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Rader works and rebellious emotions

Years ago, Nederlands Dans Theater profiled itself with the slogan "challenging dance". That applies well to Straight Around. This performance by youth company NDT2 premiered at Holland Dance Festival in The Hague on 18 February. The company does not immediately make things easy for its audience with the four danced pieces, but for those who know how to empathise, there is much to enjoy.

Straight Around pairs older material with brand new work: two short ballets that grandmaster Hans van Manen wrote for NDT in the 1990s and two world premieres by young choreographers Edward Clug and the duo Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar.

The evening begins with Two by Van Manen, one of his love duets, but it is a doomed love that degenerates into ever more violence and an irrevocable goodbye. The focus in this performance is too much on perfection in the dance, at the expense of the feeling and tension between the characters, which is so essential with Van Manen. What also doesn't help is the canned sound, which makes Berceuse élégiaque by Ferruccio Busoni appears muddy.

Van Manen's second work, Solo, is a joyous manifestation of masculine power and virtuosity. On Bach's First Violin Partita, Greg Lau, Helias Tur-Dorvault and Miguel Duarte jump and spin across the floor like happy satyrs full of adrenaline. Like three sides of the same personality, they sometimes invite each other, then chase each other away. The three dancers are very different in physicality and expression, yet convincingly interpret one character together.

Eyal and Behar

The last work before the break, Feelings by Eyal and Behar, takes a while to get going. The Israeli duo regularly counterbalance the cerebral side that NDT choreographies tend to have. The same goes for Feelings, but different from the ecstatic atmosphere that characterises their previous works for NDT. In this production, soloist Alice Godfrey, increasingly a defining face of the company, undergoes different moods. As she draws out her emotions in the air with her finger, she seems to get a grip on them and, by extension, the audience. The control of her feelings takes shape in a large group of uniformly moving, bowed figures that slavishly mirror her movements. Until there is a crack in the unison and her feelings begin to go their own way. Thanks in part to Ori Lichtik's hypnotic music, the alternation between solo and group work, and Godfrey's emotional expression, Feelings haunting and gripping. There is another strange surprise at the end.

Man and machine

Following the break Handman by Romanian-Slovenian Edward Clug, who first created a piece for NDT last year. Handman is a playful, if slightly overlong mix of encounters: in groups or in duos and trios. People who do or undergo machine-like things from their small, emotional humanity. Willingly or unwillingly, their movements become patterns and cogs, which work out surprisingly and sometimes funny. Hands and feet take centre stage. It all fits seamlessly with the music of Milko Lazar, who uses piano and drums to create repetitive, minimalist soundscapes.

All in all, we see no more than 50 minutes of actual dance, but with that, it is Straight Around not too short: the four pieces demand quite a bit of concentration from the viewer and offer plenty of food for thought. The influences are diverse; the voice-overs that have (too) often popped up at NDT lately are pleasantly absent. The chosen works exhibit, perhaps with the exception of Two, a consistency in the search for contrast: between group and loner, dominating and being dominated, man and machine, man and feelings.

With that Straight Around not an entrée for novice dance audiences. It is, however, a richly varied performance in which the young dancers shine.

Seen: 18 February 2016, Theater aan het Spui, The Hague. Tour until 31 March. Info and tickets

Frans van Hilten

I am a freelance cultural journalist. Because I think an independent cultural voice is important, I enjoy writing for this platform.View Author posts

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