Holland Dance Festival

November 19, 2009

Holland Dance Festival
Den Hague, Holland

Oct. 28–Nov. 15, 2009
Reviewed by Victoria Looseleaf


Monsterz, choreographed by André Gringas for Meekers. Photo by Antoinette Mooy, Courtesy Holland Dance Festival.


After 2009’s summer of loss—Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, and, yes, Michael Jackson—the biannual Holland Dance Festival packed a positive emotional punch with its 12th edition. Celebrating 50 years of Nederlands Dans Theater, the festival, directed by Samuel Wuersten, treated audiences to visions of the past, present, and future, all connected, in some way, to the glorious, Hague-based NDT.


With 70 performances of 20 different productions over three weeks, including a staggering 32 world premieres, the festivities opened with three new works performed by NDT (and NDT II), at its home, the beautiful Lucent Danstheater. Jirí Kylián, who led the troupe for 24 years and was its resident choreographer for 34, passed the torch to Jim Vincent, a former NDT dancer and director of Hubbard Street Dance. The Royal family was also in attendance (Queen Beatrix is a big dance aficionado) for Kylián’s latest work, Memoires d’Oubliettes, which kicked off the proceedings.


With Dirk Haubrich’s haunting score and snippets of a Samuel Beckett text voiced by Kylián and his wife Sabine Kupferberg, the bittersweet piece featured six dancers in top form: Slow-motion walking, fluttering hand motifs, and acrobatic lifts predominated; dancers intermittently clung to one another before offering brief, twitchy solos. A shower of tin cans—kinetic tinsel—rained down on the stage in a kind of mysterious benediction.


The evening also featured Paul Lightfoot and Sol León’s evocative Studio 2, with eight dancers from the young NDT II, cavorting with six movable, mirrored panels that refracted and reflected their determined grace. Johan Inger’s stimulating opus, Dissolve in This, made use of dancers from both groups who dipped, twirled, and even did a bit of break dancing on a feather-strewn floor.


Youth again took to the stage in works by Kylián and Hans Van Manen, the latter a former NDT dancer/choreographer/artistic director. Students of Rotterdam Dance Academy, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, and the National Ballet Academy of Amsterdam adroitly performed excerpts from seven classic pieces by the illustrious duo. Looking fresh and mostly sure-footed, some 40 pupils shone in works that included Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Falling Angels, and Bella Figura, and Van Manen’s Visions Fugitives and Kamerballets.


NDT has also performed many William Forsythe works over the years, thus the premiere by Dana Caspersen, Forsythe’s wife and star dancer, whose Radio Mythic Theater is a production of the Forsythe Company. Text-driven and infused with Greek mythology, this pristine piece was higher on concept than movement. Nevertheless, with Joel Ryan’s crackly score and Chris Watson’s wildlife recordings abetting seven dancers who did variations on yoga postures—when they weren’t rolling around the stage—the hour-long work melded pretzel-like visuals with Caspersen’s cool voice-over. Happily, Christine Burkle emerged as a terpsichorean warrior whose balancing prowess and angled torso shifts riveted.


A fabulous evening, “Present of Past,” featured nine short world premieres by former NDT dancers, some now choreographers. Highlights included Jerome Meyer’s Short Circuit, with Meyer in gothic mode moving to Marcus Graf’s TV-snowlike video; Martino Müller’s Seed, which saw the noble NDT III dancer Gioconda Barbuto assaying butoh-like moves; and Cora Bos-Kroese, who displayed bravura bending and writhing to Baider Al Basri’s Arabic croonings in Drunk of Honey.


But it was Pedro Goucha Gomes’ Drosera Capensis that provided the coup de grace. Set in a black-lit, bungee cord-like forest (designed by Yoko Seyama), with Miguelangel Clerc performing a brilliant live percussion score, three dancers bounded around, thru and under the elastic in a Planet of the Apes-on-acid tableau.


Kudos, too, to Joeri Dubbe’s Theia, with Dubbe and Raphael Eder Kastling—both wearing skirts—in a non-stop jump-and-lift fest set against a cellophane wall. Also successful: Amos Ben-Tal in his The Van Manen Effect and Ayman Harper and Luis A. Rodriguez hoofing their hearts out in Harper’s tap dance ditty, The Imposters’ Song.


Batsheva Dance Company is a crowd-pleaser, and while Ohad Naharin’s Max was a feast for the eyes, Sharon Eyal’s 2003 curtain-raiser, Love, proved a pelvic-thrusting colony of repetitious moves that resembled a bipolar chorus line.


Also disappointing: Tessa Cooke’s misguided world premiere, Orpheus Reloaded, directed by Christiaan Mooij; and France’s Lionel Hoche’s ode to bric-a-brac, the Dutch premiere Pan! Both works lacked focus: Cooke added 13 children to a smiley-faced dancing adult duo, giving it a neo-pedophilic sheen; and Hoche kept his dancers covered in baggy leggings and masks while they tromped through a valley of junk—lamps, beach balls and baby buggies—like nimble terrorists.


An unexpected triumph came from the youth troupe, Meekers, whose artistic director, Arthur Rosenfeld, commissioned André Gingras’ Monsterz. Performed on a basketball court without theatrical lighting, the work was a rollercoaster ride of free-running maneuvers laden with jumps and dives. Performed by five young dancers, who intermittently don masks—zombie, gorilla, fox—the piece, set to Jürgen De Blonde’s masterful score, mixed dark humor with edgy athleticism in fashioning a surreal tableau.


Compañia Nacional de Danza also wowed with Nacho Duato’s classic Arenal (1988). Inspired by songs of Maria del Mar Bonet (who performed live), the ballet gives us a peek into the Mediterranean soul, both unrelentingly cheerful and unremittingly deep. Filled with sumptuous lifts and effortless leaps, the work highlighted Yolanda Martin in an elegiac solo.


Other prominent troupes that performed during the festival included Cullberg Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In addition, Schumacher & Kupferberg offered their world premiere duet, Queen Lear, while the Dutch National Ballet, Leigh Warren & Dancers, and Introdans were also on hand. There were also 100 workshops and choreographer talks, and though rain pelted the dance parade of 1200 amateurs, Thom Stewart’s enormous group finale drew cheering, albeit drenched, crowds.    


The Netherlands may be tiny, but its dance scene—especially in Den Hague—is huge. And with NDT in residence, at 50 years and counting, the troupe, as well as the Holland Dance Festival, has given the dance world a splendid gift that keeps on giving.