Lighting is an aspect that is easily taken for granted in stage shows. Audiences usually only notice that it is there, when it is not. In Sierra Oscar Foxtrot Tango, the season opener for NDT’s junior company NDT2, lighting is given a more prominent role. It lends a feeling of dread and despair in Marco Goecke’s 2017 piece Wir sagen uns Dunkles; it adds a sensual and mysterious layer to the reprisal of Sara (2013) by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar.
Lighting is also front and centre in SWAY, one of two world premieres, made by former NDT1 dancer Medhi Walerski. At times the light, designed by Pierre Pontvianne and Lisette van der Linden, is amber-coloured and soft, at others harshly backlit. It is also used as punctuation, even more so than the music (by Adrien Cronet): each new lighting scheme heralds a new chapter.
Another striking feature in this piece is the fluidity of the movement, constantly changing between tempi and textures. This is apparent right from the beginning in a solo by Kyle Clarke, which organically crosses over into a duet with Tess Voelker. The movements are languid, then quick; graceful, then sharp. One moment Clarke can be seen lazily swirling around, to suddenly collapse the next. There is a constant ebb and flow of movement. Even when the dancers come to a standstill, it is never for long. Soon they start to tilt, and are quickly carried along with the flow.
The piece has been inspired by hope in general and by Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the thing with feathers in particular. Walerski: “Hope resides in every one of us.” Most of the time, SWAY feels more contemplative than hopeful, until the very end, in a tentative duet between Nicole Ishimaru and Auguste Palayer. There, Ishimaru appears as hope personified. Throughout the duet she is elusive, ephemeral. Something for Palayer to chase after. He may even catch her, but he can never hold on. The few instances in which Palayer manages to lift her up it looks like she weighs nothing at all.
SWAY is a beautiful, pensive piece, though it may be a bit unfortunate that it is followed by three really distinctive works. How to compete with the haunted peacocks in frilly trousers in Wir sagen uns Dunkles, or the seven otherworldly creatures in Sara, where the stage has turned into some sort of nightclub run by aliens posing as humans?
And then there is Little song, the second world premiere of the evening, by Yoann Bourgeois. Bourgeois is an acrobat, a dancer, a juggler and a choreographer – his full-length piece Celui qui tombe will have its Dutch premiere at Zuiderstrandtheater in May 2020. Little song is a reworking of an earlier piece, Fugue/Table, in which Bourgeois performed himself.
The staging is pretty basic: a man (Charlie Skuy) and a woman (Tess Voelker) are sitting on simple wooden chairs around a simple wooden table on a simple wooden platform. A band is performing in the back. Their next musical number is called ‘a love song disaster’, but we don’t really need the title to know this is not a happy couple. Even before they start moving, the prevailing mood is one of boredom mixed with desperation. The movements start relatively small and constrained: first just with the arms, reaching for each other, swatting hands away. Bit by bit, their actions grow bigger, bolder. For one precarious moment the woman teeters on the back legs of her chair, but is caught just in time by her ankle.
The action gets even more excessive after that, but let’s not spoil all the surprises. Suffice it to say, at the end the state of the furniture accurately reflects the salvageability of the relationship. It is not very often in an evening with NDT that the audience gets to laugh out loud. Of course, there have certainly been comical pieces before: Left Right Left Right by Alexander Ekman with dancers dancing on conveyor belts, or the dirty-minded gnomes in Johan Inger’s Walking Mad. Here, the physical comedy borders on slapstick. The American dancer Tess Voelker – who joined NDT2 in 2017 – is a miracle, especially in the effortless way she lets herself be moved around the stage like an exceedingly pliable mannequin doll.
Sierra Oscar Foxtrot Tango offers Voelker a great platform to show off all her talents, as she performs in all four pieces. She is serene and graceful in SWAY, comical in Little song, and an alien seductress in Sara. She also has one of the most memorable solos in Wir sagen uns Dunkles, performing in a super creepy ventriloquist act. In the course of one evening Voelker manages to seduce us, make us laugh and give us nightmares. What more can we possibly want?
Seen: November 1, Zuiderstrandtheater Den Haag.