Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) is often cited as the most ground-breaking contemporary dance company in the world. Its own junior company, Nederlands Dans Theater 2 − a brilliant ensemble of 16 gifted young dancers, all of the between the ages of 17 and 22 − serves as a training ground for careers in the prestigious mother company. NDT 2 tours twice a year, drawing every time on its repertoire of works by various choreographers. The ensemble meets the extraordinary demands of the works, both technical and artistic. And in Baden,NDT 2 exceeded all expectations.

<i>Sad Case</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Sad Case
© Rahi Rezvani
The evening began with Sad Case, a work by the seasonal duet Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. In an interview, the pair explained that Sad Case dates from the time Sol was expecting a child in Mexico. Give that, mambo music, intermittent whistles and vocals found lively expression in the work – one that Lightfoot fondly called a “tsunami of energy, both through the music and the dance." An extremely physical piece, Sad Case is marked by terrific injections of both tenderness and humour: several of the dancers actually open their eyes and mouths wide to shout out their “ha ha ha”, the men return again and again to grasping their groins, legs akimbo, and jerking themselves forward from the hips. Surprise: the many clever innuendos got laughs, as did the contrast between the one dancer, who shook violently with tremors of extreme cold, and his partner, who expanded her sensuous moves right next to him. Against the south-of-the-border blare of Mexican music and trumpets, the stunning unitards brought me up north: they resembled the mottled, shiny ice that receding glaciers spit up at the alpine landscape. South? North? That “all the world’s a stage” was given us in this ballet on no uncertain terms, and done so with absolute precision and tremendous exuberance.

Sara, a work by choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, which is danced to a striking electronic score of Ori Lichtik was close to mesmerizing The piece began with spectacular lighting: dancers emerged dressed head to toe in skin-collared body suits from behind a blurry veil of black smoke. They made a cluster of six breathing creatures that moved synchronically as if in a gentle current. For movements so finely attuned, I was reminded of pale coral swaying on a shallow ocean reef, and indeed, swimming-like movements resurfaced throughout the piece. Later, the bodies together would strike figures that − taken as sculpture − were bent in ways that seemed almost calligraphic.

<i>Sara</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Sara
© Rahi Rezvani

Dancing apart from the man-headed configuration, the Sara figure mirrors their steps at the start, then branched out into a seemingly inexhaustible catalogue of contractions and extensions. Some were very raw: at one point, squatting, she opened her mouth as far as it would go to mimic the great Scream by Edvard Munch. While the dancer mastered her solo and group work superbly, the role itself – likely around the spiritual and emotional state of a woman – was not without its issues. “When he comes home,” we heard in the score, “we want you to be around. We want to be sure that the T.V. is on.” Who wouldn’t want to scream at that?

Next, Edward Clug’s Mutual Comfort was costumed in street dress. There was almost something of Jerome Robbins' here, although the flicking and jerking of bodies in pairs went far beyond the great gang leaps we all loved in West Side Story.

<i>Mutual Comfort</i> © Joris-Jan Bos
Mutual Comfort
© Joris-Jan Bos
Clug’s ballet held many small surprises, one more beautiful than the next. One dancer, for example, after a convoluted twisting around her partner, shimmies her head down the full length of this leg; while all of a second in length, this made for sheer exquisiteness. In another, a figure belly-down flat on the floor slowly raises her body − part by part from head to toe, then in reverse from toe to head − like a wave or a caterpillar moving forward. The muscular control and precision demanded was astounding.

The final piece I new then (choreography Johan Inger), was danced to the beat music of Van Morrison and told a straightforward story: a man who “would like to dance the night away” becomes a tortured voyeur when he sees two devoted lovers coupling. His absurd antics, vocals and close to psychotic movements ultimately made a strong case for “jealousy doesn’t pay.” But in the final scene, the lack of inhibition perhaps does: shirts and skirts come off, and the whole company dances ecstatically in its underclothes to the strains of Sugar Baby. It was a showing of innocent joy at its very best, a true triumph, and the Baden stage never gets sweeter than that. 

*****