Twenty members of The Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) presented a trio of classically influenced experimental dance pieces at The Playhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival on Tuesday. The triptych opened and closed with pieces by NDT Artistic Directors Paul Lightfoot and Sol León, both of which were skilfully designed in monochrome but their exquisite style did not entirely mask the disappointing lack of substance.
The first, Shoot the Moon (2006), explored emotion in romantic relationships through a series of duets presented in three claustrophobically wallpapered, revolving rooms. Live, close-up shots of the dancers projected onto vast screens above the stage brought imposing intimacy to the duets and windows in the set gave interesting glimpses into danced exchanges in hidden areas of the stage. However, the monochrome contributed to a monotone and I gained no more from the final 15 minutes of the dance than I did from the first 10.
The second dance, Gabriela Carrizo’s The missing door (2013), incorporated physical theatre and was more theatrical or even filmic in style, and, as the only piece with a non-evasive narrative it was the most engaging of the trio. Drawing on tropes of horror and the gothic (female dancers thrown around like ragdolls all too frequently) it retold the more painful elements of a dying man’s life. Peppered with undeniably impressive technical effects, it was remarkably ambitious. The effects however became too intense and deliberate, saturating the performance and suffocating the choreography.
Returning to Lightfoot and León’s distinctive surreal style, the final dance, Stop-Motion (2014), ran for 36 minutes without a distinguishable climax or variation in the pace of the choreography. It was dreamlike, this time eight dancers filling the vast empty stage. As before, many design elements were inspired. Godets in the male dancers’ trousers moved so pleasingly as they danced and a thick layer of white chalk dust on the surface of the stage puffed and billowed, echoing the dancer’s movements as they disturbed it. There was something magnificent about the spectacle of the final piece and the skill of the dancers was captivating. The composition of the stage was however uncomfortable. There were, perhaps deliberately, too many elements to take in at once. Black and white painterly footage of the chorographers’ daughter was, whilst endearing and visually impressive, compositionally incongruous distraction. The ending proved simultaneously the most entertaining and most bizarre element of the piece. As the final pair of dancers occupied centre stage, the backstage curtains fell to reveal the brickwork behind the stage, hardhats, props and prompt corner; the age old ‘it was all a dream’ cop out was an incongruous insight.
Instead of being entirely absorbed throughout the evening I found my mind wandering, and wondering whether it was my lack of contemporary dance knowledge, or the uncomfortable air of self-indulgence which made the performance seem so exclusive. But, extended curtain calls and repetitive choreography seem more for the benefit of performers than their audience. The skill of the NDT dancers, choreographers and technicians is without question exceptional yet that alone cannot but relied upon to produce an entertaining show.