Nederlands Dans Theater II
Ted Shawn Theater
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
July 5, 2007

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter

There was something crisply efficient, but less than inspiring, about the program Nederlands Dance Theater II brought to Jacob’s Pillow, where it was performing for the first time. It certainly showcased the youthful (ages 17-23) dancers of this “second” company to the venerable NDT, with their bracing fluency and ability to immerse themselves in each choreographer’s style. The trio of works duly represented the past, present a future of NDT. They were by Hans van Manen, whose association with the company goes back to its earliest days; Jiri Kylian, whose tenure as artistic director consolidated its international profile, and Johann Ingber, who danced with NDT until 2002 and has choreographed for all three of its companies during the past decade, and also has been artistic director of the Cullberg Ballet since 2003.

But the overall impact of these three terse works was slight and fleeting. Perhaps showing them in a different order might have helped. Kylian’s “Sleepless,” a bleak 2004 work receiving its U.S. premiere that opened the program, had the dancers’ emerging from, and hiding parts of themselves between, three hanging panels — to initially disquieting effect. Three couples in sleek, subtly colored leotards and tights (plum, olive-gray. Rust-brown) sometimes danced with one another, or performed alongside their own silhouetted images. The spareness and intense focus of the work, ably supported by the oddly haunting score, which incorporated brief snippets of Mozart’s Adagio in C Minor featuring the glass harmonica with creaking and crashing sounds, established a definite mood, but it was striking without being involving. A seemingly disembodied arm protruded here, a leg was swallowed up there — thanks to the panels and shadowy lighting. Kylian’s skill at shaping bodies in mesmerizing ways is undeniable, but here he seemed to be using it in an overly clinical manner. I could not help comparing “Sleepless” unfavorably to the spare, exquisitely crafted chamber-scaled “leotard ballets” of Christopher Wheeldon, which manage to engage, mystify and evoke associations and allusions beyond their own anatomical explorations.

Van Manen struck a lighter note with his 2001 “Simple Things,” which was vigorously launched by an engaging male duet set to the jaunty, robust accordion music of Guy Klucevsek and Alan Bern. Ivan Pérez and Javier Monzón Garcia fleetly traded off, watching each other with an amiably competitive air, as they blended swift pirouettes, foot stamps, and nimbly crisp steps with engaging playfulness. The more grounded earthiness of one of the men made for a lovely contrast with the other’s lighter, speedier attack.

Just as the buoyant music reached its concluding note, a woman appears in the downstage corner, and the atmosphere immediately shifted. She approached one man, then the other, as thought testing their value as potential partners, eventually. She settles into more extended duet wit one of the, working closely in that clear, smooth balleto-modern style that registers strong, clear images with a certain bland underlying tone. The stately, steady lines of a slow Haydn trio, marked by a steady underlying pulse and piano arpeggios, set the tone, as tension and doubt marked their unresolved encounter. A more petite woman and the other man then tested each other’s responses warily.

Often dancers not engaged in the primary action watched and waited upstage. In the concluding section, the men were again on their own, sprightly and confident, happily riding the brisk rhythms of another accordion selection. They seemed relieved at having left behind the darker, less defined world that the women had introduced. Van Manen’s craftsmanship is always evident, but “Simple Things” felt more like a highly polished student work than the effort of a choreographer with a strong idea of what he wanted to express.

Ingber’s “Dream Play,” a 2000 work set to the first half (“The Adoration of the Earth”) of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps” radiated conviction, even if it was of a misguided nature. The Before the music began, a recording of birds and bees was heard. Amid these sounds of nature, a red dunce cap rose into the air. A haughty woman swathed in red fur coat sauntered through. The light revealed a man flopped on the floor in a central it portion of the stage. To the familiar opening bassoon melody, he initiated — with three other men, gradually revealed from the darkness, joining in one by one — heavy-footed sequences marked by odd slithering and loping. Wearing black shirts, skirts and sox, they were odd, pedestrian creatures representing no identifiable tribe.

Two women in filmy shifts joined in, and soon they all collected in front of a trapezoid-shaped wall. Much lumbering, whipping around ensued, as the dancers enthusiastically attacked Ingber’s celebration of ungainly, off-balance moves. The wall was pushed forward to become a platform, the dunce cap put in another appearance, and it all presumably embodied someone’s off-kilter and fantastical dream. Why Ingber chose to work with Stravinsky’s often (and over-) used score, and just what his collection of rambunctious, unpredictable episodes was meant to suggest, was certainly not readily apparent.

Photo: Celia Amade and Ivan Perez in "Sleepless" . Photo by Maxwell Citizen Kepler.

Volume 5, No. 29
July 23, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

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