Nederlands Dans Theater at New York City Center: The cool kids in town

Nederlands Dans Theater in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar's 'Jakie'. Photo by Rahi Rezvani.
Nederlands Dans Theater in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar's 'Jakie'. Photo by Rahi Rezvani.

New York City Center, New York, NY.
April 4, 2024.

Over the course of four days in April, the cool kids came to town. Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), the bastion of contemporary dance in Europe based in The Hague, treated sold-out NYC dance audiences to three works during its first tour to America since 2020. For many of us in the audience, NDT’s previous performance was the last we saw live in theaters before the Covid lockdown. The return of the company to the same theater (New York City Center) felt in some ways like finally turning the page on a dark chapter of live performance, although the celebration was a party where things got a little darker than expected, but you’re still glad you went and left more worldly than you were before. 

William Forsythe’s N.N.N.N. opened the show – a quartet using primarily breath sounds as a score (there is a low pulse playing as well). The dancers, in practice clothes, used one another to create chains of dance, not unlike the game children play when they build a machine with movement and noise using voice and moving body parts. In this elevated version, however, flow connected each movement to let it dance, not just move. 

The U.S. premiere of The Point Being, choreographed by siblings Imre and Marne van Opstal in concert with light installation by Lonnie Gordijn and DRIFT, made for a futuristic tone to ponder the times when seemingly unrelated events collide. It would be fair to say that the lighting aspect of the piece was as valuable as the dancing and the choreography, making this a trifecta of dance, light and sound. The dichotomy of the stark mise-en-scène with the morphing fluidity of the bodies in it allowed the ideas of harmony and friction rise to the surface. 

Finally, we see Jakie with dancers on demi-pointe the entire time — and it was not a short piece. The 16-person ensemble, all clad in nude-colored leotards, appeared almost as blobs, then militaristic lines, then back to blobs, with dancers breaking out for short sections before being re-amassed into the group. With Gaga-based choreography by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, creature-like movement with the occasional beautiful ballet line dominated the work. The shifts between the elements were hypnotizing and fed the real power of this work – watching the dancers master the technical demands of such choreography. 

While some may find the tone of the evening too chilly for their particular tastes (there are not many feel-good moments), the lengthy applause said otherwise. NDT collects the best dancers in the world and their dedication to the work comes through with a compelling subtlety. It’s like they could not care less if you like them, but the brilliance with which they dance makes it impossible not to.

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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