After a successful visit two years ago, the Nederlands Dans Theater is back in Berlin, at the House of the Berliner Festspiele. It is yet another anticipated triumph. Indeed, NDT brings together works by four aces of contemporary choreography (all German premières) that make NDT dancers fly across the stage and literally reproduce breathtaking sequences you thought only possible in films or video games. The evening is a visual summary of the most relevant contemporary dance trends with more classically abstract works paired with ones in tune with a highly digitally-literate audience.

<i>The Statement</i> © Rahi Rezvani
The Statement
© Rahi Rezvani

The programme promises a high impact start and indeed Marco Goecke’s Woke up Blind, on two songs by Jeff Buckley, cannot but catch the audience’s attention. A bigger than life Jorge Nozal towers over us (there is no orchestra pitch), hissing and emitting guttural sounds, scaring other dancers off stage. And then holding his trousers out to the side, he trembles. Dancers come back to join him, first in black and then red, moving at such a speed that they leave traces in the air, alternating between hectic activity and articulating fluid waves through their bodies. The stage is empty, apart from a constellation of lights at the back, but still, the atmosphere is slightly claustrophobic. The dancers seem not to notice as with hectic fluidity they run in and out changing formation, making everyday gestures or highly complicated dance moves, trapped in a world where almost no interaction is possible. And suddenly, for no reason, they tremble again.

Crystal Pite’s The Statement is a magnetic twist on human nature and corporate hierarchy. Closely reminding Kurt Jooss’s Green Table, Pite’s is surely darker a piece in its constant evocation of bloodshed and exploitation. Around an oval table four characters vividly debate, a disc of light hovering over their heads.

<i>The Missing Door</i> © Rahi Rezvani
The Missing Door
© Rahi Rezvani

Two of them, have come to inquire about the activities of this mysterious department. There has been a problem and there is the urgent need for a scapegoat. The work is grotesquely comical as the dancers mickey-mouse the words uttered by voices off stage with exaggerated slapstick movements and gestures visually complementing the dialogue. It clashes with the horror of the unsaid. A culprit is found and the dance ends as it started if not for the intervention of a narrator voice that transforms them into characters of a fiction.

The Missing Door by Peeping Tom’s Gabriela Carrizo is another grim affair in a Lynchian atmosphere. The scene opens on a cheap hotel corridor, the walls covered with doors and peep-holes. As a woman’s body is dragged out, we understand we have walked into a place where something has already happened. Nothing is what it appears, time and gravity become reversible variables. The dancers move as if in a film frame. Causal logic is suspended, the order of events reversed. The movement material is paused and then goes on, it rewinds itself or gets stuck as a broken record. No scene is fully played out. Are they ghosts? Memories? Still, the tension rises with the bloodstains and with the women’s bodies disposed of. The characters off stage randomly impend on those on stage with a spotlight. As the events unfold returning to the balance of the start, the mystery remains unsolved.

The black and white Safe as Houses by Lightfoot & León’s closes the evening. An older work premiered in 2001, it plays with change as a truth guiding life. Three figures in black stand looking at and blending in with the curtains. These rise unexpectedly onto an astonishing set of three white walls with at the top black scribbles and a wall in the middle of the stage.

<i>Woke Up Blind</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Woke Up Blind
© Rahi Rezvani

The wall starts rotating and suddenly as magic dancers in white appear and disappear on stage. Some play with it, some ignore the rotating wall. Then, what looked like a solid white box starts melting down and the dance ends with the three in black looking out at the audience. The movement material, wonderfully executed by the dancers, is typical of the NDT style, with few surprises. Though beautifully choreographed this work is in an awkward position: not as on trend as the other pieces and yet not a classic. 

Needless to say, that the evening was a success. Goecke’s and Lightfoot-León’s more classic languages gain in the juxtaposition with those media inspired of Pite and Carrizo. Seen one beside the other, one could almost talk of an old and of a new guard in contemporary dance. The dancers skillfully interpreted, almost to the perfection, these different movement worlds – only at time Carrizo’s filmic illusion suffered because of a tiny lack of synchronization. What is true is that the cleverness of the choreography and the skills of the dancers will actually make you forget the grim topics of the works. It is an extraordinary evening, go and see it.