Soir Historique by NDT1 in The Hague and then on tour

We normally expect to see dance performed in wide open spaces with uncluttered stages and any décor set on the perimeter to allow the dancers lots of room to move. So, for a piece of choreography to be presented in a confined and defined area seems counter-intuitive, perverse almost. But that is exactly what NDT1 set out to do with its new production, the three part Soir Historique, and it worked brilliantly.

The piece is part of the NDT’s sixtieth anniversary celebrations and the title reflects the past, present and future of the company.

First up was Gabriela Carrizo’s The Missing Door from 2013. As the curtain rose we were confronted by a drab grey room set diagonally across the stage with five doors and a small dirty window. The body of a woman lay on the floor and another immobile, blood-stained figure was draped across a table and chair at the back. All very menacing and sinister. It almost had the feeling of a film set, one of those 1970s horror movies – in fact one could just about make out, in the shadows in the periphery of vision, some film lighting equipment.

The action starts when a man enters, unceremoniously drags the woman’s body through the main door and then continues to clean the floor – mop up the blood – with an irascible cloth which seems to have a life of its own.

While the man is on his hands and knees a maid enters and begins to dress the set. Where are we, in a hotel or motel room? It begins to feel more like a film all the time and I keep thinking David Lynch’s Eraserhead, although I am also reminded of Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté and its murderous happenings in strange rooms. Various other characters come and go, including one blown in by a vicious wind accompanied by other bits of rubbish. The doors open and close and mysterious figures can be seen through the window. We are not sure what is real, what is fantasy. Is it a film or is this life – or a strange anti-room to death? Purgatory is just the sort of place you’d expect to find characters and unresolved situations like this. The Missing Door is a true danse macabre, a brilliant merry-go-round of ideas and grotesque, fun-filled tableaux. Macabre, disconcerting, scary even, but all lusciously funny. I spent the half hour with a big smile on my face, loving every moment.

Hans van Manen was one of the founding fathers of the Nederlands Dance Theater in 1959 and his Situation of 1970 has become an oft performed piece by the company. Set in a box measuring eight meters wide, six meters deep and four meters high there is one door on the right, a digital clock high up at the back wall, displaying the actual time and yellowish walls covered in a fine grid of lines, like graph paper. The ten dancers enter one by one, joining the developing movement. The door was a significant element in Situation too with the dancers coming and going, performing little set pieces to a kaleidoscopic soundscape which included machine-gun fire, jet aircraft, incessant rain and what sounded like a fat blue-bottle fly trapped in a jar.

The world première of Edward Clug’s Aperture, although utilising the huge space that is the Zuiderstrand Theater’s stage, was still defined, and largely confined to an area marked out by a huge diagonal cross on the floor with pillars rising vertically into the void from each corner. In fact, it reminded me of a orrery – one those old mechanical models that demonstrates the orbits of the solar system because for most of the piece the three pairs of dancers circulated with great precision and elegance. It was only when the cross mysteriously disappeared that things went awry. The three girls and three boys were all dressed the same in, after they had shed their tops, black fishnet tights over black trunks. It was wardrobe malfunction and some erotic, and rather risqué knicker manipulation, that was the dénouement of this excellent piece which perfectly melded highly skilled, meticulous dancing with very nicely conceived and executed comedy. Great fun.

Nederlands Dans Theater never put a foot wrong (pun intended) and I have never been less than enthralled with their work. I have to say that I found Soir Historique really was an historic evening, special in every sense.  Michael Hasted   30th November 2019

The tour of Soir Historique continues until 21st Decemeber