Posted on March 1, 2022
Pictured: NDT2 in Johan Inger’s Impasse. Photograph by Tristram Kenton.
An experienced dance critic once complained to me that she couldn’t stand most productions of The Nutcracker, particularly George Balanchine’s, because they forced her to watch children onstage. On the other hand, Balanchine believed that the best way to train dancers was to treat youngsters as professionals as often as possible by giving them the privilege and responsibility of performing.
Founded in the Hague with 18 members of Dutch National Ballet as its core, Nederlands Dans Theater launched itself as a contemporary dance company in 1959. Nearly twenty years later, Jiří Kylián devised a second company within it to prepare young artists for their future. Initially a three-year incubator for NDT1, NDT2 took on a life of its own and now features 18 artists from nine countries. Its character is shaped by the fact that it only accepts dancers between the ages of 17 and 22.
Returning to the UK for the first time since 2016, the NDT2 troupe I saw at Sadler’s Wells delivered an eye-opening lesson in how much fledgling artists can teach their elders. Stretching their energy and talent over three short pieces, two of them UK premieres, all of them different in tone and vocabulary, these young dancers grabbed the opportunity to show us their best and didn’t disappoint for a single minute.
Marco Goecke’s The Big Crying (2021) transformed intricate arrangements of tiny gestures into a mesmerising entity with its own nature. The rapid-fire sequences reminded me of Twyla Tharp’s wildly disjointed steps without their smoothly continuous flow, or the patterns of Charles Moulton’s rhythmic ball passing without the balls, or steel pistons, closely spaced and perfectly synchronised.
The programme informed us that Goecke began the work shortly after his father’s death and that it concerns parting. I saw it as something more impersonal, a finely tuned machine or a mathematical formula written in three dimensions, enlivened by the performers’ propulsive speed and precision.
Pictured: NDT2 in Marco Goecke’s The Big Crying. Photograph by Tristram Kenton.
Hans Van Manen’s Simple Things (2001) relieved the tension of that opening with the gentle interaction of four dancers and music by Scarlatti and Haydn. The two men began and ended the piece with the same buoyant duet, sharing the space like friends in amicable conversation and yielding it to each other in turn. Joined by two women, they abandoned their camaraderie to focus tenderly on their partners. Through the work’s lyric simplicity, the dancers revealed their sensitive musicality, confidently fulfilling the clear line and expansive shape of each phrase.
Pictured: Kennedy Kallas and Auguste Palayer in Hans Van Manen’s Simple Things. Photograph by Tristram Kenton.
Johan Inger’s Impasse (2020), a bitter cartoon of peer power and mindless conformity, outlined a bleak narrative of three jovial friends who couldn’t resist behaving in ways they hadn’t sought and didn’t much enjoy. Bursting initially with good spirits, they lost their cheerful innocence as an anonymous crowd of partygoers swept them into a swirl of temptations. The larger the cast grew, the smaller its available space, which itself heightened the dramatic atmosphere, and the desperate excess of the shenanigans made the trio’s slow weary expression of hung-over, next-morning regret all the more moving. No local company dances with such commitment and adaptability, and I’m already eager to see this one again.