Is it necessary for a programme made up of several shorter pieces to have a unifying theme? Well, no, obviously. Although, from a completely selfish standpoint, sometimes it helps. It can give a critic a hook to start a review, a thread to tie everything neatly together. I could have used such an opening for Standalone by NDT2, which I went to see 28 February at Zuiderstrandtheater.
The two pieces by Ohad Naharin – who has been contributing work to NDT’s repertoire since 1987 – are a case in point. George & Zalman and Black Milk prove to be an interesting couple, a self-contained double bill all on their own. Sidenote: Naharin’s own youth ensemble (Batsheva – The Youth Ensemble) will be touring both pieces as well (their programme, The Look, will visit Antwerp 10 and 11 June).
The two pieces are performed back to back. The first, George & Zalman, is performed by five women dressed in black. There is an intriguing juxtaposition between Arvo Pärt’s contemplative music and the anecdotal movements. These are guided by a poem by Charles Bukowski, haltingly recited by Bobby Jene Smith (a former Batsheva dancer). Interestingly, Black Milk, performed by five men in flowing skirts with the colour of desert sand, feels the more feminine piece of the two. It is especially felt in the way one man carries a bucket on his head, while the others lie down sideways, supporting themselves with one hand. The effect is not coincidental: the piece was originally made for women – NDT first performed the female version in 1992. Paul Smadbeck’s marimba music provides a tribal vibe.
In a way, Postscript (2005) by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, feels like two separate pieces rolled into one. It is also one of the rare choreographies by the duo whose title doesn’t begin with an ‘s’ (for ‘Sol’ and ‘Saura’ their daughter). Perhaps the ‘p’ refers to one of their other muses: music composer Philip Glass. The first part is in white, with three dancers dancing to Philip Glass’s Strung Out, performed live by violinist Hebe Mensinga. The second – accompanied on piano (Metamorphosis One and Two) by Jan Schouten – is mostly in black: two duets, one (Kele Robertson, Nicolo Ishimaru) delicate and fragile; the other (Michaela Kelly, Auguste Palayer) more fraught and distraught.
And then there is Impasse, a world premiere by choreographer Johan Inger, who was a dancer at NDT in the early 1990s. The piece starts hopefully enough, with a young woman ‘Tess’ (Voelker) happily skipping along in her green dress in front of an outline of a house. The world is her stage, filled with possibilities. Her boyfriend ‘Kyle’ (Clarke) joins her. A second male friend (Charlie Skuy) soon enters as well. All three are contentedly goofing around, skipping, hopping in one place, all to the laid-back music by jazz trumpetist and composer Ibrahim Maalouf.
Then one by one, six slick dancers in black come gliding in. They are confident, imperious, seductive. It doesn’t take long for the first three to fall in line. When they come back after a short hiatus behind a closed door, they are dressed in black as well. As the herd mentality kicks in, their house becomes smaller, their movements cramped, as if they are being boxed in.
Worse is still to come. In the final act a whole carnival crashes the party, including a ringmaster, a Vegas showgirl and – of course – a creepy clown. All the while everyone keeps dancing, while the sky is, literally, coming down.
Impasse directly reflects on the world we live in now, where ‘no progress seems possible.’ Sometimes it feels too on the nose, for instance, when everyone dances frantically on Maalouf’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s They don’t care about us. It is also not really hard to guess who of our current world leaders is represented by the lecherous clown. Still, Impasse doesn’t feel quite bonkers enough to accurately depict the nightmarish freakshow our world has become.
If only we could wake up.
Was there a unifying theme? Despite the fact that each of these choreographers have a long history with NDT, I couldn’t find one. But perhaps the title is right, and the pieces do all stand on their own, isolated, perfectly content and contained within themselves.
Seen: February 28, 2020. Zuiderstrandtheater, The Hague. Tour Standalone
Photo: Joris-Jan Bos