The decor for Nederlands Dans Theater’s latest double bill is flawless: restrained and elegant, the sets shrink and expand the space and hold the interest without being hyperactive. Not so the dancemaking which, despite the best efforts of the performers, remains life-sappingly banal.
In Sehnsucht (“Longing”) a male soloist (Silas Henriksen) moons about downstage while a couple cavort above him in a five-sided cube. This ingenious little bed-sitting room rotates through 90 degrees at intervals in apparent homage to Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding. The tricksy staging definitely holds the interest but cries out for stronger material: an opera, perhaps – or some decent choreography. Instead we get Medhi Walerski manhandling Parvaneh Scharafali in a series of moves designed to test the seams of her big beige knickers. One often wonders what contemporary dancemakers would do with themselves if you hobbled everybody’s knees with two feet of string. Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, the power couple who control most of NDT’s output, would certainly be at a loss, as this cliché, together with incessant “12 o’clock” extensions, is found in almost every sequence. These dancers are going to need T-shaped coffins one day.
Sehnsucht is performed to a selection of Beethoven’s greatest hits. George Balanchine, a choreographer so musical that he would read orchestra scores in bed, steered almost entirely clear of Beethoven but Leon and Lightfoot, brass-necked and tin-eared, scribble mindlessly on the music. The Fifth Symphony is reduced to a click-track for bare-breasted ensembles that shrug and semaphore to the rhythms in a never-ending line dance.
Schmetterling (“Butterfly”) is musically more modest, mixing the quirky ditties of American indie band The Magnetic Fields (“The cactus where your heart should be has lovely little flowers”) with snatches of Max Richter (plangent strings and piano). Once again, style trumps content with dancers coming and going through a tall black doorway like a giant camera shutter which finally opens out to reveal Rahi Rezvani’s ravishing twilit sky. The theme (“the transitional nature of existence”) is hammered home by Aram Hasler’s risible old-lady makeover. Her various has-my-watch-stopped duets were cleanly delivered and the occasional classical flourish reminds us of the dancers’ schooling, but the pirouettes, balances and jetés en tournant seem cynically applied – like vitamins sprayed on a cornflake.