March 7, 2012 5:50 pm

Nederlands Dans Theater, Sadler’s Wells, London

The dancers were admirable enough in this programme of recent works – but there’s more to choreography than amateur psychiatry

The really teasing question is how the Dutch, whose society seems – to this admiring visitor – at ease with itself, and blessed with a great musical and painterly history, can endure anything as modishly vain and tiresome (and musically crass) as the repertory on offer from Nederlands Dans Theater 2 at the Wells this week. The NDT troupe that emerged in the 1960s was brave in its ambitions to breed dance that was both academic and “up to date”, as I saw at the time. The NDT of later years seems to me to have been in quest of vapid posturing, predictable in its attitudes, and insensitive with its scores. Music as doormat; dance as therapy; choreography oblique to a point of no return and justified by physical extravagance rather than expressive power.

The programme of recent NDT works shown in Rosebery Avenue on Tuesday, and now to be toured to the regions by this junior ensemble, I found dispiriting in the extreme. Stagings by three choreographers were on view and, as the evening ended in its barrage of chat and dull posturing (only from the stage, I hasten to add), I wondered what an audience might gain from works that abused music and offered performers impersonating the disturbed and the distressed. The Sol Leon/Paul Lightfoot creation, Passe-partout, was located in a broodingly dark and hallucinatory world of doors and archways, reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s most menacing drawings, the dancers anxious and unhappy and making occasional yelps – and who should blame them? As often with Leon/Lightfoot productions, the design was brilliant. The dance suggested characters taking their neuroses for a brisk trot.

The Jiri Kylian Gods and Dogs, also splendidly designed by its choreographer, seemed a nasty cross-breed between tag wrestling and sessions on the therapist’s couch, and abused Beethoven. The closing Cacti, by Alexander Ekman, was roguish, garrulous (recordings of two of the cast in mid-chatter on offer) and proposed merry calisthenics and group-posings as choreography.

The NDT2 dancers were admirable in their dedication to the predictabilities of this programme, ever responsive. All they have to learn now is that there is more to choreography that amateur psychiatry.

2 stars

Regional tour until March 31

www.ndt.nl

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