Nederlands Dans Theatre (NDT) have at last made it to London and their reward may not have been a packed house, but a very happy house by the end of the evening, and a standing ovation. It wasn't one of those rare occasions where people just shoot up having witnessed something so amazing they couldn't possibly do anything else, but rather a measured and progressive affair, as people reflected on a singularly good evening's entertainment. On the recent showing NDT deserve packed houses far more than ever White Oak does.
The NDT programme seemed particularly well-judged starting with some drama/passion going through abstract dance to quirky fun movement and ending with some dancing for the Lord - whatever Lord you subscribe to of course. The evening opened with the more earthbound and sultry delights of Hans van Manen's Fantasia. Three boys and three girls react in various combinations - as peer groups through to couples who love, squabble and assert themselves. Underlying it all is a powerful feeling that, come what may, the sexes are attractive to one another and you can't get away from it. Every van Manen step and movement seems to be suffused with a sultriness that it is hard to resist and lulls and embraces the viewer as well.
Aside from the choreography the other thing that you first notice is the dancers and general 'bigness' of the company. They are not all big by any manner of means but on average they are taller and the girls particularly have strong torsos. Nobody looks wrong or, heaven forbid, fat but none of them are the type you would want to bump into on a dark night! It underlines again just what different rep and schools can do to bodies. NDT have amazing strength and turn of speed.
Falling Angels is danced to the sound of four drummers and composed by the minimalist Steve Reich. Kylian's choreography and the music is physically breathtaking as the tempo builds from short staccato moves and poses that mimic short drum rolls, through to more fluid movement that plays around with the complex rhythms and phase changes that are created when the drummers really get going. The stage seemed to be full of girls, sometimes acting in unison, sometimes alone, but it's a real shock to check the numbers and see that only 8 dancers were involved. A mesmerising abstract piece.
The UK premiere of Paul Lightfoot's Shangri-la followed the interval. Having recently seen another piece of Lightfoot (Skew-whiff) on NDT2, it came as a surprise that the same sense of mad quirkiness could be sustained and oh so enjoyably too. Can it really be that paradise on earth is to be found in 9 people playing with a tree trunk?!
There seems to be a tremendous sense of purpose, almost like some great biblical epic is being played out. But the lead is not not so much Charlton Heston as Dot Cotton - though played with a little less gravity perhaps. I've now come to the position where I really can't wait to see another piece of Lightfoot and it would be terrific if the RB were to grab Shangri-la and put it direct on the main stage. Everybody would love it I'm sure.
The last piece - Symphony of Psalms - was not perhaps my cup of tea. It's Kylian being serious to some religious Stravinsky. The programme does its best to make the dance relevant "It is more a lament for an imperfect and disunited world in which the suffering and uncertainty of each individual are in ironic dialogue with Stravinsky's religious score". Well perhaps, but I found the choreography neither interestingly abstract or thrilling, nor devastatingly illustrative of the human condition. But I was not so enamoured of Bintley's religious extravaganza The Protecting Veil either, though I know many who are deeply moved by such pieces.
But three out of four on a night is just fine with me and what lovely, lovely dancers. They deserved their ovation and I very much hope that like NDT2, the main company become much more frequent visitors to the UK.