Holland Dance Festival 2001

November 14, 2001

Netherlands Dance Theater III in Jirí Kylían’s comedy Birth-day.
Joris-Jan Bos Photography, courtesy Netherlands Dance Theater III/Holland Dance Festival

Holland Dance Festival 2001

The Hague, the Netherlands
Various venues

November 14?December 1, 2001

Reviewed by Helma Klooss

The eighth Holland Dance Festival, themed “Going Places,” included young modern companies from China, Cuba, South Africa, Turkey, and beyond. Of these, China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company was an eye opener, offering fresh, pure dance with a remarkable solo by Li Hongjun. New York sent the popular and hilarious Richard Move (as Martha Graham) and Twyla Tharp, who incorporated residents of The Hague in her piece The One Hundreds. The country’s only large-scale international dance event, held once every two years, also offered workshops for amateur dancers as part of the affiliated Hague Dance Week.

Opening night featured the Netherlands Dance Theater companies I, II, and III, dancing new ballets by Paul Lightfoot, Hans van Manen, and Jirí Kylián. Lightfoot and Sol Leon’s Safe as Houses, danced by NDT I and accompanied by Bach pieces played live, was astonishing and profound. Lightfoot divided the stage in half with a white wall which, when it moved, beautifully framed the dancers. The backdrop consisted of tree branches reflected in water. Three dancers in black tunics moved in long, clear lines, dancing alone or together, closely following the mood of Bach’s music. They suggested grief and struggle in being pushed by the wall. They alternated with eight dancers in white dancing lighter, more elegant combinations expressing hope and devotion. Lightfoot, who has danced with NDT since 1985, started choreographing in 1988; he has developed his own lyrical movement language in an abstract but clear and expressive way.

For NDT III, Kylián made Birth-day, a riotous success set to Mozart. The dancers sat onstage in their eighteenth-century costumes, gossiping and waving their fans, while behind them a madly funny slapstick film played, concerning their madcap, erotic, heroic dreams.

Kylián also presented the European premiere of Blackbird, created for the very talented Japanese dancer Megumi Nakamura, a former NDT dancer. As in Birth-day, parts of the choreography were filmed and projected onstage. Nakamura was covered in a long, white cloth tube, an end of which was hanging from the ceiling; it seemed like a sort of umbilical cord from which she tried to free herself. Nakamura moved her body piece by piece, wiggling her toes, then fingers, hands, and arms, her expressions suggesting a range of emotions: aggression, anxiety, astonishment, happiness, and sadness. Kylián portrayed her as a mysterious Japanese woman as well. A second woman, wearing an iron fencing mask and holding a sword, cut the cord and freed Nakamura, who moved cheerfully against the striking film images of her face. The film also featured her sensual love duet with Ken Ossola. Kylián shot photographs of Nakamura, which hung in the theater lobby.

NDT III, a group of dancers over 40, had a second premiere as well: Australian choreographer Meryl Tankard’s Merryland. Her backdrops?fields of flowers on film, projected across the full length of the stage?matched the beauty and grace of the ballet. These older dancers looked back at their first dance steps, the mistakes, and the pain. Hilarious duets and theater scenes with text were done well.

In the Netherlands there are many talented choreographic duos, including Anna Teixidò and Arthur Rosenfeld (like Tankard, a former Pina Bausch dancer). They presented their fine work Nowhere Fast. Jennifer Hanna and Jean Emile offered You, another fine, albeit short, piece of choreography.

Diane Elshout and Frank Händeler’s evening-length work Stomach was an intense and personal statement about loneliness and uncomfortable distances. Elshout wore a half skirt; Händeler had one leg covered. She moved restlessly on a chair and wanted to be hugged; he left her alone. Again and again she longed for contact and moved toward him, but his focus was inward, and he danced in place, until he finally bent over to dance with her. Suggestive projections and subtly chosen songs heightened the dramatic tension.

No one is better equipped to craft a protest against violence, especially violence in the Middle East, than Israeli choreographer Itzik Galili. Ten dancers from his Dutch company Galili Dance, plus ten dancers from Portugal’s Ballet Gulbenkian performed the penetrating For Heaven’s Sake. Jaap van Keulen’s original score, in which musicians and composers played traditional Middle Eastern instruments onstage, set the tone.

The piece began with two dancers who hit their almost-naked bodies over and over in an act of self-castigation. Behind them, the group danced as a tribe to the rhythms of the drums, making beautiful fluid movements. A moment later, the dancers appeared with braces around their legs, running, stumbling, and falling over one another. They displayed text describing a beautiful day, followed by the ironic phrase, “in a day like this you can just die.” Galili’s vision of reality burns in the memory. It would be hard to imagine a better statement, or a better balance to be struck at this festival, where beauty, joy, and drama were fully present.