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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 9 FEBRUARY 2015 — The Nederlands Dans Theater, founded in The Hague in 1959, has long been considered one of the finest contemporary dance companies in Europe, known for its combination of classical technique with innovative visual sets and its exploration of new forms of dance.

Unhampered by any tradition of classical ballet, (the Dutch National Ballet, with its repertoire of the 19th century classics did not see the light of day until two years later), the company gained its artistic identity with new, exciting works by such people as Glen Tetley and Hans van Manen. The company was the first in Europe to hold classes in modern dance technique.

Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo
Nederlans Dans Theater
Photo: Joris Jan Bos

When Jiri Kylian, one of the most important choreographers in the world today, took over the artistic directorship in 1975, retaining the post until 1999 when he became resident choreographer for a further 10 years, the troupe, which included such fabulous dancers as Nacho Duato, rose to even greater heights. Today, with British dancer/choreographer Paul Lightfoot at its helm since 2011, the company is as magnificent as ever.

After an absence of eight years, the company triumphed in Paris with a superb programme of three works, one by Kylian, one by the Canadian choreographer, Crystal Pite, and a third by the gifted tandem, Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot.

The evening began, ironically enough, with Kylian’s sublime last work before leaving the troupe, Mémoires d’oubliettes, Forgotten Memories, created in 2009, a work for six dancers which appeared to be the choreographer’s sombre farewell to his company.

Jiri Kylian: Mémoires d’oubliettes, Forgotten Memories
Nederlans Dans Theater
Photo: Joris Jan Bos

Videos, in grey, white and silver shimmered along a shifting backcloth, while a dancer’s head emerged from between the hanging curtains, then a second, then a third, a fourth, fifth and sixth, before they each stepped through the curtains and moved stealthily forward in slow- motion. It was an intriguing, resolutely futuristic piece, impregnated with nostalgia when glimpses of movements from previous pieces could be seen, while words such as rests, memories, mothers, death and forgetfulness were projected onto flickering videos. The evocative soundtrack, which included Kylian’s own voice, whispering, was by Dirk Haubrich.

The dancers, lyrical and fluid, moved in couples while the rest ‘froze’ around them, all the while combining the fleetness and precision of classical dance  with the grace and solid muscularity of modern, alternating abrupt gestures with more large, ample movements.

After such a highly theatrical masterpiece, with Kylian’s powerful images remaining in one’s head, it was harder to adapt to Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo which followed, a piece nevertheless very much in keeping with the style of the company. Created by the young Canadian choreographer two years ago it was visually attractive, opening as it did with a man, motionless on stage against a background of falling snow. The seven interpreters, feather-light, moved with big, generous movements, each gesture flowing naturally on to the next before they were swallowed up in darkness.

Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo
Nederlans Dans Theater
Photo: Joris Jan Bos

Shoot the Moon, a brilliant, inventive and visually amazing ballet by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, the last work on the programme, was mesmerizing. It told the story of the complex relationships between two couples and a single man; changing relationships in a changing world, a story of desire and frustration.

However, what made the ballet so fascinating was the fact that events and emotions were only suggested within a setting of three adjoining apartments. Did one man really hang himself, or was it wished upon him, by others, by outside events, by his rival? 

The ambiguity in the work was aided and abetted by the astute use of the décor, moving walls which swung around on the stage, showing the different couples in their home setting. Videos were cleverly yet lightly used to show the same scene from a different angle. One could witness events simultaneously from the outside as well as from the inside. During the entire 22 minutes, which passed all too quickly, the lighting was constantly changing, and all the while, the colours, angles, and perspectives brought to mind the enigmatic paintings of Edward Hopper.

Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot: Shoot the Moon 
Nederlans Dans Theater
Photo: Rahi Rezvani

The brilliance of the interpretation, Danielle Rowe, Parvaneh Scharafali, Brett Conway, Roger Van der Poel and Mehdi Walerski, choreographer himself and ex-dancer from the Paris Opera Ballet, was matched only by the exceptional choreography. Leon and Lightfoot expressed emotions with each gesture, with hard angles and super-fast spins, with the facial expressions of the interpreters, and then in the slow, soft, lyrical movements of the harmonious duos. Having been part of the company for over 25 years, they both know and understand the dancers, and this was a ballet ideally suited to the troupe.

Paris audiences can only hope they will not have to wait another 8 years to see these remarkable dancers.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque

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