One of the world’s most successful touring companies, Nederlands Dance Theatre has built up an ecstatic following in Europe over the last fifty years, but performs relatively rarely in London. This repertory double-bill celebrates the work of Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot with his long-term choreographic partner, Sol León.
It might be said that forty-odd extant Lightfoot-León works share something of a characteristic template: a large and active set that often becomes part of the stage action; a distinctive use of facial gesture; a single figure on the forestage in a state of partial nudity. Certainly the evening’s opener Sehnsucht (“longing”) nods to each of these conventions in turn; our partially-dressed soloist for the evening is the gaunt, sinewy Silas Henriksen.
Behind him, in a revolving box spotted with furniture, Medhi Walerski and Parvaneh Scharafali slump across a table. Each dances a set of tense, yearning phrases, like cinematic voice-overs hinting at the characters’ inner turmoil. The room rotates around them, leaving Walerski swinging from a dining chair or Scharafali rolling across a wall that becomes a ceiling. They exit, surprisingly, feet-first through the window. Gorgeously danced (of course) to luscious extracts of Beethoven’s piano works, Sehnsucht is an effective mood piece with innovative moments that later erupts into an exuberant ensemble, the whole company leaping bare-breasted in unison.
Schmetterling (“Butterfly”) is a less pensive, more joyful affair, a collection of short sequences performed to The Magnetic Fields’ quirky 69 Love Songs. With its jukebox soundtrack and playful choreography, Schmetterling could be viewed as a country cousin of Rambert’s recently-toured Rooster; this being NDT, however, there’s an undercurrent of deviant sexuality that Christopher Bruce could never stage. Legs whip around torsos and yawn into welcoming straddles; dancers shrug one another on and off like so many changes of clothes; and there’s just a little light BDSM in the mix. This isn’t cute-sexy like Bruce or elegant-sexy like Balanchine; this is rough-and-dirty-sexy, the dance equivalent of a swift seeing-to at the back of an Amsterdam nightclub, and so much the more fun for that.
Nederlands Dance Theater is at Sadler’s Wells until 4 July: www.sadlerswells.com. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.