Dans met mij

The first instalment of Dans met mij (Dance with me) premiered during the digital edition of the Nederlandse Dansdagen (Dutch Dance Days) in October 2020. It is a collaboration between NDD and Dutch Broadcasting Network NTR, presented by former dancers Jan Kooijman (Scapino Ballet) and Igone de Jongh (HNB). Starting from Sunday 4 April, the series continues on NPO2 with four further episodes broadcast on four consecutive Sundays.

It’s a good thing the series has been given a second shot. The first episode, purporting to show the very best of dance, was a bit of a mixed bag. There were the usual subjects (NDT, the Dutch National Ballet and Scapino Ballet, but, surprisingly, not Introdans) and some relatively new faces in the contemporary dance scene like Gil Gomes Leal and Jennifer Romen (both of whom did gain considerable fame in televised talent shows). Even with a running time of 39 minutes it barely skimmed the surface of all the riches Dutch dance has to offer.

These four episodes, presented by Jan Kooijman, focus on a new generation of dance makers. Each episode centres on a different theme. Episode 1, Break, delves into the influence of breakdance on contemporary dance, as embodied by choreographers Shailesh Bahoran and Justin de Jager. The second episode, Human, focuses on the human connection in modern dance, as showcased in the works of Conny Janssen and Romee van de Meent.
The third episode, Roots, follows choreographers Rutkay Özpinar and Junadry Leocaria who incorporate their different cultural backgrounds into their works. Both artists were born in the Netherlands, but also have roots elsewhere, Turkish (Özpinay) and Antillean (Leocaria). The fourth episode – the only one that wasn’t finished at the time of writing – called Anders (Different) highlights two choreographers whose bodies may not immediately adhere to the preconceptions of what a dancer’s body should look like: Sedrig Verwoert and Redouan Ait Chitt – who won a Swan for Best Dance Performance in 2019.

The October edition was firmly rooted in Maastricht, the beating heart of de Nederlandse Dansdagen. Here, Kooijman visits the artists at locations the choreographers picked themselves and with which they feel a strong connection, such as the shopping center in Nieuwegein where Bahoran started breakdancing. All artists have choreographed a short piece especially for Dans voor mij, also performed at specific locations. Some of these are traditional stages, like Korzo (Özpinay) and Tivoli Vredenburg (Bahoran). But there is also a duet at the top of Fort De Roovere in Halsteren (De Jager). Leocarcia takes full advantage of the tainted history behind the Mauritshuis in The Hague, whose original owner, Johan Maurits, derived much of his wealth from trading in sugar and slaves.

dans-met mij -shailesh-bahoran

The series also explores what makes the choreographers tick. Important to note: all conversations are in Dutch. These short interviews give some great insights, for instance the way De Jager became specialized in ‘threading’, a poetical form of breakdance, when an injury prevented him from putting any weight on one of his knees. Or the way Özpinar expertly weaves together elements of classical, modern and oriental dance into a sensual and mesmerizing tapestry.

Most of the artists are up and coming choreographers, even though some, like Bahoran, are a bit further along than others. The inclusion of Conny Janssen does feel like a bit of a cheat. It is doubtful that Janssen, who has been heading her own company (Conny Janssen Danst) for almost thirty years, would class herself as one of the ‘next generation of dance makers’ Kooijman talks about at the beginning of each episode, even though she was one of the other voices that was sorely missed during the premiere episode in October. It does give us an inventive new duet in which dancers Adi Amit and Mariko Shimoda are attached to each other by their braids, as if by an umbilical cord.

Of course, four episodes will never be enough to showcase an accurate cross-section of the Dutch dance field. But it certainly whets the appetite, and makes you hungry for more.