In Lightfoot and Leon’s Shut Eye we’re invited to peek through a door that opens on to a triangular setting of lights and shadows, onto couples and groups that dance wonderfully synchronous movement but seem ultimately out of reach to each other. Shut eye is a series of attempts to touch met with rejection, loss of security and the inability to connect. A man loses his love interest to another man. A woman steps away from the door where the man she's with stands against, with his back turned to her. Her leaving doesn’t even register to him.

<i>Shut Eye</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Shut Eye
© Rahi Rezvani
The lightning is effective: the large shadow of a seated person, detached, watching, looms behind the dancers. Later on, a Rorschach-like light bulb above the door turns into a person (is it a man, a woman?). The bulb’s dance nicely complements the movement happening at the forefront of the stage by NDT’s finests dancers: supple movements, stable positions and fast turns. Jorge Nozal makes dancing look easy the way Eddie van Halen made guitar playing seem like a walk in the park. The pas de deux by Marne and Myrthe van Opstal is good. Roger van der Poel and Chuck Jones move fast and all the dancers command attention from the audience. But the dance is loud enough by itself and does not need the musical crescendo at the end.  

The piece is smart, the dance virtuoso, but it isn’t heart-wrenching, which Leon and Lightfoot’s Shoot the Moon or the brilliant Short Time Together accomplished easily. Emotionally, NDT can do even better than this otherwise great piece on this night. 

The night’s second piece Clowns (Hofesh Shechter) is a well delivered punch in our faces. The circus has come to town: the stage is red and lit with circus lights along the ceiling, and smoke fills the space. The ringmaster Rupert Tookey beckons us as if to say: “We’re in hell here and you’re all coming with us!”   

<i>Clowns</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Clowns
© Rahi Rezvani
The dance fits with our current bizarre political theatre, devoid of urgency, lacking visionary leadership. Shechter offers no way out either. He just shows us how deep we’ve fallen, mesmerized by entertainment on our way down... In the words of Neil Postman, amusing ourselves to death. The piece is reminiscent of the fall of Rome, with its gratuitous violence and sensual hints. The ringmaster and his dancers perversely gloat in the violence they portray. They expect applause and praise as they move to the front of the stage, proud of their work, ‘Look what we’re doing. Isn’t it grand?!’  They celebrate. It might as well have been called an afternoon with Nero.

Shechter’s collective style leaves little space for individual dancers to shine as they did in the first piece  (If the movie Matrix was ever turned into a musical you can bet your bottom dollar that the Zion underground party scene would be choreographed by Shechter) yet it's perfectly suited for the collective groovy madness he aims to describe here.

So what is it that these dancers show? Plain and simple executions. But these folks execute their victims ‘in style’ of course; in trendy outfits, with smug smiles, relentlessly lining up row after row of people.

One round of executions follows the other where the perpetrators finally become the victims and the victims become the perpetrators. The ringmaster is no exception. The violence gets more intimate and moves from execution squads to daggers and strangulation. Broken necks, blowpipe darts (?!), dancing on the corpses, electrocution; there are so many ways to die on the stage that night. You cannot imagine. And requests for mercy? Those are declined. 

The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson referring to the 20th century points out how cruelty often is the result of man’s inability to deal with the essential vulnerabilities of life. Cynicism combined with human intelligence can lead to the cruelest torture, over time, when people see no purpose left in life. Some of this casual ‘intelligent’ cruelty is unleashed in this piece.

<i>Clowns</i> © Rahi Rezvani
Clowns
© Rahi Rezvani

The music, by Shechter himself, is a maniacal drumbeat that gets replaced at times by voices that egg on the dancers. Drums turn to machine gun fire style rhythms and explosions that the dancers tap dance to. A woman’s cry is drowned out by the noise. Nobody stops it. Whether it is drone-assassinations or the casual violence in the choreographer’s homecountry or indiscriminate bombings in Syria, the possible parallels are endless.

Shechter makes something horrible palatable. And therein lays the mirror, as we watch, staying in our seats. This piece is a warning. A warning we should heed. The executioner always gets tainted by and ends up being the victim of his own violence. As a woman walks up to the ringmaster with a seductive smile, she kisses him in the neck, and shoots him through the back. The audience is not innocent he seems to say. The ringmaster is used to hearing applauses, an carries on, unimpeded. Clowns will not stop as long as the applause endures.