If one were to come to conclusions about the Netherlands after seeing the three ballets presented by the Nederlands Dans Theater at the New York City Center, the Netherlands would clearly come off as a place of doom and gloom where relationships are expressed by tossing each other around or totally avoiding contact.
This world-class dance troupe is always welcome, but one has to wonder who programmed this mini-season. Of course, the company’s artistic director Paul Lightfoot who co-choreographed one of these works has to have been the driving force in putting this show together.
The best and most accessible of the three ballets opened the program. The missing door, choreographed by Gabriela Carrizo had the feel of a noir film beginning with its setting, a seedy gray hotel lobby bordered by two walls loaded with doors and a window (designed by the choreographer as were the realistic, dark-hued costumes).
A man was slumped drunkenly in an armchair while a porter swept up. A maid appeared. A young lady slumped in a chair and flowed dreamily to the floor from which she was scooped up by the first man for a twisty, sadistically-tinged duet. Suddenly the characters vibrated crazily, crashing to the floor. Sometimes all these odd activities were spied upon by a face in a misty window. Carrizo ended the work as it began intimating that The missing door was playing in an endless, hopeless loop.
Raphaëlle Latini’s moody score adhered beautifully to Carrizo’s vocabulary of distorted everyday movements while Tom Visser’s exquisitely detailed lighting brought out every nuance of the staging. Despite its pastiche tone, the dancers managed to flesh out characters that were always interesting to observe.
The dancers who appeared at the performance under review were Chloé Albaret, Yukino Takaura, Lydia Bustinduy, César Faria Fernandes, Donnie Duncan Jr., Roger Van der Poel and Marne van Opstal.
Marco Goecke’s Walk the Demon filled the stage with women and bare-chested men in either black or white loose pants (designed by the choreographer) jabbing their elbows in and out in nervous displays of energy run askew. The choreography, to eclectic music by various artists ranging from modern classical to pop, was focused on the arms which vibrated, punched, circled, pointed and otherwise moved as if detached from the bodies. Certainly the dancers showed off their high leg extensions and rough partnering skills, but Goecke’s choreography turned the dancers into robotic beings—albeit beings ofreat sensual beauty—who pushed and pulled at each other, made crazy faces and sounds and otherwise avoided true emotional connection. Udo Haberland lit Walk the Demon to emphasize its grotesquery.
The dancers were led by the trio of Bustinduy, Rinako Iida and Keren Leiman backed by a phalanx of sexy men.
Hopes that the third and final ballet would brighten the mood were shattered as the curtain rose on Sol Léon and Lightfoot’s Shut Eye choreographed, as was Walk the Demon, to music from various sources featuring the incredible Kronos Quartet.
The brightest elements in Shut Eye were the black-grey-white polka-dot themed shirts designed by Joke Visser and Hermien Hollander. The dancers also wore black formal outfits which made them almost invisible against Tom Bevoort’s dim lighting.
The scenery designed by the choreographic duo included huge shadow versions of the dancers projected against the back wall, straight out of 1930’s horror films and a great deal of moody floating mist.
The dancers oozed in and out of rubbery duets, their faces contorted in displeasure or showing no emotion at all. The choreography certainly put these exquisite dancers through their paces as they twisted their bodies, rolled over and lifted each other, piled up in various parts of the stage, jittered nervously and otherwise created a dystopia of hopelessness—but, why?
In this work Van der Poel led the male contingent of Prince Credell, Chuck Jones and the especially spry Jianhui Wang.
I can’t remember a NDT season so bogged down in the woes of the world. The troupe has never offered itself as a panacea to humanity’s ills but to offer such a wet-blanket trio of ballets was inexcusable.
The saving grace, of course, was the chance to see such wonderful dancers display their talents.
Nederlands Dans Theater (March 4-7, 2020)
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: two hour and 30 minutes including two intermissions