The NDT’s program consisted of four works that pretty much blurred into a single work, with the possible exception of Crystal Pite’s “The Statement,” choreographed to a low buzz score by Owen Betlton, but danced mostly to the rhythms of a very funny script written by Jonathon Young which deals with a secret, high-level meeting under severe lights (designed brilliantly by Tom Visser).
Chloé Albaret, Aram Hasler, César Faria Fernandes and Roger Van der Poel, in witty variations on business suits designed by Ms. Pite and Joke Visser, moved warily about a huge conference table, sliding on and under it, grabbing at each other, using movements that bordered on mime gestures, adding dimension to the silly skit they performed to. Although a bit too long—a failure shared by the other three ballets—“The Statement” at least made kinetic and dramatic sense.
“Stop-Motion,” which ended the program, was a dreamscape by Sol León and Mr. Lightfoot in which the dancers competed with a giant portrait of a young lady whose sly, slow-motion mini-movements vaguely mirrored the quicker activities of the cast of eight dancers clad in oddly formal black and white outfits by Ms. Visser and Hermien Hollander. Suddenly a trickle, then a waterfall of white powder descends on the stage, only to be disturbed by the frantic steps of the cast who seemed to be in some sort of purgatory. The effect was disturbing but confusing.
“Woke up Blind,” was choreographed by Marco Goecke to several songs by the tragically, short-lived Jeff Buckley. Anne Jung, Meng-Ke Wu, Jon Bond, Spencer Dickhaus, Chuck Jones, Marne van Opstal and Jianhui Wang in Mr. Goecke’s simple, solid-colored costumes (men bare-chested, as usual in NDT) danced to Buckley’s mournful man/child songs of modern romantic angst. They moved their shoulders sinuously, made odd constructions of their arms and legs, undulated their bodies in small groups and pranced softly, all adding physical torment to Buckley’s verbal suffering. Again, it was watching these bodies move beautifully that gave this work its edge.
The opening work was “Safe as Houses,” by León and Lightfoot who also designed the incredible set, a huge white box with painted black branches reaching from top to bottom, in which a long wall was slowly moved like the minute hand on a clock, constantly dividing the performance space. Dancers were arranged by color—white, black, red—and speed of movement. The movements were tossed out in short spurts of kicks, bends, twists, lunges and strange facial expressions. The score consisted of lots of Bach which added elegance to the shapeless, overlong ballet. Sometimes several dancers stood prayerfully against the moving wall; sometimes they moved with feral grace, leaping, rolling, kicking and spinning; and sometimes they moved in small unison units. Again, although way too long, the pleasure of watching these dancers overwhelmed any misgivings about the choreography.
The Nederlands Dans Theater has certainly evolved from its earlier days, its dancers totally ready for all the demands of what passes for modern choreography which demands little in the way of attention span, and its repertoire stimulating but overwrought.
Nederlands Dans Theater (November 16 – 19, 2016)
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 hours including two intermissions.