It was another stunning evening with the Netherlands Dance Theatre 1. The unassuming name, Program II, hides a rollercoaster ride of four pieces that shows what modern choreography on modern dancers is capable of at its best. The evening launches with Alexander Ekman's second study of love, Definitely Two. Ekman sets the stage for an explosion of happiness with a short black and white film of interactions between couples. Fifteen dancers skip and jump, shuffle, tap, slide, jump and smooth across low tables in a grid across the stage. The dancers express the kind of euphoria that one experiences at the beginning of a romantic relationship, that special energy and attraction. The synchronicity, rythmic interaction between the dancers and sheer physicality of Definitely Two is amazing to watch. How long can dancers keep up their speed, energy and unity in this fifteen-table tap dance?

The Missing Door © Rahi Rezvani
The Missing Door
© Rahi Rezvani
What could have been an impressive gimmick suddenly twists into a bird's eye view of an entire relationship together. The tables have been turned into a small stage, where two men, Menghan Lou and Jianhui Wang, interact. Lou is one of the central forces of Netherlands Dance Theatre 1 with his controlled, utterly balanced, fast style of dancing. Wang is responsive, fast and pleasant in his interaction with Lou. Three couples on high chairs atop tables, flank three parts of the platform with the audience on the 4th. An English voice summarizes phases of a relationship: marriage, children, infidelity, reconciliation, sickness, separation, (a new relationship?) old age, and loss of decorum before death. The two dancers start to dance in disharmony – close, fast, furious and then still – across the edges of the stage. They drift apart more and more: life is short, loves change. It is uncomfortable, but beautiful.

Chrystal Pite in Solo Echo invites us to a black winter landscape where the constant fall of snow in the background is accompanied by piano and cello, Brahms (Allgro Non Troppo opus 38, E minor and Adagio Affettuoso opus 99, F major). It is based upon a poem by Mark Strand, called Lines of Winter. It speaks of hope and holding on through the dark, as the dancers move as liquid: they speed up and slow down alone or, in typical Pite fashion, rows of dancers in different phases of the same movement. At times they look like horizontal waterdrops falling back into a larger body of water.

The thriller of the night is The Missing Door by Gabriella Carizzo (from the dance company Peeping Tom in Brussels). I have not seen any piece like it to date. And this does not detract from the other performances this night. I am not surprised Netherlands Dance Theatre takes on an idea like this, and I doubt that any other group of dancers could have co-created the incredible spectacle we watched. The scene is set with two green walls with 5 doors, a chair and table in the corner and another chair. An old man in a home for the elderly has two minutes left to live. Racing in his mind, raging against the end, he fights to survive, to remember, to recall, to meet the memory of the people in his past as the two minutes stretch to twenty in his mind. It is a fearful blur of the people he hurt and loved. Call it the spirit of Christmas gone if you like.

As he proceeds to be hurled along by his memories, bloodstains on his hands and shirt show that he is in the process of dying. A visual dance and sound spectacle ensues in which our senses seem to merge. The brain can be a deceptive tool as it tries to make sense of the world around us, and it is this inside experience of the dying man that is somehow transposed to the audience. Simply put, it's a trip.

The dancers turn part magician. People seem to be dragged across the floor as if dragged by a force other than themselves. Fernando Hermando Madagan, while lying on the floor, is slammed into the wall several times by an unseen force – all the result of exquisite timing and muscle control. Meng-ke Wu is tossed and lifted around like a ragdoll, and I mean this quite literally. Is it an expression the main character's guilt at having abused the women in his life? Ema Yuasa, the nurse, bounces and vibrates around to great hilarity. Are Marne van Opstal and Roger van de Poel physical representations of the Dr Jekell and Mr Hyde within this dying man? In any case, this performance is worth watching several times. Go out of your way to see this performance and see it now. Only dancers of this calibre can create such a mind-boggling experience. The audience gasped at what they were not sure they were seeing, whether they loved or hated it. Bravo to director Paul Lightfoot for selecting choreographers who dare create this.

Skipping Over Damaged Area © Rahi Rezvani
Skipping Over Damaged Area
© Rahi Rezvani

The last piece of the evening is Skipping over Damaged Areas by Leon and Lightfoot (2011), which seem like the rambling of the thoughts of an old man with ADHD, who is played by Medhi Walerski. He speaks these thoughts from beginning to end directly to the audience, to real and imagined partners on stage. He recalls with fervour, aggressivity and enthusiasm, the highlights of his life, including an obvious love pursuit. It is a beautiful scene.

All the pieces of tonight speak of the need to deal with your demons, and to live life fully. One longs for more of the beauty of Pite's piece, as a promise for what lies beyond the confrontation. What an excellent sermon for Christmas!