Dutch National Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, London

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I like the Netherlands enormously, from paintings to the efficiency that informs public services. But Dutch dance defeats me. Whence comes, for example, the cussed agonisings of the Nederlands Dans troupes, the sexual portentousness? Why does the Dutch National Ballet, back at Sadler’s Wells this week, have such a fraught air?

The company has a large repertory, with reputable stagings of the classics, a treasury of Balanchine ballets. But there can be only the most chauvinistic excuses for showing us Rudi van Dantzig’s realisation of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, an exercise soggy with weltschmerz, redeemed only by the presence of Larissa Lezhnina, whom I recall as a wonderful young star of the Kirov Ballet.

A duet to a Bach cello suite, persuasively played on stage (yes, it’s one of those!) by Quirine Viersen, revealed Cédric Ygnace as a brilliant danseur and Krzysztof Pastor’s dance ideas as more pedestrian than they should be under these circumstances. Hans van Manen’s recent Frank Bridge Variations uses the Britten score for a series of dramatic movement episodes notable for their power in shaping dance from quirky initial ideas.

And, lurking at the end of the evening, William Forsythe. The Second Detail was made 15 years ago, and shows him taking classic dance to pieces and failing to reassemble it in any significant manner. A white box setting, dancers in unflattering pale leotards, and a capriccio in which academic steps are taken to the edge of the abyss, then pushed over. Clever in an uneasy fashion. Nothing assembled from the varied pieces of dynamically fraught action. (Or perhaps, like the child who dismantled a clock, then put it together again and found enough bits left over to make another clock, Forsythe won’t make coherent use of the materials he cannibalises.) A more-agreeable-than-usual score from Thom Willems sounds like a steam-roller learning to tango.

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