When it comes to contemporary European dance, Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) is a standout. And the same can be said for its second ensemble, NDT II, which performed a delightful program at The Egg on Sunday night.
This is an energetic bunch of young dancers — 17 in all from a dozen different countries including the United States. Though ranging in age from 17 to 22, they are capable artists — adept at technique and musicality, and at absorbing form and nuances that might baffle more seasoned dancers.
Of course much of the company’s solid and well-deserved reputation is due to its choreographer Jiri Kylian, the continent’s preeminent dance artist who creates for these eager dancers. It was surprising then that the one dance by Kylian on this four-work bill was the least engaging. The more interesting works were by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, aka Lightfoot/Leon. This husband-and-wife team created dances that were pleasantly satisfying; mainly because this couple has a fascinating movement style. Lightfoot/Leon animate their dancers in a way that swings from jerky to liquid. The result, oddly enough, provides endless possibilities. This vocabulary of quirky gestures and fitful partnering made for works that ran from combative to funny.
“Said and Done” opened the evening. This work started off to Bach’s assertive Toccata and Fugue in d-minor for organ. The curtain raised on a dancer poised on his head and shoulder. He unwound, windmilling his legs and then arms, like a martial artist. He was joined by three other boys who are equally menacing in their pugnacious stances.
Then three women appeared and they were as fiesty as the men. The sculptural effects of their slicing, robotic movement was hypnotic.
The first man then trailed off to the shadows to stand in a shower of swirling strips of black paper or fabric. As he squirmed in a dim circle, the men and women paired off in a series of off-kilter duets. The imagery, melding together and staccato tearing apart, was so strident that listening to Bach’s sacred music will forever elicit these dances.
Lightfoot/Leon had some fun with “Shutters Shut.” Set to the poem “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” as written and read by Gertrude Stein, the piece reflected the playful nature of the free verse with an absurd duet. Danced by Jin Young Won and Anton Valdbauer, they repeated silly little movement phrases, matching Stein’s repetitions, from one end of the stage to the other. It was thoroughly entertaining.
In “Sad Case,” also by Lightfoot/Leon, a cast of five appeared as marble statues coming to life when they hear Latin songs. There were plenty of sight gags to keep everyone giggling and intrigued from start to finish.
Kylian’s contribution was “Sleepless,” in which three couples disappeared and then reappeared from a paneled wall that cut the stage diagonally. While the work was mysterious, imaginative and dreamy, it grew monotonous.