Yoann Bourgeois’s Little Song.
Photo by and © Rahi Rezvani

As with any successful enterprise, whether it be a football team or a family business, it is important to plan for the future, to be aware that the stars of today will fade and need replacing. If you don’t have people waiting, blossoming in the wings, then the whole thing will fizzle out.

Part of the continuing success of Nederlands Dans Theater over the past sixty years is that they have a second company, NDT2, which discovers and brings on new talent so that when the time comes they can step onto the larger stage, into the brighter spotlight.

Continuing with the 60th anniversary celebrations last night saw the opening night of NDT2’s new season at the Zuiderstrandtheater; four short pieces together entitled Sierra Oscar Foxtrot Tango.

First up was the world premiere of Sway by Medhi Walerski. Performed in a vast space with inward, sloping walls, mainly to a haunting soundscape by Adrien Cronet, the seven identically dressed dancers moved in a constant lithe wave almost like a serpent writhing in a pyramid.

The second offering, another premiere, was for me the best of the evening. Though maybe not for the purists and perhaps, strictly speaking, not dance, Little Song was one of the funniest and most innovative things I have seen on a stage for a long while. Dance can often raise a smile and sometimes a good hearty laugh – think Frederick Ashton’s eccentric Façade – but Yoann Bourgeois’s piece was pure farce sliding, literally, into circus slapstick.

As the curtain rises we discover a young couple on a slightly raised platform sitting on either side of a simple wooden table, their arms entwined. There is a ladder and a few other bits of furniture. Behind them is a drum kit – a band is set up. A long-haired guy wanders on and into the microphone announces their next song as the drummer, bass and guitar players arrive, plug in and tune up. The singer counts them in, 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 but then they freeze, silence ensues broken only by the ever increasing noise from the elaborate and sometimes violent game of pat-a-cake pat-a-cake being played out in front of them.

As it all gets out of hand the arm wrestling is forgotten. Entire bodies become twisted and turned as the whole thing starts to disintegrate – first the chairs break, then the table, the ladder falls apart and other bits of furniture collapse. A spotlight drops from above bouncing on the stage as another falls, sending sparks from its cable as it swings to and fro above their heads. All the while the band is frozen and silent behind them. The piece ends in total chaos and ecstatic cheers from the audience. There is more, but I won’t be a spoiler.

Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Sara also hinted at times gone by. The seven dancers – a group of six and one standing apart – were dressed  from head to toe in a tight, dark, shiny leathery material which made them look like reptiles or maybe bats from the old Nosferatu movie, the dark stage with its empty vastness contributing to the sense of menace. There were vocal sounds, hardly singing, from the soundtrack to which the lone dancer mimed, creating a disturbing effect almost like in The Exorcist. The lighting throughout the whole evening was excellent but a special mention must go to Tom Visser for Sara.

The final piece was Wir sagen uns Dunkles by Marco Geocke. This was the most melodic piece of the evening with some beautiful music from Schubert, Placebo and Arthur Schnittke. There was a lot of solo work in this, all very jerky and staccato, again reminiscent of an old silent movie.

The title of the production spells out, in the NATO phonetic alphabet,  the word SOFT but this programme was anything but – this was hard-hitting, solid, uncompromising dance and choreography by dancers who, it seems to me, are ready when the call comes to claim the limelight. As with every performance, Nederlands Dans Theater confirms its position as one of the leading contemporary dance companies in the world.   Michael Hasted    2nd November 2019