Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) is synonymous with excellence, perhaps the most exciting dance company in the world, touring to global audiences year on year and producing cutting-edge dance pieces with house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, and associate choreographers Crystal Pite and Marco Goecke.
The company is better known for its extraordinary ensemble of dancers who continuously perform some of the most demanding and challenging roles in dance. Last July, I had the absolute pleasure of watching the company dance at Sadler’s Wells in London, to a sold out and excited audience. These dancers, are incredible athletes with acute artistry hard to find elsewhere. When watching them dancing I start wondering where the boundaries for creativity and physicality finish?
The boundaries of NDT dancers seem to stretch in all directions, creating a sense of awe in the audience by challenging gravity, flexibility, and stamina while presenting touching and dramatic performances shifting my perception of choreography. The company houses 44 full-time dancers in The Hague – The Netherlands with its current artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León.
Mr Lightfoot is a charming man with a vivid and contagious passion for dance, a sharp eye for choreography, and a talent chaser always on the lookout for individuality and originality in dance through his pool of associate choreographers. Mr Lightfoot and Ms León are a choreographic duo spanning a career of three decades creating dance works together. To date, they have graced the world’s stage with over 50 choreographic pieces. I am very curious to learn how such a long-term collaboration affects one’s work?
Ms León announces that the relationship has changed in the last 30 years and that they have reached maturity with their craft that perhaps was seen as naive, even too dramatic a few decades ago’. On the other hand, Mr Lightfoot explains, ‘The works have always been about redefining ourselves and chemistry really. We started working together very young, and naturally, we have changed … we sort of tried to heighten the parts of ourselves that we choose to approach in each piece.’
Ms León opens a window into her creative process with the dancers, she emphasizes that the working relationship is based on trust and intimacy, highlighting the vital fact that all the dancers are very familiar with her style. Mr Lightfoot adds by describing how important it is to have trust, chemistry, and maturity in the room.
NDT 1 brings four unique dance pieces to Singapore. Shoot the Moon, by Ms León and Mr Lightfoot, is a touching dance piece. The audience can witness the action from many angles spanning a revolving room on stage. The set is imposing even austere, Mr Lightfoot talks excitedly about the process, ‘the music and decor were very clearly defined before we started choreographing. We knew about the concept about the camera to give us an insight into what was happening behind the decors, and we knew about the rooms. You have seen the piece, of course, you can understand how the claustrophobic spaces are defining – you can hardly go anywhere in some points. It feels very theatrical because the set is so imposing in the room.’
Stop-Motion is the second piece presenting at da:ns festival by choreographic duo León and Lightfoot. A very ephemeral work. When I saw it, this summer I felt as though I was waking up from a dream. I learn that the creative team uses the stage as a metaphor for the destruction of the surroundings. ‘The dust wants to invoke the dead as a process of transformation. Up on stage, there is a projection of a young girl; she seems almost dressed in the wrong clothes, the child, and the woman are meeting in the middle. That crossroads is also this point of transformation – it’s a very inspirational and poetic moment.’ Mr Lightfoot concludes beautifully.
The Statement from Crystal Pite will be the third installment of the evening. Mr Lightfoot speaks fondly of Ms Pite. ‘Cristal has been an associate choreographer for a decade already, and I think the most important thing for the artistic team and me is to have creatives in the house which will inspire us because they have their own way of creating and a distinct choreographic signature.’ He adds that the associate choreographers of NDT; ‘are not copying the influences imposed into all of us. Crystal has an original identity, she crosses into a theatrical text to create a physical narrative where she makes her message very clear, her work in that sense is really an asset to the company very different identities.’
Marco Goecke is the second associate choreographer of the evening, presenting Woke up Blind. Mr Lightfoot explains, ‘Marco’s work is another example of true individual style. You find a lot of people trying to look like him, but he is not trying to be anyone except himself. I think that’s vital.’ The associate choreographers have full carte blanche to develop their choreographic works at NDT. Mr Lightfoot states, ‘I don’t know many choreographers who like to be told what they should do. In the world, we live in its very important to have choices. For me, it’s vital to have freedom. You can’t control creativity.’
After 30 years of making choreographies, I can’t help ask what else is left to be choreographed? Ms León confesses that choreography is her way to express herself, to relate to the world, in her words ‘I can choreograph in my head on my way to the supermarket, it’s the way I am’. Mr Lightfoot can’t imagine the idea of not creating regardless of the scale or level, a testament to the passion and dedication visible on stage and very much audible in this phone interview. He adds; ‘I love being connected with people and that inspires me to find chaos and harmony. There is always something about you in the work, however abstract.’I am looking forward to seeing this quadruple bill for the second time.
Nederlands Dance Theatre is performing with da: ns festival 13 & 14 October at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
This article is sponsored by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.