Nederlands Dans Theater is a company of outstanding dancers and variable choreography. The gap looks widest in Shoot the Moon by house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, a distended piece portraying two involuted relationships, one a pairing, the other a triangle. The marvellous rotating set shows three flock-walled interiors, interconnected by doors and windows, and the dance style, characteristically, uses a bedrock of ballet technique topped with a thick layer of mannerism: affected gesticulations, agape mouths, relentless stop-start phrasing. Philip Glass’s score wallpapers along in the background, and the whole piece feels like a classy commercial with serious-drama ambitions.
At first, Marco Goecke’s Woke Up Blind, to songs by Jeff Buckley, seems cut from the same middlebrow cloth, more or less ignoring Buckley’s swoopingly emotive vocals in favour of gestural quirks and elastic leg extensions. But once it starts tapping the musical force, the piece sparks into life with a thrumming, fire-in-the-belly energy that burns through its seven dancers’ polished technique.
NDT’s associate choreographer Crystal Pite is in demand around the world – and you can see why. The Statement reprises her partnership with the playwright Jonathon Young, with whom she created the astounding Betroffenheit, as well as an idea taken from that earlier piece: a kind of bodily lip-syncing to a spoken soundtrack. Here, the four dancers enact a high-tension script about a team tasked with inciting war in order to profit from it. The vocal rhythms, pitches and registers form an exacting template for their accusing fingers, nervous flinches, shocked about-faces and wily manoeuvres. It’s performed with the frame-by-frame urgency of a graphic novel and – herein lies its brilliance – even as you are gripped by the drama you see its composition with startling clarity.
Closing the programme, León and Lightfoot’s Stop-Motion is choreographically more adept than their opener. Though sometimes in thrall to its own vague beauty – exquisite costumes, slow-motion black-and-white film – its interknit scenes, varied pacing and chalk-dusted imagery manage both to complement its superb troupe of dancers and to attain a kind of poetic mystery – if not a profound one.
- At Sadler’s Wells, London, until 29 June.