Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo in the arms of Nederlands Dans Theater 1’s dancers is a work of wintry white and dark perfection, set to movements from Brahms’ Cello Sonatas. Originally made for the company in 2012, it feels timeless and uplifting. I was especially struck by how the complexity of the movement was made to look simple. The dancers' incredible speed and connection looks effortless. I saw one mis-grabbed hand in the entire piece as if to remind us of the risk and smoothness of the rest. Whether it is solo-, ground- or the choreographer’s signature collective movement, it’s done to a tee.

<i>Solo Echo</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Solo Echo
© Rahi Rezvani

Inspired by Mark Strand’s poem Lines for Winter, the stage is dark and bare, interrupted only by a moving horizontal bar of falling snow. It is a simple idea, well executed with great lighting. Solo Echo’s theme seems to be maintaining one's individuality amidst the journey of life, finding contentment instead of resentment, no matter the circumstances. The dancers emerge from and submerge into tableaux and duos that are always beautiful and exquisitely timed, a fluid viscosity that goes beyond gimmickry. Pite’s use of the stage is also exemplary, never too full. What is the point of missing a fantastic duet in one corner in favour of perfunctory stage-filling antics in another? Her wide vocabulary mixed with unpredictability makes this a compelling watch from Jon Bond’s strong masculine start to the subtle lonely finish.

Take Root, the second work in the programme, is decidedly ugly at the beginning. It can be difficult sometimes to decide whether overly sensual and ugly dancing is the aim of a choreographer or just bad taste. Perhaps it is in indication of a larger symptom of a borderless society in search of yet another ‘brave' barrier to upset an audience. Thankfully the former turns out to be the case here, although it gives a feel of performance art. The dancers move robotically, with constrained limbs at times, driven forth by non-understanding internal drives, disconnected, unable to help each other, set to Amos Ben-Tal’s hard soundscapes. They torture themselves through exhaustion, falling one by one from a white wall against which they stand inverted for several long minutes. The first relief comes when an energetic Spencer Dickhaus tries to tenderly console a crying Meng-Ke Wu. Unable to connect emotionally, they rub their underarms on their bodies. In utter frustration, some dancers punch through the gypsum wall, causing beams of light to shine through the newly formed cracks.

<i>Take Root</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Take Root
© Rahi Rezvani

The mid-work musical switch to Bach’s Cello Suite no. 2 in D minor and the erection of an elegant 18th-century-style forest landscape behind the wall indicates an attempt to connect to something steadier and more graceful. Instead of wallowing in despair and disconnection, the piece turns fluid and beautiful: Sebastian Kristensen Haynes rubs his loins but suppresses the urge to abuse the vulnerable girl at his feet. He tenderly picks up the half-naked and captivatingly moving Chloé Albaret, who was writhing and crawling in slow motion. It takes minutes of awkward and desperate searching for her to find her feet with his constant and selfless help. Yet even while carrying her on her back, she remains distant. Once she is finally able to stand, she faces him, looking him in the eye for the first time, indicating if not connection, at least the possibility of it. This seems an answer to all in the group, liberation from the state of rootlessness coming through the classics and connection with others. Siblings Marne and Imre van Opstal obviously have talent for painting a ‘pretty' picture and driving a narrative.

<i>Bedroom Folk</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Bedroom Folk
© Rahi Rezvani

The final piece of the evening Bedroom Folk (Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar) is set to a percussive, seemingly monotone but deliciously punchy score by Ori Lichtik. Nine dancers move in a group, while single dancers free themselves to later rejoin. Though mostly remaining upright and moving as a hyper-controlled collective, it retains interest. An example is when Miguel Duarte rejoins the group so effortlessly that you understand this is an exercise in intense co-ordination that deserves the great applause it receives the end.

NDT’s dancers remain as virtuosic as ever and these three very different pieces amply display their capabilities.

****1