When it was announced some weeks ago that British actor, director and founder of the theatre company Complicité Simon McBurney was to work with Nederlands Dans Theater on three productions over the next four years I thought wow, now there’s a match made in heaven. At the same time it was announced that NDT stalwart Crystal Pite was extending here tenure with the company. The fruits of their new partnership was presented tonight as part of NDT1’s final show of the season, Dreams 360.
You could see where they got the name from. Gabriela Carrizo’s La Ruta truly was 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. A orange-overalled, hard-hatted workman constantly fiddling with a roadside electricity junction box provided occasional extra illumination.
What was unusual about this was that there was very little dance in the conventional sense – not that you expect convention from the NDT – it was like one of those episodic horror films but with a fair amount of writhing although there was a very nice pas de deux at one point. The whole thing was all a bit scary, especially the sequence where a distraught young woman gets out of 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 flew by and provided 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. Loved it.
Roy Assaf’s How to Ruin a Dance was also a little unusual in that it was largely text based, in English. It was a bit like a 1950s American TV show. It started off with a tuxedoed, greasy-haired compere at a lectern requesting five volunteers from the audience. They took it in turns to read from a book on the said lectern, voicing the thoughts of the five dancers as they came on in gold lamé shorts or leotards to do their turn, either separately or together. The text was virtually the same for each dancer until the final one whose thoughts seemed to be on food rather than the performance. The music ranged from umpah band to John Denver’s Country Road, Take Me Home. Great fun.
Last up was what we had all be waiting for. Figures in Extinction [1.0] was the first collaboration between Simon McBurney and Crystal Pite and was a much more conventional affair, albeit with a good deal of spoken word, also in English. This was all about the effects of climate change and other man-made aberrations on wild life and the environment. We were taken through a sequence of cameos/tableaux highlighting the plight of animals and birds, each one announced with a surtitle caption – Figure I, Figure 4 etc. The first was almost the most dramatic – the Pyrenean ibex which became extinct in 2000. This amazing piece involved a single male dancer with two enormous ibex type horns on his arms. The plight of several more species was highlighted but in the interest of balance and fair play we were also subjected to the occasional rant by a rather flashy climate change gainsayer. Powerful and thought provoking stuff, beautifully presented with some amazing reflective light backdrops and, as always, breath-taking lighting by Tom Visser. Mr Visser, who also lit the other two pieces, deserves a special mention. His work for NDT is always outstanding, a major and important contribution to each performance. Maybe they should give him a show of his own. Michael Hasted 7th May 2022