Traces Left Within by NDT

On 3 February the Holland Dance Festival opened at Amare with Traces Left Within by Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT1). With a suspended, scissor-like sculpture, set pieces looking like shards of melting ice and ghosts, the programme exuded a certain sense of dread. The choreography and dancing were precise, expressive and excellent.

The hall at Amare was open to COVID-capacity, but the availability of a livestream made for a worldwide audience this evening. I watched from a darkened living room with the sound on full blast on my headphones – the next best thing in pandemic times. Jiří Kylián’s Toss of a Dice, made in 2005 and set to the words of Mallarmé’s poem of the same name, was the evening’s opener. 

With twelve dancers moving within set rectangles and circles of light while a menacing-looking pendulum (by Susumu Shingu) moves up and down above them, the tone was set. Something with the potential to inflict serious damage is threatening our bodies. For viewers of the livestream, the suspense was held by the fact that the camera didn’t always show the sculpture, or came very close when it lowered to almost scratch a dancer’s skin.

After an intermission in which choreographer Marco Goecke received the Kylián Ring from its previous winner Marian Sarstäd, it was time for the evening’s first premiere: How to cope with a sunset when the horizon has been dismantled, by Marina Mascarell. 

The scene opens upon a landscape dotted with what looks like floating shards of ice (set design by Ludmilla Rodrigues), lit in cool greens and blues (lights by Leticia Skrycky). To the sound of the Vorspiel from Wagner’s Rheingold, dancer Conner Bormann pops up from behind one of the shards and begins to cross the space in a meandering pattern, slowly rolling his shoulders. Other dancers hide beneath similar shards, some are lying languidly across them. Their first movements start slow; a head turning sideways, an arm lifting from the belly, in juxtaposition with the well-known piece of music that sounds like an energetic awakening and gradually builds towards its grandiose climax.

Mascarell chose four male Western composers from different eras (also heard are John Cage, Györgi Ligeti and Jean Sibelius) and presents them not in historical order. It evokes a sense of unhinging the canon, to make way for other voices. The set pieces also look a little unhinged, as do the dancers, who cling to and play with them or seem to appear from within them, introducing their own movement voices. 

They each move separately, rolling over their set piece companions, sticking one leg up in the air, or one arm, crawling on all fours with bent backs, and then ever so slowly all these disparately moving bodies with all their different centres of gravity come together to move like a single organism, bathed in orange light.

Marco Goecke’s I Love You, Ghosts asks: what is it we fear when we watch ghouls, monsters, apparitions, ghosts, automatons, or zombies? The dancers’ faces wear doll-like expressions, with pursed lips and wide open eyes. Paired with Goecke’s superfast signature movement language and the expressive precision of the NDT dancers, the scenes pass in quick, effortless succession. “I saw a ghost I saw a ghost / He saw me too he saw me too” some of the dancers gasp.   

As the piece progresses, the flitting ghosts with their fast little steps give way to automatons or ventriloquists’ dolls with almost comical angular walks and straight backs, and to heavier types of ghouls with wide limbs and empty expressions. Tropes from a thousand horror stories and scary movies, exquisitely danced, never too literal because of the mastery of the double-time speed. But evoking the ghost of a horror nonetheless.

Luca Tessarini appears as a powerful lone figure, a hero perhaps, and it hits me. We fear such creatures because we feel they may replace us. We fear the thing that will render us humans useless.

Tour info Traces Left Within by NDT1

photo featured image: Rahi Rezvani

Toss of a Dice
Toss of a Dice by Jiri Kylian | NDT1 | photo: Joris-Jan Bos