Tragedy is afoot amidst tense political conspiracies, illicit affairs and boggle eyed screams in an evening of astounding, technically-assured movement from Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadlers Wells. The first piece, ‘Shoot the Moon’, from resident choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, creates a stifling world of relationships teetering on the brink of despair in true late nineteenth-century dramatic fashion, where you just know things will end badly before they’ve even started.
Philip Glass’s stunning score sets the tone for a piece where movement mirrors sound in beautiful connectivity, with the dancers themselves – like some angst-ridden merry-go-round – used as a voyeuristic door into three couples’ messy relationships as they spiral into adulterous affairs.
The four dancers twist and writhe as their bodies fold into each other only to be ripped apart, often with wide-open jaws outlined by painted red lips letting out muffled screams – bar one, who lets rip a full-on wail of the words “I am,” in a slightly out-of-body moment. Dancers speak? Well, why not – but it is somewhat jarring and breaks the rhythm.
Otherwise, sequences flow like the waves that build ready to come crashing onto the shore, whilst precise frames of movement are distilled and streamed onto large screens looming overhead. As one dancer peers through the door left slightly ajar where he witnesses infidelity, his eye is magnified on the giant screen in a creepy Peeping Tom moment.
Designed by the choreographers, the wallpapered set functions beyond prettiness. Dancers rub up and lean against walls for support during emotional outpourings, or shimmy vertically up them like in a scene from an MGM musical. Windows are there to peer out of or jump through. When a dancer dives unexpectedly out of an open window and off into the night – or offstage – it’s a jaw-dropping moment. Where did he go? How did he land so noiselessly? Was there a mattress or perhaps a net to catch him and carry him off to safety?
Overall, such choreography allows the dancers to breathe and expand into a full range of expression both technically and emotionally. It’s mesmerizing to watch movement responses between bodies coming together and breaking apart.
It is Crystal Pite, though, who gives the dancers the most powerful material to work with in The Statement, a piece closer in spirit to contemporary political film thrillers like Michael Clayton or The Insider than a dance performance.
Brilliantly intertwining movement that mimes the text in near perfect synchronicity, the piece burrows its way under your skin by way of sound, movement and repetitive language to create a disturbing, uneasy atmosphere.
The script by Jonathon Young features four voices talking of politics and corporate corruption in a boardroom. Four dancers, suited up and ready for business, thrust forward and back in a battle of power between orders from ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs.’
They tussle with each other around a single table (the only prop onstage) in a battle for negotiation over an unnamed department that wants to fuel conflict in another country for no apparent reason other than “investment” and “growth”: an all too familiar scenario.
While we are transported into the world of this mystical bureau, it’s apparent the words don’t actually mean anything. Catchphrases like “I came down here to get a statement” and “upstairs sent me down here,” are replayed over in a repetitive loop. We know this to be meaningless jargon only used build and destroy something that doesn’t actually exist – a fictional country caught in a fictional conflict – the phrases akin to political propaganda or marketing speak. It’s nevertheless powerfully believable, and such disparity between what is being said and what it actually means lends the work untold depths.
The other two works performed as part of the mixed bill are equally beautiful but somehow pale into the background. Marco Goecke’s Woke Up Blind is a fabulous, airy ode to the flexible limbed, technically beautiful dancers donned in fetching red velvet trousers. But although Stop-Motion (the other León and Lightfoot piece) is equally stunning and throws an intriguing sprinkling of chalk clouds over the ghostly elegant moves, it somehow fails to leave more than a dusty trace behind.
NDT1 was performed from 26 – 29 June 2018 at Sadler’s Wells. Click here for more details.