When it was announced that British actor, director and founder of the UK theatre company Complicité, Simon McBurney, was to work with Nederlands Dans Theater on three productions I thought wow, now there’s a match made in heaven. Following the deal, it was announced that NDT stalwart Crystal Pite was extending her tenure with the company to work as choreographer with McBurney. The second of their joint ventures, Figures in Extinction  is part of NDT’s new show, From Here Now Far which premiered last night at the Amare in The Hague. Their first collaborative work, Figures in Extinction [1.0] premiered in The Hague last year and was awarded Zwaan (Swan) for the most impressive dance production at the 2022 Nederlandse Dansdagen.
First on tonight’s triple bill was Gabriela Carrizo’s La Ruta (The Road), truly the stuff of which dreams are made – nightmares more like. We find ourselves on a lonely stretch of road on a dark misty night, a bus shelter our only refuge and source of light – although other lights come from myriad vehicles hurtling by. Rubbish swirls around and an orange-overalled, hard-hatted workman constantly fiddling with a roadside electricity junction box provides occasional extra illumination.
What is unusual about this is that there is very little dance in the conventional sense – not that you expect convention from the NDT – it is like one of those episodic horror films but with a fair amount of writhing, although there is a very nice pas de deux at one point. The whole thing is all a bit scary, especially the sequence where a distraught young woman gets out of a car, hurling insults at the invisible occupant and doing significant damage with her handbag. There is an even more frightening bit when one of the protagonists attacks the others with a very large rock, complete with squelching sound effects as the object strikes home. Oh, and a flock of white geese flies by and provide some of the soundscape. Although La Ruta is credited to Gabriela Carrizo, it was the eight dancers who worked with her to create this amazing piece of theatre.
Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Jakie is also very much an ensemble piece. The action also takes place in a large, impersonal and formidable space. The dimly lit stage is like a vast underground cavern with the dancers huddled together, moving in a haphazard unison. Effectively naked in their flesh-coloured leotards they seem a vulnerable group with individuals seldom daring to venture far from the pack. Alon Cohen’s lighting, although static, does much to create the atmosphere and the music includes some bone-shaking bass, inexorably and physically drawing the audience into the performance.
Figures in Extinction  is essentially about the trials and tribulations of life in the twenty-first century and the pressures and restrictions we all face. The separation from our true nature adds to our alienation and isolation. We are lead to believe that one way or another, the end of the worlds is nigh – but then history shows it always has been. But one thing is for sure, the end of the world for each of us individually is bound to come and the millions who are dispossessed, starving or innocent victims of violence will tell you it already has.
The action starts dramatically enough with the curtain rising onto a silent stage, the twenty dancers all wearing smart grey suits and ties sitting in orderly rows of chairs. Predictably, they start checking their phones – a not insignificant cause of human isolation – their faces illuminated by the glow. They listen to the radio.
Figures in Extinction  is essentially built around the spoken word to which the dancers react. This emphasis on text is perhaps not surprising from a director whose main work is in drama. The piece is effectively an animated lecture extracted from The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist. The premise is that our society is suffering from the consequences of an over-dominant left hemisphere of the brain, losing touch with its natural regulative half on the right – not much we can do about that I would have thought. Now this might sound fairly heavy going, even esoteric stuff but Mr McBurney skilfully introduces a lot of humour to the proceedings and handles it with a light touch which draws the audience in and keeps it enthralled. But what of our fate? Maybe it’s not too late and things can be done to correct the imbalance – as Shakespeare said, “Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends”.
During the constant, seamless flow of movement the dancers each lip-syncs to the odd sentence or passage and one point one of the dancers gets out his phone and films the action up close and personal, the pictures projected live onto the back wall.
Towards the end a subtle revolution takes place, suits and ties are cast off, the slender stalks of freedom are grasped and signs of emotionally tenderness are witnessed.
From Here Now Far is the best triple bill from NDT for some time and although Figures in Extinction  is an important and significant addition to the company’s repertoire I have to admit that La Ruta is possible my favourite piece, not only in this programme, but of all time.
From Here Now Far is performed under the umbrella of the Holland Dance Festival and demonstrates why The Netherlands in general, and NDT in particular, can be considered leading players on the world stage of contemporary dance. Michael Hasted 9th February 2024
From Here Now Far continues until the end of February at Amare and then tours until 9th March
Photo of La Ruta by Rahi REZVANI