Gauthier Dance’s CLASSY CLASSICS, the opening event of HOLLAND DANCE FESTIVAL 2020

Gauthier Dance’s Minus 16

With The Netherlands being one of the foremost nations in the world of contemporary dance it is fitting that it should present a truly international, and major, festival of the art. The Holland Dance Festival, now in its seventeenth year, opened last night in remarkable fashion at the windswept Zuiderstrand Theater in the presence of the former Dutch queen, Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix.

The event, entitled Classy Classics, was presented by Gauthier Dance which is the resident company at the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart. The programme consisted of five  . . .err . . . classy classics, pieces that have become established in the canon of contemporary dance over the past three decades.

First up was Malasangre by Cayetano Soto. To the irresistible strains of Fever by Cuban diva La Lupe, the theatre’s vast stage was revealed  in darkness save for fifteen circular pools of light covered with what appeared to be dried leaves but what we later learned were dead butterflies – not real ones we were assured. To what must be the definitive version of Guantanamera sung by La Lupe, the five guys, wearing only short skirts, or maybe kilts would be a better description, and the two girls, provided an energetic opening to the evening which would have been equally successful as a spectacular finale.

After a few words from the Festivals organiser, Samuel Wuersten, and Eric Gauthier himself, the second piece was an altogether different kettle of fish. William Forsythe’s elegant 1992 Herman Schmerman Duet included, unusually for contemporary dance, a lot of pointe work, beautifully performed by Bruna Andrade along with Nicholas Losada.

Johnny Cash’s heart-rending Hurt provided the opening soundtrack for Äffi by Marco Goecke. This was a piece of amazing virtuoso solo dancing by Theophilus Veselý which had the audience on its feet.

There was short front-cloth ceremony for the awarding of the prestigious Jiří Kylián Ring for outstanding contributions to modern dance. The winner this year was Marian Sarstädt, a former dancer with Scapino Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater who later became artistic director of the dance academy at the Royal Conservatory and a member of the artistic staff at NDT.

Eric Gauthier had long wanted to create a dance to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony but only found inspiration after a chance remark by a colleague. We are at a symphony concert with the conductor’s podium and an Orchestra of Wolves – only six of them but their menace and unruliness is clear. The foppish conductor in white tie and tails enters with a flourish of his baton. He happens to be a bird and it is clear as the symphony progresses that he is slowly losing control and ultimately we see that wolves will be wolves and the only thing left of the hapless conductor is a heap of green feathers on the podium. Great fun.

Next was the interval and it became clear to the ten remaining audience members who had not made the epic journey to the foyer for a drink that the show was continuing just for them. A lone male dancer stood sheepishly in from of the curtain. He became bolder and as the curtains opened he performed unbelievable feats on an empty stage to an empty auditorium. As the audience returned they realised what they had missed and by the time everyone was back in their seats the whole company had joined the lone performer. The house lights dimmed and the final piece of the evening Ohad Naharin’s enigmatic Minus 16 was underway to Dick Dale’s thumping rock version of Hava Nagila.

First performed by the NDT in 1999 there was something very Jewish about Minus 16. After the opening sequence of epileptic jiggering the ensemble was arranged on chairs in a semi-circle in their dark suits and white shirts and proceeded to perform a series of Mexican waves culminating in them all undressing and throwing their clothes into a heap in the middle. Because of the Jewish connection it made me think of the notorious Kanada in Auschwitz which served as a sorting and storage area for the confiscated belongings of prisoners.

But then it all changed and became joyous and joyfull as each member of the company descended into the auditorium to choose a partner from the audience for the final segment which was a sort of free-for-all danced  to Dean Martin’s smooth and silky Sway.

This was an impressive start to what promises to be a magnificent Festival. We shall be covering several more events, so watch this space.    Michael Hasted    23rd January 2020.

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