Tuesday, July 26, 2011



THE NEDERLANDS DANCE THEATRE 1 - I knew of this famous international dance company, maybe I have seen them in earlier tours in Sydney, certainly I know some of the work of one of the company's previous Artistic Directors "the visionary choreographer, Jiri Kylian". The wondrous, totally absorbing BELLA FIGURA performed by The Australian Ballet a few seasons ago, being one of them. How lucky I was then, that I was in Melbourne last week, and was able to catch this company at work. So lucky, because I was so moved, entranced, that after the Friday night performance, I turned around and bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon performance to see the program again!

Founded in 1959 The Nederlands Dance Theatre has been at the cutting edge of its art form and is "a beacon of innovative, influential contemporary dance". Now under the Artistic Direction of Jim Vincent, since September, 2009, this remarkable company has, in an exclusive season in Melbourne, given three beautiful works:

DOUBLE YOU (solo), Choreography by Jiri Kylian, 1994.
THE SECOND PERSON, Choreography by Crystal Pite, 2007.
SILENT SCREEN, Choreography by Paul Lightfoot & Sol Leon, 2005.

This company gave me two enthralling, absorbing and inspiring nights in the theatre. Something I have not had for some time. As I said to my companion as we were leaving the first performance,"This is why, one goes to the theatre, regularly, on the chance that this time, this might happen. That to be part of this experience makes a lot of the other stuff one sees worth the wait. Worth enduring, for every now and again luck smiles at you, and pow… new eyes, new senses, new life!

So let our arts organisations prepare, for, however outstanding this company is, it "knows that there are challenges ahead for NDT, the most dramatic being a possible 40 to 50 per cent budget cut, recommended by the Dutch Council for Culture, to take effect from 2013". The non flag-ship new media sector and and other Netherlands contemporary arts are facing 100 per cent funding cuts. NDT, who has two company of dances faces horrible strains, let us hope, not catastrophe. The Global Financial Crisis is wreaking havoc with European Governments commitment to the arts. One can, then, only pessimistically imagine the possible actions of Australia's relatively philistine governments when our economy catches up to the universal downturn. How will our arts bodies fare? What will be their decrees be?

Here was a performance of dance that went, in my experience, beyond the form of dance and into the realm, of what I might call great art - a transcendance that gave one a glimpse of something other than the mundanity of our animal gifts to move, and rather, further, an elevation into the contemplation of the possibility of a 'spiritual' dimension to life. I don't know as to whether I was peculiarly vulnerable for such invitations of perception or not, for I had had in the previous few days a series of respites from the burdens of the ordinary, to sensitise my receptors and create the want, the need to believe again in something bigger than myself, than us, and open my sensibilities to the discovery of other possibilities than just getting through the trials and tribulations of my world-weary daily travails.

A three day rest in the wild winds of east coast Tasmania, watching nature unleash the spectacle of the spirit of nature, whipping the huge upper branches of the gum trees in the landscape outside my cottage window, whilst I re-read THE IDIOT, in front of a warming, crackling, wood fire. The experience of David Walsh's extraordinary gift of MONA, the Museum of New and Old Art , to the world, a museum of such vision and greatness, the benchmark for contemporary museums in the entire world , where one 'gambling man's passion' becomes more than a visit to an art gallery but a great contemplation of everything between birth and death with lots of sex and humanity in between. And that can be found just in the contemplation of the architecture of the space, pharonic, an Egyptian tomb like scale, let alone the art in it, which ranges from an actual ancient mummy through to a shit-making machine. Unbelieveable and shocking for all the right reasons.

And the last of my softeners for the Nederlands Dance Theatre was to attend a screening of Terence Malick's great film THE TREE OF LIFE - a case where the artist takes film beyond just the need to entertain or tell a story and into a realm of spiritual challenge and possible perception and ultimate relief of something else besides living through 'it' that just might help me through the next stages of my life with confidence and optimism. A glow that I have not had fully engulf me for many a year.

Then to Melbourne, food and coffee and art.

DOUBLE YOU, a solo choreographed by Jiri Kylian danced the first time by Roger Van der Pol and latterly by Bastien Zorzetto begins in silence with a man in upper torso nakedness, his back to us, rippling the muscles as a result of small body contortions, whilst two gold pendulum balls swing across the back space in mesmeric constancy. Exploring the hallmarks of Kylian's style there is an exploration of physical contrasts of physical flow and stacco-like sharp movements of head, fingers and shoulders, escalated with movement into and about the large open space with the entry of an accompaniment of Johann Sebastian Bach's Allemande from Partita Nr.4 in D Major. The harpsichord breathing a momentum of reflex actions that make concentrated demands on the dancer and a kind of breathless suspension of reality for the audience. One leans into the choreography to dance with the dancer in one's seat.This 12 minute work sets a core ballet/ dance language that as the night proceeds is visible in the gesture and choreography of two more recent works by other choreographers, only two of them ex-members of the dance corps, and inheritors of its movements' vocabulary.

The second piece THE SECOND PERSON by (Vancouver based) Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite involves 24 of the ensemble. Before the curtain rises a small rod puppet stands in formal clothing before a microphone in a spot light. The audience becomes engulfed in a gathering hush. Then out of the darkness a small naked brown articulated rod puppet, manipulated by five artists walks across the floor in a follow spot light, supported from behind in a following clutch of the ensemble, in uniform dress of smart dark suits and stern black glasses against a painted backdrop of an alpine scene with gathering white clouds, storm clouds, the puppet moving carefully forward straining against the wind which sometimes throws it back, forcing it to advance again against nature.

What follows is a series of solos, duets, trios and full ensemble dance of flex and point, contrast and uniformity. Full balletic flow and crouched flex shapes. The tightness of the ensemble, who move as one, is astonishing in its discipline to absorb and appreciate. All of this is accompanied by a electronic sound track backing of magnificent sounds, noises of life, sampled folk songs ranging from Africa to the Celtic and more positively Irish, with a voice over who introduces herself as our, that is your voice. It is our voice, it maybe our body as well. The voice work by Kate Strong is haunting and calming, but still precise and piercing. This wonderful Music is by Owen Bolton and worth keeping to listen to on its own, so redolent is it to one's imagination.

The work of some 35 minutes causes one, the audience to ask questions, lots of questions. it provides no answers, just probing, comforting questions. One becomes not confronted but comforted for their is a surety about every dancer's movements and the intentions behind their journey - they seem to know what is happening, so one trusts and surrenders and follows. From intimations of the world of Breugel against the backdrop with clanging church bells pealing, ringing out, to engagements of simple playfulness and jokes and parody, the canvas of the work embraces so much, so effortlessly,that transcendence is endowed as the curtain falls. I realised that I had been holding my breath, creatively tense in my absorption.

SILENT SCREEN choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon is a work inspired by silent film. "This genre of acted emotions, the beauty of the body through the expression without words and the power of the actors in silent movies who project their drama in a symbolic way..." is the source of the inspiration of this husband and wife team.

The music is the abstracted but now very familiar work of Philip Glass - GLASSWORKS (1982) and a track from the film THE HOURS: “Why does someone have to die?”. Book-ending the work, the open and close of the dance involves an impressive concept film on three screens that wrap around a movable platform that in the major sequence of the dance retracts to an upstage position. The film video is the least distracting I have ever experienced and was integrated into the work with seamless thematic power. Sequences of dance by 10 members of the company, trigger images of silent movie images from Nosferatu and, we are told inspirationally from F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE. But it is not just imitative dance movement, it has a power of its own and registers the house style of the dancers in exquisite and definably beautiful physical patterns and contortions. Space spread and isolations, shape, contrasts and a highly aesthetic fluidity of entrance and exits , subtle and efficient, are demonstrations of an inherited house style . The dancers are magnificent in their acquittal of the choreographers demands. Again, puzzles of comprehension, no answers given, which resulted not in frustration but titillation and great, deep pleasure.

This was a thoroughly great and memorable night. The repeat experience two days later equally as satisfying and not too familiar or boring. Still totally absorbing and life enhancing.

If only they had come to Sydney. But, then, where could they have danced? The Victorian Arts Centre stage as a breadth and depth to it, and sight lines and acoustics that are, in Sydney terms, gloriously amazing. Sydney needs a space to house such treasures without compromise. The Casino theatre, the Lyric, is the best, but it houses more necessary commercial events and often is not available. A tragedy really. Short sighted and stupid. Where is our David Walsh?

Barangaroo could be a place for a proper new space. Does anyone care? Anyone listening and interested?

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