With this level of talent graduating from Het Koninklijk Conservatorium, it is easy to see how the Netherlands in general, and the Nederlands Dans Theater in particular, maintains its status as one of the world’s leading exponents of modern and contemporary dance. With the young dancers we saw this evening waiting in the wings it is not a situation that I can see changing in the foreseeable future. Michael Hasted 30th November 2017
Photos by and © Sasha Grootjans