Nederlands Dans Theater's Spiritwalking is a tonic for the mind. If your brain lacks a much needed moral and creative boost this is your December pick-me-up. This piece is better described by the effect it has, rather than its specific elements. It's all there, the virtuoso dancing that never gets old, the brilliant live music, the mysteriously connected couples and fast synchronicity of the dancers whirled into a subtle feeling of expansion.
Set in a very wide open space (an old gas-container on the edge of Amsterdam in this case) this piece unfolds in three pages: black (past), red (present) and white (future) as the dance floor literally flips over from one colour to the other. The very pleasant and effective lights (Tom Bevoort) stay on most of the time lending the stage a homely feeling. We feel connect to the dancers.
As we walk in, ballet master Charles Mudry is seated on the stage and tells (autobiographical?) stories about growing up in Switzerland and vivid images of an early youth. His role seems to be taken over by middle aged Stefan Żeromsky (retired NDT dancer in fine form), a milder mannered 3-day bearded Mark Strong/Andy Garcia lookalike. He observes and participates as he walks onwards from his youth into the rest of his life.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear the sound of a nyckelharpa (key fiddle) as a musical opening. Tusen Tankar ("A Thousand Thoughts") is a very Swedish folk tune balled about an unanswered love, with a late 19th century feeling. Some of the ladies' draped costumes have the same feeling about them. It is great to hear Philip Glass live on stage by the Ragazze Quartet, seated behind the dancers on a shallow podium in front of a large black balcony. From the Violin concerto no. 1, the driven “Grid” from Koyaanisqatsi and the specially commissioned String quartet no.7 by Glass for this piece, it is all played with great energy and leads the dance forward.
Sol León and Paul Lightfoot's vocabulary is recognisable in the great solo- and pas de deux work. There is a great section of two couples dancing on a white and black square taking tag-teaming in high speed (Jorge Nozal & Parvaneh Scharafali and Rena Narumi & Thiago Bordin respectively). A scene like this only works well with dancers of this virtuosity. But the innovation is in the group work this time: funny, fast and groovily synchronous. A group of round-hatted blackdressed 'workers' on a big red rectangle reminded me of anything from the 7 dwarfs on their way to work to what a North-Korean dance-performance with a dissonance would look like. The excessive individuality of the interspersed solo performances would certainly be deemed particularly unrevolutionary. Spencer Dickhaus, Jianhui Wang in duo and Marne van Opstal (Paul Bettany if he could dance) deserve special mention for their very present and engaging command of the dance space.
There are many duets throughout the piece that can be interpreted as long relationships. Parveneh Scharafali and Jorge Nazal dance beautifully with happy moments. Anne Jung impresses with strong poses - strongly facilitated by Olivier Coeffard - strikingly still, sometimes climbing, with daring swings. Certainly one of the highlights. The piece culminates with four couples dancing pas de deux. Marne van Opstal walks backwards towards a ground-bound Meng-Ke Wu in an almost-revealing green dress. Out of reach, moving away, probably the unrequited love of the 'I' (danced by Zeromsky) of the piece, she has been present throughout. As the piece ends with the subtle plucking of the strings, the woman's seductively beautiful ghost has gotten up and keeps on striding away, around, and over the scene. Even after the applause quieten and the audience is leaving, she walks across the balcony. Like any good unrequited love she is gone ánd looming in the background. But the immediate feeling after the performance is one of a choices, and roles one can play in life. It's a good thought to reflect on as one reviews the year just passed.
The only detraction I would have from this piece is that it could have done with total silence at some point, with or without dance. It would make the rest even more impressive. In a month known for the risk of the end-of-year work-race, culinary excesses, family obligations or distinct lack thereof, this mental tonic helps you get a well timed perspective. It is warmly recommended.
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