The transient nature of dance has the power, if done well, to create windows into a world we would otherwise never experience. This weekend Nederlands Dans Theater brought not one, but three universes to our doorsteps.
On Friday and Saturday night, Nederlands Dans Theater performed at the Power Center. Filling the house from front row to the back of the balcony, it was packed with students, faculty, Ann Arbor locals and people from all over the state. It’s not often a triple bill show gets a standing ovation more than twice, at least not in my time at the University, or even at the large performances I’ve seen at Lincoln Center. When it comes to NDT, it seems like no one in the audience wants to stop clapping.
The Dutch dance company is based in The Hague, and has maintained its international reputation as a leader in dance for decades. The program included two works by artistic director Paul Lightfoot and his artistic partner Sol León, as well as “The Statement” by Crystal Pite.
“I think our works, even though they can be so varying, each of them has a relationship to social structures, but also our connection globally and as human beings within each other,” Paul Lightfoot said in an interview with The Daily before the shows. “Worlds apart, but at the same time transmitting a lot of messages about how we connect as people.”
The opening number, “Shoot the Moon,” is an NDT signature. Dancers immediately take the audience to a painfully deep place of human connection and isolation. Revolving walls creates three separate rooms where we watch relationships unfold and meld together. The fluid vocabulary of the movement alone creates tension between bodies, between the self. Lightfoot and León choreograph facial expressions that are simultaneously convoluted and impossibly beautiful. Music by Philip Glass drives the piece to reveal vulnerability and incredible resilience — it’s no wonder the long-standing repertoire of 12 years continues to be well-received.
“I hope we set a kind of an example of what you can do with something,” Lightfoot said. “(Dance) has always been regarded, I think, as the ugly sister of the arts compared to opera or classical music or theatre. Ballet or dance has sort of been more frowned upon and less elitist and perhaps seen as more superficial than it actually is.”
The second work by Crystal Pite pushes boundaries even further. “The Statement” is set in a corporate business setting with two men and two women in suits, based off of her production “Betroffenheit.” With an original script and sound score, the text adds a layer of complexity that sets a brilliantly cynical tone. The audience laughs at the sarcasm, the movement perfectly timed and calculated. The dancers move with such precision and dynamism, it becomes impossible to turn away, to close your jaw or think of anything besides the present moment. Underlying the sweeping movements are complex questions surrounding guilt and blame in our society — a masterpiece that is both kinetically and psychologically moving.
“I think people are always thrilled to watch kinetic interventions,” Lightfoot said. “They’re top sporters … I think, in general, for people to watch dance is something that is really invigorating — it drives all your senses.”
The closing piece, “Singulière Odyssée,” made its international premier this weekend. The curtain rises and the set alone captivates — a European art-deco train station with altered dimensions. Lightfoot spoke about coming across a waiting area on his travels from Zürich to Luxenburg, when he decided to create a dance based on a real place for the first time. The flawless technicality of the dancers stands out in this piece, highlighted by moments of unison and sustained partnering. Autumn leaves fall and flood the stage, the rustling leaves adding an unpredictably stunning texture.
“When people come see a work, they have to be fully aware that what they’re going to be walking into is a world of duality,” Lightfoot said. “I think in principle is really crucial — the idea of the yin and yang, masculine and feminine energies. That’s how you get transformation.”
The abstract nature of the pieces gives freedom for narrative interpretation. Regardless of how the narrative is received, one thing that is undeniable is how sophisticated and seasoned the dancers are.
“Forget the works, watch the dancers,” Lightfoot said. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch this group of people. They are ultra-motivated and at their peak all the time. They will recognize the process of development and embrace each other … Like butterflies, we don’t have 40 years to extend our careers. We have 20 if we’re lucky, 15 possibly, 10 more than likely.”
Lightfoot referenced NDT as a sort of “mini United Nations,” made up of 22 nationalities, with dancers from various cultures and backgrounds. Words don’t do justice to the physicality or artistry of this triple bill. The only thing I can do is urge others to see and experience.
“Art and culture in general is building so much force at the moment,” Lightfoot said. “With everything manmade and natural disasters going on around the world, more and more you find people looking towards culture as a sort of trusted outlet.”