Nederlands Dans Theatre 2's latest programme presented contrasting contemporary works.

First up, Marco Goecke’s Darkness Spoken was a piece that sustained as powerful an electric charge as I’ve ever seen on the ballet stage. While the choreographer’s language of angular movement might readily be called “digital”, that hardly does it justice, for the work entered the realms of both completely mesmerizing and magnetic. The degree of concentration and exactitude such jagged, seemingly unforeseeable movements demanded of its dancers was legion, yet the company mastered every contortion and choreographic impulse, making what was a thrilling piece from start to finish.

NDT2 in Inger's <i>One on One</i> © Jori Jan Bos
NDT2 in Inger's One on One
© Jori Jan Bos
The score, which varied between live performance and recorded tracks, also included the rock band, Placebo’s lyrics about love and loss. After the familiar harmonies of a Franz Schubert string trio Alfred Schnittke’s In tempo di Valse felt like shards of broken glass, the superb string players – drawn from het ballet orkest with pianist Sepp Grotenhuis – performing handsomely throughout. The lighting was dim and suffused, humanizing the work to great effect by making it intimate despite its radical profile. The costumes were harder to read: unisex fawn-colored leotards and tights with leather-strip tethers. They resembled buckskin trousers, perhaps in alignment with that group’s acute sensitivity to the animal world. “Yes, we have craved their beauty, their truth” is projected at one point the audio score.

Johann Inger’s One on One followed: an exploration of human relationships, along with all their inherent treats and trials. The ballet gave us three couples in succession, each one working on a stage that was covered in an ankle-deep blanket of soft ash-coloured chips. The dancers scuffed their way through that medium capably, although only one of the six lay a bold calligraphic mark in it around his body. What such an “ash-floor” meant is anyone’s guess, but I equated it with the mire of society all of us plough through, and events that have gone before our time, tempering who and what we become.

The three pairs each gave us a degree of personality, and with varying conviction, a sense that opposites attract. The first couple showed a flirtatious, self-assured young woman – a particularly strong dancer – succumbing to the charms of a demonstrative opposite. The second pair was less convincing, largely, I believe, because the female role strutted frequently around the stage as if to say, “it’s all the same to me”. The third pair’s interwoven choreography was again more poignant; he gestured tenderly to his heart, she rested coyly in the ash/meadow, anticipating his attention. The piece, scored to four of Schubert’s piano Impromptus and his sublime 21st sonata, was augmented by occasional claps and sighs by the dancers, whose audio contribution I quite liked, since it came across as unstudied and natural. One dancer’s loud exhalation just before the curtain put a seal on the story that all challenging partnerships entail.

NDT2 in Ekman's <i>Cacti</i> © Joris Jan Bos
NDT2 in Ekman's Cacti
© Joris Jan Bos
The last piece, Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, which premiered in 2010, is a parody of the demands of the dance world on its practitioners. Yet what was billed as “delightfully witty and joyously physical” actually fell on deaf ears, at least for me. Each of the dancers was initially assigned a 4- or 5-foot white-painted square platform for the greater part of vigorous body exercises, all of them done from the sitting position. Such imposing staging made the collective group look like students in an advanced yoga class, or a whole catalog of nautical signals in human form. The fine string quartet wound its way among the dancers with music by Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven, and a running narrative voice also served as accompaniment. At one point, too, the entire group broke into orchestrated clapping rhythms à la Steve Reich.

Cacti's middle segment gave us a male and female dancer in rehearsal, both subject to corrections and encouragement from the other, even as the rest of the dancers hung on the jumble of upright square platforms upstage. A “broadcast” of the two dancers’ frustrated conversation was the closest we actually got to the dance studio in Cacti itself, but both pacing and choice of exchange between the two dancers was too stilted and self-conscious for my taste. And while the conversation might well have been an accurate reflection of what happens between dancers as they practice, the sequence was as predictable as it was self-conscious, and did little to humour our audience.

***11