featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review Dispatch, 12-3: 'Last Touch' for Last Program
As Netherlands Director Bows Out, Another Kylian Masterpiece Bows in

By Stephan Laurent
Copyright 2003 Stephan Laurent

THE HAGUE -- It was in 1973 that Jiri Kylian choreographed his first ballet for Netherlands Dance Theater, "Viewers." 30 years later, the untiring, acclaimed Czech master of flow and musicality who led the Dutch company to international fame as its artistic director just signed his 50th work, for the main company of NDT, in a recent program called Moving Boundaries, seen November 22 at the Lucent Danstheater. The premiere, a gripping melodrama for three couples entitled "Last Touch," was accompanied by a NDT premiere of a 35-minute dynamic duet by the choreographic team of Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, "Double Points:Two," and a revival of Kylian's 1993 tribal-inspired group work "Whereabouts Unknown."

Moving Boundaries, which plays throughout the Netherlands through December 18, also marks the last program under the leadership of the current artistic director, Marianne Sarstadt. She had taken over Kylian's position at the helm of the three NDT companies in 1999, and just announced her intent to retire. Sarstadt, a founding company member of NDT, had been ballet mistress of the Scapino Ballet when it was still housed in Amsterdam (I spent two seasons dancing under her able guidance), then became director of the Conservatory in The Hague prior to her appointment at the helm of NDT. Anders Hellstrom, a former dancer with the Royal Swedish, Hamburg and Frankfurt Ballets, and currently director of the Goteborg Ballet in Sweden, will take over as NDT artistic director in January. As in the past four years, Kylian will remain tightly connected with the company as artistic advisor and principal choreographer.

As evidenced by the rehearsals and performances I attended in The Hague these last few weeks, Sarstadt leaves the three companies at a high point of artistic maturity. NDT III, the troupe composed of mature dancers from NDT and other major companies is currently touring Mats Ek's "Tulips" throughout Spain after October's Holland Dance Festival premiere of this fascinating work, as much well-acted theater as highly physical dance. NDT II, the youngest company, continues to work with emerging choreographers and tour world-wide. As for the first company, "Last Touch," Kylian's latest work, was a rousing triumph in its premiere.

The drama opens on a sepia postcard note. Six characters, elegantly dressed in shades of brown and cream and seated with bright smiles in a 'Belle Epoque' salon in the same tones, appear as content as bourgeoisie can be. The next 30 minutes occur entirely in extreme slow motion and gradually make us understand the inherent unhappiness of the six individuals. With time suspended in its flow, our attention is drawn to minute details of the characters' gestures. One woman appears to over-indulge in drinking in spite of her companion's agonizing entreaties; another seems to be extremely sick, swallowing pills before being examined by her partner, who transforms a candlestick into an old-fashioned stethoscope, as he ever-so-slowly bends his ear to the device over her back. The third couple seems to dangle between the imaginary world of the woman's book and the suspended reality of every-day life as represented by torpid lifts over and around the armchair. This somnolent, intimate world becomes increasingly more oppressive as the mesmerizing score by Dirk Haubrich drips isolated, sweet-sounding piano notes like so many pearls of dew falling from a spider web in a rainy day. Suddenly, with a screech, everything comes to a halt as the stage blacks out momentarily while a page from the book is burned on the candlestick, then the lights blaze on the tortured shapes of each protagonist as they all reveal their destiny in a moment of frozen frenzy. Then everything calmly rewinds back, again in slow motion, to the beginning picture, which by the time the curtain falls has completely lost its postcard innocuousness and is now redolent with a terrible fate.

"Last Touch," in its mesmerizing arrestation of time throughout the entire work, is thus a choreographic palindrome: it can be spelled forward and backwards. As a choreographic process, it is fascinating. As dance theatre, the work is gripping. As a display of control from the dancers (Lesley Telford, Francesco Nappa, Paula Sanchez, Vaclav Kunes, Natasha Novotna, and Yvan Dubreuil) "Last Touch" is truly extraordinary. The slowness of the movements extends from deliciously controlled walking and dream-like everyday gestures to entwining lifts to supported falls and recovery. The deceptive innocence of the score by Haubrich, the elaborate period costumes by Joke Vissers, the pervasive sepia tones of the 1880s parlor over a crumpled beige sheet that covers the entire stage floor (in a set designed by Walter Nobbe), and the precise, oppressive lighting effects by Kees Tjebbes all contribute to drawing the viewer inside of this intimate drama. Kylian has again delivered a masterwork.

The NDT premiere of Emio Greco and Peter C. Scholten's work, "Double Points: Two" opened the program. The curtain was up as the audience made its way into the spacious theater, and upstage right in the dimness stood what looked like a female mannequin clad in beige. When the performance begins, she (Parvaneh Scharafali) comes to life with small, discreet circles of the foot and the legs while her partner (Mehdi Walerski) enters, clad in the same tight-fitting flimsy beige skirt, with strong, windmill-like movements of his arms, gliding in a slow diagonal downstage. The resulting 37-minute duet consists of a combination of, and elaborations on the movements that began the ballet, the partners coming together or separating like magnets successively attracted and repelled by each other. This was a tour-de-force of controlled stamina on the dancers' part which kept our attention at a peak throughout, accompanied by a collage of sounds by Wim Selles.

The closing work was Kylian's acclaimed 1993 "Whereabouts Unknown," inspired by the choreographer's interest in tribal movement from the Australian Aborigines and in African masks. A program note by the choreographer (freely translated from the Dutch text) states his intent: "I believe that the search for characteristics and values which are common to all races and times is a voyage worth undertaking." (Shades of his "The Road to the Stamping Ground.") The decor by Michael Simon -- who also designed the lights -- inventively and unusually manipulates the stage space itself. Down left, the floor raises into a mound on which sits a lone male dancer drawing slow figures with a stick into the expanse of sand lying just below. Behind him, the stage towers up to a finely tapered mountain point, and on the right side a huge wood sculpture similar to a curved roof or a parachute hovers in the air, sometimes twirling around above the dancers' heads. A group of women make their way towards a series of masks on the floor, carving the air above them with sinuous curving torso movements before holding the masks up, then removing them to don facial expressions similar to the masks. At times they use their fingers to contort their faces into grimacing smiles or frightful expressions while their bodies continue to flow from shape to shape in sinuous unison to Arvo Part's dreamy-sounding score. Later in the work, the men take center stage, bare-chested and soaring through the air, arms to their side and slightly curved like birds in flight, to the percussive, repetitive sound of Steve Reich's music, sometimes climbing the upstage left "mountain" to tumble down its slope again. Eventually, most of the dancers find refuge in the expanse of sand downstage, crouched close to one another in fetal positions, while a solo couple flows through the sculptural profile shapes at which Kylian excels, with exquisitely ingenuous partnering moments. The entire company performed this moving, exciting work with convincing physicality and flawless technical precision.

Jiri Kylian has long been one of the prime movers and shakers of contemporary dance. Like John Neumeier in Hamburg, he blends modern dance and ballet in a smooth continuum that makes it impossible to distinguish whether you are witnessing one or the other -- it is just great DANCE. The change of artistic leadership that is about to occur at NDT is no cause for concern, since Kylian will continue to be tightly associated with the organization and continue to work his magic on the talented dancers of all three companies, while having time to share his considerable dance-making abilities with the rest of the world.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home