Holland Dance Festival

October 30, 2007

Holland Dance Festival

Various Venues, Den Hague, Holland

October 30–November 18, 2007

Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf

With 60 performances of 25 different productions over three weeks, including a number of world and European premieres, the 11th edition of the biannual Holland Dance Festival, directed by Samuel Wuersten, soared—literally—with its opening night offering, Alas (Wings). Performed in the beautiful 1,000-seat Lucent Danstheater by Compañía Nacional de Danza (last seen at the festival in 1998), the work was inspired by Wim Wenders’ film, Wings of Desire.

    Choreographed by artistic director Nacho Duato, it featured the terpsichorean heartthrob dancing and reciting snippets of Peter Handke’s cinematic monologues. Under the artistic direction of Slovenian theater guru Tomaz Pandur, who also designed the stunning set (a tall, translucent pillar), the 65-minute opus was set to a taped score, which included original music by Pedro Alcalde and Sergio Caballero.

Having turned 50 (the new 30), last year, Duato still cuts a wide swath on stage. Whether doing splits, whipping turns, or writhing sensuously, he exuded feral magnetism, his smooth-voiced pronouncements in Spanish, with English subtitles, existential phrases such as “Why am I me, and why not you,” enhancing an already dense scenario. Exploiting themes of loneliness, good and evil, and heaven and hell, Duato, as angel on earth, moved majestically among his 17 dancers.

    Muscular duets were punctuated with spectacular lifts and outspread arms were recurring motifs. Splendid unisons ceded to sculptural friezes, and a disco-like tableau exploded into a can-can-like line. The denouement came with a column of water raining from above, filling areas of Brad Fields’ sensuously lit stage.

    Washing over a splashing, slithering Duato, the liquid was like a purging, a cleansing of sins. As others joined him in this amphibious ritual (a return to the womb, rebirth?), calmness prevailed. And though Alas, which could benefit from editing, is far from his 1999 masterpiece Multiplicity, the work contains a host of astonishing moments—kinetic and otherwise.

    The Hague and the Lucent are also home to Jirí Kylián and Nederlands Dans Theater, with NDT presenting Kylián’s 2005, Tar and Feathers, and world premieres by Lightfoot León and Alexander Ekman. The younger troupe also served up two new works—Lukás Timulak’s Oneness, a twitchy, robotic number, and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s De ida y vuelta, a seaside romp about love. Outshining both premieres, however, was Hans van Manen’s Simple Things. A tribute to the choreographer’s 75th birthday, the 2001 quartet for two couples sizzled with robust spins, lifts and leaps, giving new meaning to the word ‘magnificent.’

    Great dance also surfaced in smaller black box venues. Among them was Gregory Maqoma’s Dutch premiere, Beautiful Me. The South African director of Vuyani Dance Theatre made use of spoken text as he shredded the stage with a 60-minute solo accompanied by live music. Maqoma rocked with loose limbs, quivering torso and swinging hips, while his hard-slapping bare feet could have sprung from Southern India.

    Many dancemakers have recently found a welcome home in the Netherlands, including Canada’s André Gingras, Germany’s Regina van Berkel, and the UK’s Paul Selwyn Norton. Norton successfully brought John Cage’s quirky sounds to life with A Year From Monday (the title of a book by Cage), his lustrous new piece featuring spoken dialogue, five terrific dancers, and a violinist and pianist. Interacting with one another, they created organic patterns, while the exaltation of the body was evidenced in the dancers’ back bends, pretzel twists, and dramatic lunges.

    Van Berkel’s new triple-zone, with marimbas, drums, and winds, was not as winning. Her use of video panels, moved around the stage by the artists, contributed to awkward transitions. At 75 minutes, the work dissipated, and in spite of bravura dancing, notably by Urtzi Aranburu, the piece wore thin. Gingras’ premiere, The Autopsy Project, put his dancers through hyperphysical paces by juxtaposing the notion of an autopsy with the development of the first atomic bomb. While the concept intrigued, the realization fell short.

    A world premiere, Made in Switzerland, came from the Swiss troupes, the Cathy Sharp Dance Ensemble and Stimmhorn, a duo that yodeled, throat-gurgled, and blew into long horns. Though the novelty soon wore off, leaving the piece a study in tedium, the theater—a converted swimming pool —was an amazing space, and choreography games played afterwards proved popular.

    Also well-received was the Dutch premiere, Berlin-Jaffa Shortcut, a fertile collaboration between the German-based Wee Dance Company and Israel’s De De Dance Company. Short works were punctuated by video clips. A stellar duet, with De De director Amit Goldenberg and Dan Pelleg of Wee Dance manipulating two large containers amid perfectly timed black-outs, wowed the Lucent audience.

    Other prominent troupes performing during the three weeks included Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, and Beijing Modern Dance Company. There were also ongoing workshops, choreographer talks and three days of dance films (part of “Dance Screen,” the largest international competition for dance film and video in the world). Also spectacular: The parade of 1,000 amateur dancers, which culminated in a huge finale choreographed by Thom Stuart to Ravel’s “Bolero.”

    The Dutch might have cornered the market on clogs, cheese, and chocolate, but dance is decidedly gaining a foothold in this small but mighty lowlands country.