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By Kina Poon
The prolific choreographer is now NDT’s director, too.
Last September, Nederlands Dans Theater announced that longtime resident choreographer Paul Lightfoot would take over as director from Jim Vincent, who ran NDT for two years. The company cited budget problems, following a drop in state-supported arts funding. Lightfoot has been part of the NDT family since he joined NDT II in 1985, right out of the Royal Ballet School. He is half of the creative team Lightfoot León with his partner, Sol León, and will continue to choreograph for the company. He spoke to associate editor Kina Poon in December about his plans for NDT, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009.
How did the transition happen? We’ve been discussing it for a while, actually. I feel a big responsibility and I’m happy to embrace that, and hopefully keep this company at the standard at which it already is. I’m very fortunate to take over an organization that’s been in very good hands over the years. It has the capability to change its identity and its strength. Transitions are always difficult but they can also be very good.
How is NDT dealing with the economic situation? Holland used to be a role model within Europe and the world, particularly in the modern dance scene. Things are good, but things were exemplary. It’s a little bit tougher. We’ve got ourselves a new managing director, and he’s just been brilliant.
There’s a lot of positivity coming out of the situation. Everyone’s feeling, Let’s move forward and fearlessly. The cultural institutions have felt a real compassion towards each other. Everyone’s aligned in their goals to do the best they can.
We’re happy to hear that. We love NDT here in America. We went last year to perform and it was fantastic to feel that kind of energy. Audiences are different everywhere, and we generally get very good reactions, but there was a real passion behind the American audience. It was overwhelming to feel what people walked away with and that’s what Dans Theater has always been about—the experience and the questions it makes you ask of yourself.
Brett Conway and Celia Amade in Lightfoot León’s Skipping over damaged area. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy NDT.
How do you envision NDT’s artistic profile? We’re always on the search for new creative forces. Over the whole history, we’ve had some 500 creations made and I don’t want that to change. You know, we are called Nederlands Dans Theater—maybe it’s time to explore all the regions of performing arts and combine them with what we already do very well. And I want to encourage young choreographers to come out.
We have maestros like Jirí Kylián, who probably had the biggest influence on the company, and of course it’s something we would love very much to uphold—even though Jirí is not attached directly with the company anymore. That’s his choice and I want to respect his individual creativity. His work is very much of the moment, still.
What do you look for in a dancer? If I had to choose between an extremely talented dancer who’s physically beautiful but with a slightly less open mind, then I would take the less talented dancer with a big open mind. I think you need people who are willing to adapt, to go with you on a journey, with a keen sense of adventure. It’s very selfish, but choreographers need to be fed by the artists, and in return, be able to feed them. Of course you’re looking for wonderful technique, how to be musical with your body. I do look for personality. Going onstage and exposing yourself isn’t easy, and you need people who have the strength to take that risk.
Inset: Lightfoot. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy NDT.