Dancing is one of the strictest and most demanding of all artistic and athletic disciplines, demanding total dedication and fitness in addition to an artistic and creative temperament. Those talents and abilities are placed at the disposal of a choreographer to order to create a piece of work so they are always dancing to someone else’s tune, both literally and metaphorically. Therefore the opportunity for the dancers to take control, to create new work and to decide on all aspects of how it should be presented, to let their hair down as it were, is obviously something to get very excited about.
Each year the dancers of the Nederlands Dans Theater create a programme of new work, taking responsibility for all aspects of the production. All proceeds go to their chosen charity which this year is the Plastic Soup Foundation, an organisation dedicated to ridding the oceans of plastic waste. Rather than taking plastic out of the water they aim to put an end to increasing the amount of the stuff polluting the seas by fighting the issue at its sources.
Switch 2020 took place in a vast arena created in the Lucent Dans Theater, the company’s headquarters in the centre of the The Hague. With seating on four sides, the huge open space provided the perfect stage on which to present this spectacular evening of dance.
The amazing programme of fourteen short, original pieces got underway in spectacular fashion with What Made You so Close by Donnie Duncan Jr.. A lone violinist enters from one corner while from the other corner the boy dancer slowly appears, soon to be joined by the girl. The haunting music of the violin, going through numerous effects, really set the tone for the evening and was followed by the personable Mr. Duncan giving a short introduction.
It is going to be hard to go through all of the pieces in detail but, needless to say, they were all of the highest quality. The first two, after the introduction, were both a bit mysterious. Cocoon by Paxton Rickets involved two dancers, Fay van Baar and Guido Dutilh with Anna Litvinenko playing her own composition of cello. The two dancers appeared, their heads encased in straw coloured fabric, almost like Egyptian mummies, as they danced blind. It soon became apparent that they were in fact wearing hoodies backwards. A nice touch was to get an audience member to join in, accompanying the cellist on a ukulele. Next up, Visiting Hour by Mikaela Kelly, was even stranger – three guys in frocks wearing grotesque masks which put me in mind of the Macbeth witches although the music, a folk-type song by Molly Drake, was gentle any lyrical.
The first half concluded with Charlie Skuy’s Konnakol which involved a lot of Indian music, especially tabla. The sequence with the two boys dancing in unison in their own square of light was particularly effective.
The second half got under way before it had even started. As the audience returned from the interval they were confronted by a giant white cloth tower about four meters square and reaching the full height of the stage. The seven dancers were already in place, acting very strangely. There were the two girls and a boy struggling with an armchair, two guys, one of whom was either very drunk of ill, a sort of mâitre d’ and a young, poet-like man in black, greeting invisible strangers as they passed. The End of December, created by Jesse Callaert with the collaboration of the dancers, was by far the biggest, most ambition and successful piece of the evening and very typical of NDT work. There wasn’t much “dancing” as such but the constant movement and development of the characters was captivating. One wasn’t sure what they were doing or where they were doing it. It was like some eccentric Bohemian party in a strange hotel. They all finished up inside the white room being unceremoniously dumped in a pile by the mâitre d’ before he straightened his bow tie and walked off. It worked brilliantly, loved it.
Next up was a beautiful pas de deux choreographed and performed by Chloé Albaret and Cesar Faria. Two Fold was a simple and elegant piece demonstrating what we all know to be true, that less is very often more – one of the high spots of the evening.
I also really enjoyed In Between My Ribs My Heart Is Leaking by Boston Gallacher which involved a huge sheet of golden metallic fabric which was sent rippling across the stage in giant waves. And I really must mention Toon Lobach’s I Went To Your Churches which involved no dancing at all but involved, to everyone’s surprise, the house lights coming up and a young man in an ill-fitting red track suit carrying a cheap plastic battery-powered vacuum cleaner. After putting on his headphones and a choosing a song on his phone he proceeded to hoover the stage involving the people in the front rows to lift their feet as he passed by. Great stuff.
All the other pieces were excellent too and, although there isn’t the space to go into detail, I will mention the choreographers I haven’t mentioned already – Nicole Ishimaru whose Peak had a very oriental feel; Kyle Clarke whose disco Sticky was the most upbeat piece of evening; Kele Roberson and Annika Verplancke for their Astre; Surimu Fukushi whose Around the Corner involved some sneezing; Lea Ved whose The Moon Pulls The Sea was one of the few ensemble pieces and Luca Tessarini who brought the proceedings to a close with 2JENGA which involved a large blue plastic tarpaulin.
All those involved with Switch 2020 should be proud of a really faultless evening of contemporary dance which is what one always expects and always gets from the Nederlands Dans Theatre – and it was all for a good cause. Michael Hasted 18th January 2020
All sales proceeds go to The Plastic Soup Foundation. Please join with the dancers of NDT in supporting them.
The mission of Plastic Soup Foundation is: ‘No plastic waste in our water!’
We do not take plastic out of the water; instead, we want to put an end to the increasing amount of plastic polluting the ocean by tackling the issue at its sources. Think of microplastics in cosmetics or synthetic fibres from clothing. These all end up in the ocean one way or another. We have been working towards this goal since 2011. According to the international press, we are now ‘One of the leading advocacy groups to tackle plastic pollution.’