I’m pretty sure that I don’t express often enough how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do. Going to performances and writing about them obliges me to consider the performance in a wider context and then attempt to relate that to people I’ve never met. It’s the best experience when I attend a show that I wish everyone could see. Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) is a storied company with a passionate following and it’s easy to see why. Every one of the dancers is a fully mature artist with something valuable to say and you really want to hear it. You get the sense that you could have a stimulating conversation with any one of them. They crackle with intelligence from the stage and give you the sense of all having fully inhabited inner lives. At its best, art doesn’t merely exalt the observer, it also challenges you to think and it affirms your humanity. NDT qualifies on all counts and this was a terrific performance by a world class troupe of dancers.

<i>Safe as Houses</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Safe as Houses
© Rahi Rezvani

Safe as Houses, a work by company leaders, Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, is an engaging and often compelling work. From the edge of the stage, three dancers in black approached a white wall that divided the space in half between left and right. They danced around the wall and then it began to move, slowly rotating around the stage. The choreography is arranged so that the dancers must account for the constantly moving wall as it sweeps around which adds an element of randomization. The dancers in white were brought onstage by passing them under the backdrop as the sweeping wall obscured our view. In turn, they explored the wall and in one curiously moving instance, the white dancers retreated from the moving wall as the black dancers pushed it. Their concentration was such that I had the sense of watching people praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I was in awe of the power of these dancers.

Woke Up Blind paired Jeff Buckley’s ghostly music with Marco Goecke’s overwrought choreography. The dancers effectively related the passion of Buckley’s lyrics but I thought that Goecke over-choreographed it. There was too much happening visually for it to harmonize with the music. Crystal Pite’s The Statement was the most powerful work of the evening. It started out as an amusing trick. Two people, a man and a woman, are in a conference room having a conversation about something that has gone wrong but we don’t know what it is. The conversation is recorded and the dancers move to it, acting out the parts in something between acting and dancing. It’s hard to describe but it was well beyond mime and it was quite funny. They seemed to be comically melodramatic and then another couple came from “upstairs”. The conversation gradually began to get more serious and the two from upstairs try to get the two from downstairs to admit that they were acting independently when they did whatever it was that they did. The comic drama of overacting and jumping on the table kept it lighthearted but it eventually began to take on ominous overtones when we learn that they were taking advantage of an already existing conflict to make money. The result was fighting and death and now, in the aftermath, everyone is trying to avoid responsibility. The conversation escalates into bitterness and recrimination with attempts to negotiate a way out of the impasse until we realize that we’ve been here before, watching press conferences in which politicians and business leaders sidestep responsibility for unleashing war to make more money. It was one of those times when art is not exalting, but it is illuminating.

<i>Woke up blind</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Woke up blind
© Rahi Rezvani

León and Lightfoot’s Stop-Motion closed the show with a richly evocative statement about love in various forms set to the music of Max Richter. At one point it featured the use of a mound of chalk dust which has been used in other pieces recently but this was effectively done. Tellingly, the choreographers used video projections that included their daughter, Saura, in 19th-century dress. I had the sense that the lead couple, at least in part, represented the two choreographers, their life together and their love for their daughter. That’s an over-simplification of two complex artists but when the dance ended with film of a kestrel taking flight, I couldn’t help but think of setting my own child loose in the world.

<i>Stop-Motion</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Stop-Motion
© Rahi Rezvani

Nederlands Dans Theater is an outstanding experience on many levels. You can enjoy the great dancing and respect the talent of a troupe of compelling, mature artists. There is a terrific repertory of works by powerfully creative contemporary choreographers that engages while it entertains. Then there is the opportunity to experience the affirmation of your humanity that comes when you open yourself to the world of ideas. This is a special company and not to be missed.