The second company of Nederlands Dans Theater aims to prepare its sixteen dancers in three years for the main company of NDT. Normally, this arrangement would seem perfectly reasonable; three years to train a dancer from scratch in the particular style of one company—particularly a company as well-known and respected as NDT— would seem a suitable length of time, if erring on the side of brevity. But the dancers of NDT2 in Friday night’s performance at the Joyce look absolutely primed for main-company action. They are pliant, exquisite technicians with superb musicality and sense of dynamics. Maybe the only thing they need more time for is to age physically – so many of them had baby faces.

Of the four pieces on the program, only two were really successful.

Katarina van den Wouwer and Gregory Lau © Rahi Rezvani
Katarina van den Wouwer and Gregory Lau
© Rahi Rezvani
Johan Inger’s I new then, created in 2012, opened the evening. It was set to five songs of Van Morrison (surprisingly) and felt young—the performers themselves, wearing pedestrian tops and pants, often looked as if they were grappling with adult decisions for the first time. Familiar gestures became dance movements, as when the appropriately imposing Clément Haenen jogged downstage to stand in a pool of light and smile garishly at the audience, changing his facing with each new thrust forwarcd of his jaw. Later, two dancers—a boy and a girl—removed their shirts and inched closer to one another. The boyish Spencer Dickhaus took notice of their tryst and said “Oh,” at first comprehendingly and then with many different inflections. You felt that each person knew his or her character cover to cover, but somehow the group itself didn’t mesh as well as I wanted it to. Dancers alternated between ignoring each other completely on stage and smiling at each other, which felt confusing. Program notes spoke of the dancers as “individuals who rebel against [a group]”; maybe this might well be why the pièce felt disjointed as a whole.

The two middle pieces, Shutters Shut (by resident choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot) and Sara (by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar) fared less well. Shutters Shut felt dated –it was created in 2003, and employs a few tricks that now seem overdone: The stark duet is set to the poem “If I told him,” written and read by Gertrude Stein. The dancers wear white and black and have chalky bodies (seeing the white smears they left on each other’s costumes when they came in contact muddied the illusion, for me). Dancing to the cadence of words instead of notes no longer feels novel, though Mr. Dickhaus and Imre van Opstal were committed, crisp performers.  

Sara felt most contrived and, frankly, a bit silly. Dressed in nude unitards, six of the dancers stood in a clump versus the lone Xanthe van Opstal. Ms. van Opstal mouthed the words to the music and seemed both angry and on a mission to escape the group opposite her, who moved as if they were very flexible and occasionally robotic aliens. It felt weird in a we-just-want-to-be-weird way.

NDT2 in <i>SARA</i> © Rahi Rezvani
© Rahi Rezvani

But León and Lightfoot’s Subject to Change, the final piece of the evening, felt so complete, so perfectly dramatic, so well-structured that it seemed nearly incomparable to the rest of the program. The masterful, fluid partnering of Yukino Takaura and Olivier Coeffard proved again that the Nederlands Dans Theaters ( 1 and 2) have, in their dancers, the most skilled partners of any contemporary company. The Takaura - Coeffard duet is seamless. And Subject to Change had such an appropriate sense of dramatics: the red carpet, unrolled on stage, was manipulated by four men in suits throughout the piece. A few times, Ms. Takaura would hold one pose and the men would rotate the carpet in a circle, as if she were a dancer in a music box, swirling effortlessly.

Subject to Change felt like that most perfect of coalescences: movement, music, drama, partnering... In moments like these there are no discernible differences between the dancers of NDT2 and any other top-tier first company in the world. These aren’t dancers in training; they are full-fledged, fully developed artists.