Nederlands Dans Theater

Nederlands Dans Theater

Some of the music from the programs:

Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is included on:

Rattle Conducts Britten

Biber’s Passacaglia for Violin solo in G minor can be found on:

A History of Baroque Music

Philip Glass: Quartet No.5 –

Kronos Quartet performs Philip Glass

Bach: Partita No.2 in D minor

Pletnev Live at Carnegie Hall

Steve Reich: Drumming

Going Dutch treat? You can’t do it better than the Nederlands Dans Theater.

Although Jiri Kylian, whose Black Cake was a high point of San Francisco Ballet’s opening program, recently bowed out after almost a quarter century as artistic director, his innovative choreography lives on in the company for which he created more than 70 works. Kylian, 53, plans to stick around as artistic advisor but it is hard to conceive that this good-looking, well-disciplined troupe is going to need a whole lot of advice. They are about as good as you can find anywhere and so attuned to Kylian’s choreography it’s hard to separate the dancer from the dance.

Kylian, who claims to get his inspiration, not only from the music, but from painting and sculpture, creates patterns of movement that intertwine bodies, bend backs and fling the arms wide. It is ballet – often en pointe – but it’s not. It’s modern dance, but much more, well, balletic. It’s a bridge between the two and very exciting to watch.

Forgotten Land, set to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem takes off from a painting by Edvard Munch. On a shore, against the sound of wind, women arch their backs and stretch their arms like seagulls. A couple, clad in black, seems to personify exile, as if in mourning for a lost homeland, the woman stretching her arms longingly toward the sea. Another couple, the woman in flaming red, dance a staccato pas de deux, only to be replaced by a third pair, in white, in a lyrical passage that is like the calm after a storm. There is an ecstatic ensemble dance and then the women are left alone on the shore, stretching their arms again like birds that cannot take flight.

Wings of Wax, purporting to derive from the myth of Daedalus who flew too near the sun is based on another painting, this time by Breughel. But, if you didn’t have the program notes, you might not have a clue. The curtain rises on the stunning image of an upside-down tree, hanging in the air. A large spotlight ceaselessly circles it on an overhead track. I guess that’s the sun but it’s as close as you’ll get to a literal interpretation. The black clad dancers move into the spotlight and then retreat, to be absorbed into the black of the background. The second section features marvelous, quick males, against a background of women in slow motion. In a series of four pas de deux, Kylian seems to be exploring the language of movement to the utmost as bodies bend, lace, separate. You become mesmerized by the flutter of a hand, the bend of an ankle. The music changes from a 17th Century passacaglia to John Cage and Philip Glass and back in time to Bach while that spotlight keeps circling the stage.

Sarabande, also set to Bach (in addition to a succession of howls, wailing and ghostly sounds at the beginning) is an all-male dance that begins as a nightmare and ends as a kind of joke. Prone dancers shudder as monsters hover over them. The lights come up and we see that the “monsters” really are ornate women’s ball gowns. As the men dance, they take off first their shirts then their pants and one begins to suspect this is an exploration of gender. But they never do put on the gowns and, as they dress again they – literally – have the last laugh.

Kylian is no proponent of silent ballet. In Black Cake his dancers engage in animated cocktail party chatter. In Sarabande they laugh out loud. Clapping hands and slapped thighs often accompany his movements.

Sound is what Falling Angels, the final work on the program, is all about. Specifically the sound of drums. Set to Steve Reich’s powerful Drumming, which is masterfully performed live by four musicians at the side of the stage, it gave the women of the company a chance to shine. Eight female dancers, moving to the accelerating drumbeats of the score, are all over the stage. They seem to fight, make friends. There is much covering of faces and mouths with the hands. Paired as it was with Sarabande, with no break in between, it might be taken as a continuation of the gender theme.

Or not. Wonderful dancing speaks for itself and, like most of Kylian’s work; this made for wonderful dancing.

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San Francisco ,
Suzanne Weiss has been writing about the arts for the past 35 years. Formerly Arts Editor for the papers of Pioneer Press in the northern Chicago suburban area, her work also has appeared in Stagebill and Crain’s Chicago Business, among other publications. Since moving to the Bay Area she has reviewed theater, opera, dance and the occasional film for the San Mateo Times, “J” and is a regular contributor to culturevulture. She is the author of “Glencoe, Queen of Suburbs.”