NOW HERE, NOW ALWAYS by NDT2 at Amare in The Hague and on tour

NDT2 is nominally secondary to, and the feeder for, NDT1. They may be secondary in name but in every other way they are the equal of the main company with their own repertoire and touring programme. This was confirmed, as if it needed confirming to the full house at the Amare, by their new production Now Here, Now Always.

Marcus Goecke’s The Big Crying was premiered in March 2021 as a live-stream from the old Zuiderstrandtheater during the Covid lock-down, so it was good to see it in the flesh, as it were.

The curtain rose to reveal smoke swirling in the darkness and a large flame flickering against the back wall while a rather industrial soundscape completed the sombre scene. Created by Goecke soon after the death of his father it is, to begin with, a solemn affair with the nineteen dancers exploring grief and loss. After a few minutes the depressing, aggressive even, soundscape gave way the songs of Tori Amos and the whole atmosphere became more positive and life affirming, though not losing any of the raw emotion.

Brocken Spectre, Andrew Skeels’ wonderful debut piece for NDT was also about loss. I was thinking in the first interval that it was a pity so many dance pieces are played on a plain open stage enclosed in black and depending on lighting to create an environment. Granted Brocken Spectre was all in black but a huge black curtain lit from above hung on the stage like a soft cathedral or threatening, dangerous landscape. Based on and inspired by Goethe’s A Winter Journey in The Harz and Brahms’ Rhapsody for Alto, Chorus and Orchestra Op. 53, it had a very Wagnerian feel to it. In fact, I was unfamiliar with this Brahms piece and all the way through I was wondering,  is it or isn’t it Wagner? The Brahms was augmented by original music by Julien Tarride played live in the pit by musicians from Het Ballet Ortkest.

The Brocken in question is the highest peak in the Harz mountains and famous for its tales of witchcraft and eerie goings on. Skeels’ creation took us to some sort of post-apocalyptic world where grey and dusty refugees struggled and strained like a latter-day Sisyphus pulling figures on lengths of cloth across the stage. Sometime standing, sometimes wrapped and lying, the zombie-like people were being dragged to some unknown fate. Brilliant.

Cacti, a revival of Alexander Ekman’s exciting and often hilarious 2010 creation, was a much lighter affair to counterpoint the drama of the first two pieces. Each with their own meter-square rostrum, the sixteen dancers performed to music by Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven, often played by a live on-stage ambulant string quartet made up of musicians, again from Het Ballet Ortkest. The piece opened with the dancers kneeling on their plinths performing almost martial arts routines. The twenty/thirty centimetre high platforms were an integral part of the action and were used to perform on, and behind when they were raised vertically. The arrival of a cactus for each of the dancers provided a surreal element to the piece which had the audience smiling and laughing quietly to themselves. For the final sequence the platforms were arranged in a pile and formed the background for, what for me, was the best bit of the piece as boy and girl danced a duet while talking to each other.

Another very satisfying evening of contemporary dance from this world class Nederlands Dans Theater.  Michael Hasted  29th October 2022

Now Here, Now Always continues on tour until 20th December.