Local cinema ballet impresses, overwhelms

By Gary Clift

A couple of hours after seeing the most recent “Ballet in Cinema” out at our local twelve-plex, one might begin worrying over how Nederlands Dans Theater’s “Move to Move” program complicated the viewer’s notion of some basic concepts. How is ballet different from other kinds of dance, for example.

NDT is a ballet company resident in the Hague. But the four long dances in “Move to Move” rely on contemporary music (played by the Hague Philharmonic, NDT’s “...neighbors at Spuiplein for 25 years”). The costumes are contemporary looking—sometimes almost like street attire and sometimes taking themes from historic costumes and enlarging or truncating them. One skirt in the second half of “Move to Move” is as wide as the stage and with a full-width train of at least twenty feet.

The company’s dances include lots of pairs work. And the dancers wear toe shoes. Otherwise NDT seems a lot more like Paul Taylor’s or even Susan Warden’s company than like the Kirov.

Their music comes from Philip Glass, not from Tchaikovsky. The choreography is new—Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot told, during one of the between-sets talks, that they hadn’t finished “Shine a Light,” “Move to Move’s” last number, when the programs were printed. The company relies heavily on lighting, often on fixed lines of lighting which move during the performance, and on sometimes projected backdrops which favor vertical lines. The only representational backgrounds in the cinema show were movies.

NDT has two companies. NDT2 is the younger dancers. They opened the filmed program. That number was choreographer Alexander Ekman’s “Left Right Left Right,” which put each of the dancers in a suit, jacket open, and put them each on their own treadmill. These low boxes were arrayed first in cross-hatches and then in parallel lines, so that the dancers, moving in unison, could ride back the length of two treadmills in a sort of recoil section of a series of moves.

I was unprepared for the between-dance business at first. Here we watched NDT2 performing, apparently unannounced, in a public street as the dancers commented. The voice-overs suggested that many of the performers were not Dutch.

Next came Leon and Lightfoot’s forty-five minute “Silent Screen” for NDT1. Introduced by its female lead—I believe this was a Swiss dancer named Anna Herrmann and that her primary partner for the piece was the Spaniard Jorge Nozal.

Mugging like silent film stars or Kiss members, they used an abstract set of miming movements while working before a wide movie screen that showed us a beach scene, then (wiping right to left) a forest in the winter. A little girl in a red coat (an unfortunate reminder of “Shindler’s List”) appeared, and we entered her consciousness through the vortex of one of her irises. The dancers spent energy as if it were water here, and the principles had to come off for a while, probably to have a meal, while the eight other dancers in the unit took over.

After a long intermission, odd given that the performances were filmed, we came back to see Ohad Nararin’s “Secus,” which is actually part of his complete ballet “Three.” The almost casually dressed dancers performed brief and athletic bits as solos and in pairs, with the whole NDT1 company coming on and off the lit playing space all the time. As the music shifted, so did the choreography. But the six camera design of the filming kept us from seeing any larger patterns in this number.

“Shine a Light” is supposedly an exploration of a child’s experience with nightmares. A set of four sash-wearing male dancers wore microphones, and their non-verbal utterances were electronically altered to make then ominous additions to the soundtrack. Certainly the orchestra wasn’t in the pit, a cap for which made one of the several layers of stage space. This is the dance that included a startling illusion: one of the sash wearers seemed to disappear to be replaced by a human on tall platform shoes whose face was always obscured by long gray hair reminding one of Leon Russell’s. This character was on stage, moving very slowly, the whole of the number.

The three hour show surprised and impressed and, frankly, overwhelmed. The company will be back on the local screen on November 25 and 27 with a program the title of which promises the work of three choreographers. I’m sure it will be terrific. But maybe if it were just two choreographers, its audience wouldn’t be swamped by visual details in the way “Move to Move” swamped them.

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