Sponsored by the Migros Kulturprozent the nationwide Steps dance festival features works of unparalleled originality by some of the world’s most accomplished dance companies. Among regular guests of the festival is NDT2, the junior company of prestigious Nederlands Dans Theater. NDT2 is acknowledged as a superb dance configuration in its own right, albeit of gifted younger dancers. While all aged between 17 and 23, their work, like that of the NDT, is driven by renowned contemporary choreographers and hallmarked by highly innovative and original movements.

NDT2 in <i>Mutual Confort</i> © Joris Jan Bos
NDT2 in Mutual Confort
© Joris Jan Bos

In Johann Inger’s I New Then, the dancers delighted with extreme light-heartedness, and a series of poetic sequences around a story of an unrequited love. The music and words of van Morrison’s The eyes of Madame Joy set rhythms that were matched by brilliant technique. Throughout much of the piece, for example, one dancer kept the beat centre stage with the simple marking of a slow and undulating core body movement, almost as if riding a horse. The simplicity of that, in contrast to the more unpredictable duets going on around him was sublime. The story itself was fairly straightforward: one character was terribly jealous of events going on behind the scenes. How that was danced, however, was tantamount to the best comical and bittersweet theatre I’ve followed in years. The dancer’s physical stamina was astounding, but his acting skills were no less compelling: we could only sympathize with his shock and disappointment when the woman he wanted went off with somebody else, sensations to which he gave rein in sad vocal utterances. 

NDT2 in <i>Short Cut</i> © Joris Jan Bos
NDT2 in Short Cut
© Joris Jan Bos

The second piece, Short Cut, carried the unmistakable hand of Hans van Manen, the 85-year old Dutch choreographer who is widely considered a “master of movement”. The ballet asks its dancers to take risks outside their comfort zones, yet van Manen’s work is refreshingly egalitarian: the male and female dancers share the same dynamic profiles and weight on the stage. Set to a string quartet by Jacob te Veldhuis, this ballet premiered in the Hague in 1999, making it the oldest and most classical of the evening’s offerings: a male dancer in dark leotards engages with three female dancers – one in red, one in yellow, one in white – the focus in each case being an exclusive and sinuous pas de deux in which the bodies are extraordinarily elastic and malleable. Each of the female dancers patiently, if passively, waits her turn for her round with the male counterpart, and the poignancy of their intertwining was heart-warming in all three instances.

Next, and on the contrary, Edward Clug’s Mutual comfort began with a digital-esque series of angular movements, sometimes even to Tango-like musical sequences, all set against a contrasting stage backdrop of soft, nebulous clouds. The Romanian choreographer set the same hard-soft contrasts into his body movements; an intriguing combination that amplified the effects of movements as precise and distinctive as a solar-powered clock. What’s more, the dancers fully mastered the frequent shifts in timing. And while there was no real narrative to follow – here was movement for movement’s sake alone – the precision and electricity with which the dancers charged the stage was simply unparalleled.

NDT2 in <i>Sh-boom!</i> © Rahi Rezvani
NDT2 in Sh-boom!
© Rahi Rezvani

Last on the programme was SH-BOOM! the very first work the Spanish-English team of Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot choreographed back in 2000, which gave us the whole gamut of Vaudeville peculiarities in a kind of stage revue. From the middle of a Rockettes-like line-up in the beginning, one harlequin-like figure in a half-black, half-white suit, turned sideways to reveal one color or another. He and the others all danced to the easy sounds of smooth 1930’s club music, complete with the scratches and skips of an old vinyl record. The love story inherent to the scene oscillated between black irony and light laughs, putting demands on the dancers that were legion; in addition to an unprecedented number of unusual arm and leg configurations, the costuming saw them all dancing in their underwear at the end, the leading male, in fact, nude. All the while, lyrics such as “we’ll meet again, sweetheart”, made for a kind of sentimental journey. And just before the final curtain, confetti fell lightly from above into the first rows of the theatre, each strip of paper imprinted with “life could be a dream”. That vaguely echoed Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage”, suggesting, perhaps, that even today, a pursuit of the arts may be the easiest way to explore the imagination. That said, NDT2 works wonders.