Nederlands Dans Theater 1 review – performing miracles

Crystal Pite’s thrilling boardroom manoeuvres are the high point in an otherwise shallow programme from these Dutch masters

A visit by Nederlands Dans Theater always promises dancing of the highest calibre, and when the programme includes work by Crystal Pite, the expectation intensifies. In the event, NDT1 (there are three NDT companies, of which NDT1 is the largest) delivers four pieces, all exemplary in their precision and technical virtuosity. Of the four, however, only Pite’s The Statement is emotionally and dramatically consequential. The others, if impressive exhibitions of craft, slip past like expensive but unsatisfying snacks.

Pite has her own company, the marvellous Kidd Pivot, but she is also an associate choreographer of NDT. Her work is demanding, and the NDT dancers are a good fit. The Statement is a one-act play by Jonathon Young, with whom Pite collaborated on Betroffenheit, which won a 2017 Olivier award. Pite has translated the four-handed play into dance, with NDT1’s Aram Hasler, Rena Narumi, Jon Bond, and Roger Van der Poel moving to the recorded voices of actors.

We are in a dark, oppressive situation room. An electronic score by Owen Belton growls menacingly as two men and two women negotiate the terms of an official statement. There are Pinteresque suggestions of a conflict, distant but brutal, which has been inflamed to provide shareholder profit, and has blown up out of control. Now the four protagonists are being asked to take responsibility for the deteriorating situation in order to protect their superiors. “We should tell the truth?” one says. “That’s impossible and you know it,” another snaps. “We have to stay on script… There’s no going back upstairs.” In this satanic and horribly familiar shadow world, all is spin, obfuscation and lies.

The Statement by Crystal Pite.
The Statement by Crystal Pite. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Observer

The NDT1 dancers are miraculously good. Caught in Tom Visser’s raking light, their bodies lash and undulate like duelling cobras, as each of them seeks to slither out of the moral firing line and offload the blame on to the others. The dance has a thrilling, whiplash precision and it’s rigorously pared back so that every glance and gesture serves the narrative and illuminates our understanding. This subtractive process is evident in all great choreography. Even in the sunniest, most romantic works of Ashton or Balanchine you sense the cold artist’s eye, pitilessly discarding all that is not essential.

Marco Goecke’s Woke Up Blind is set to two songs by Jeff Buckley. The first, You and I, is languorously slow, while The Way Young Lovers Do is frantically, neurotically fast. Goecke’s cast of two female and five male dancers skilfully embody Buckley’s music, matching its phrasing with movement that’s unhurried, spasmodic and at times manic. For all the second-by-second intricacy of its construction, however, Woke Up Blind doesn’t quite land right. The piece is so busy inviting you to admire its virtuosity that it neglects its ostensible subject, which is love.

Stop-Motion by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot.
Stop-Motion by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot: ‘more silent screaming’. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The evening opens and closes with works by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. Lightfoot has been NDT’s artistic director since 2011, and he and León have created more than 50 works for the company. Shoot the Moon and Stop-Motion are typical of their oeuvre, in that they combine an overload of technical effect and look-at-me virtuosity with emotional and conceptual vacancy. Shoot the Moon features a revolving triptych of rooms between which five dancers move while enacting a tortured and wholly uninvolving psychodrama to music by Philip Glass. The more they writhe, silently scream, and demonstrate their impeccable developpés à la seconde, the less you care.

Stop-Motion sees the familiar León-Lightfoot tropes coming thick and fast. Vast skirts trailed across the stage, billowing floorcloths, handfuls of flour thrown into the spotlights, slow-motion back-projections, more spectacular developpés, more silent screaming, and all of it set to a turgidly sentimental score by Max Richter. The dancers perform with touching diligence, but they can’t disguise the fact that the piece is merely the sum of its effects. Underneath, there’s nothing there.

Star ratings (out of five)
Shoot the Moon ★★
Woke up Blind ★★★
The Statement ★★★★★

Stop-Motion ★★


Luke Jennings

The GuardianTramp

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