Fun and tragedy in Five Works

Nederlands Dans Theater 2's performances include whimsical and tragic duets with a closing satirical piece

The accclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (above).
The accclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (above). PHOTO: ESPLANADE - THEATRES ON THE BAY



Nederlands Dans Theater 2

Esplanade Theatre/Last Friday

Jiri Kylian, once the artistic director and choreographic life force of the acclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) and its junior wing, Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (NDT2), is inseparable from these entities and their identities.

The Czech choreographer's trademark aesthetic of combining balletic grace and contemporary force is undoubtedly hard to ignore, but one wonders if the two companies are able to step out of his shadow.

Opening its quintuple bill at this year's da:ns festival, NDT2 presents a diptych by choreographic duo Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, collectively known as Lightfoot Leon.

Former dancers with NDT, they are steeped in the Kylian ways of hyperstyled slickness and lithe athleticism. Schubert and Some Other Time look very much like the heritage pieces of the company, but for works that were created last year, this is an unfortunate pronouncement.

A series of duets, by turns whimsical and tragic, plays out in front of large black panels which alter and shape the stage space and, consequently the work itself.

This is far more compelling than the nebulous minutiae - random utterances and a facial vocabulary of twisted torture layered atop the neoclassical beauty of the bodily movements.

Israeli duo Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar employ the same device in Sara, with open mouths and rolled eyes that serve to deaden rather then heighten the languid, sensuous distortions of the dancers' bodies.

The ensemble moves with an alien-like gauntness, transforming human gestures of kissing and scratching into pithy pinpricks which numb the mind and dull the senses.

Edward Clug's Mutual Comfort is powered by Milko Lazar's skittery piano score, its every detail accentuated by the plink-plonk melody and its emphatic pulse.

The onstage action slinks between the pedestrian and terpsichorean as the dancers fade to become increasingly human in their interactions. Precious moments of humour are spliced with images of tenderness. The score never lets these linger and therefore they are savoured in their evanescence.

Closing the evening is an infinitely satirical piece that irreverently pokes fun at all that has transpired before.

Choreographic wunderkind Alexander Ekman's Cacti is wholly electric and revealing of its maker's profundity and sense of humour.

A playful rumination on contemporary dance's pomp and pretence, the work makes the audience laugh while providing plenty to consider after the performance.

It modulates without warning, from an exuberant drumming session on white plinths to a hilarious re-enactment of synchronised swimming, from intense contemporary dance to a wry shimmy.

This course is delightfully unpredictable and the full company of 16 dancers look like they are having the time of their lives.

Set to a running commentary by the dancers, the central duet lays bare the ironies, distractions and inspiration for a series of highly stylised movement.

The couple quibble in their minds as one rejects a hand or the other misses a catch.

But really, a lot of the movement does not mean anything.

Ekman questions whether something that is full of meaning, that we are so keen to ascribe, can be unmeaningful. And perhaps the reverse is true - that something that is without explicit meaning can be meaningful.

There are no easy answers, but Ekman offers a generous dose of wit and levity in response.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2015, with the headline 'Fun and tragedy in Five Works'. Print Edition | Subscribe