Choreographers: Sol León, Paul Lightfoot, Marco Goecke, Crystal Pite
Dance lovers in New Zealand have been anxiously awaiting Nederlands Dans Theatre’s first visit to our shores for some time. The company had plans to visit in the mid-2000s, but it wasn’t to be. Finally, the stars have aligned, bringing NDT with four works, two of them new this year, to The Civic Theatre in Auckland.
A palpable sense of anticipation filled the audience on opening night. The show started with three dancers entering the stage in front of the still-closed curtain, standing with their backs to us for several minutes before the house lights faded. This theatrical opening foreshadowed an evening of exquisite performance, with masterful staging, artistry and dramatic effect.
House choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot collaborated on the first and last works of the evening’s programme. Safe as Houses, inspired by the Chinese Book of Changes I Tjing and set to a selection of Bach’s majestic scores, is elegant and beautifully structured. I was reminded of the power of good design, a process that relies so heavily on time in the theatre to curate and create the visual environment in which a dance exists. The black ceiling overflowed onto white walls; wet ink from a calligrapher’s brush. A white wall bisected the stage, and began to rotate clockwise with gradually increasing speed. León and Lightfoot absolutely understand the drama of stage, space, and timing, creating startling, contrasting, surprising appearances and disappearances of dancers in ever changing configurations. The dancers were magnificent; technically immaculate, elegant and lean. Alongside the expected high extension and powerful elevation, the NDT dancers demonstrated a superb awareness of gravity, connectivity with the floor and pristine control. Meng-Ke Wu embodied excellence in Safe as Houses, and Prince Credell’s presence in the work was powerful and dramatic.
Stop-Motion, the closing work of the evening, explored processes of farewell and transformation. Poignantly accompanied by a selection of music by Max Richter, the piece seamlessly blended superb video projections and live performance. Joke Visser and Hermien Hoollander costumed the dancers in a sophisticated palette of neutral colours, influenced heavily by period silhouettes. The choreography in this work was detailed and possessed a strong narrative quality. A range of theatrical shifts were created through production features; still and extreme slo-mo projection, white powder, lowering the lighting rig, and finally removing the wings and black backdrop, exposing backstage with its industrial working parts – focused but quiet stage crew, mop and bucket, unpainted walls. The dancers continued as all the trappings of presentation were peeled away.
Woke Up Blind
Marco Goecke’s Woke Up Blind was a rich and explosive tapestry of the longing and disregard for the consequences of young love. The late Jeff Buckley’s detailed and emotive vocals weave in and out of focus through this choreography; occasionally synchronized, often contrasting. This new work premiered in February 2016, and Auckland was its first performance outside Holland. The seven dancers in this work performed with vitality and panache.
For me, the knockout of NDT’s quadruple bill was Crystal Pite’s The Statement. This work is a masterpiece of contemporary ballet theatre. The dystopian boardroom conflict, set to a score of music and voice based on a script by Jonathan Young, is raw, current, electrifying. All four dancers in this work are technically masterful; Rena Narumi’s performance was breathtaking. Her characterisation and theatricality were beautifully understated, supremely dominating. The Statement will be a work that secures its place in contemporary ballet repertoire. The speed and detail of movement, alongside the technical accuracy of the dancers is perfectly balanced with intelligent lighting by Tom Visser and music by Owen Belton.
NDT is an unmissable company. Go once, go twice, go three times; every performance will offer new things to see and feel.
cred: Rahi Rezvani