BWW Review: NDT2, IDFB Birmingham Hippodrome, May 2016

The International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) 2016 at the Hippodrome opened with a progressive programme of works from NDT2 - the junior division of Netherlands Dans Theater which focuses specifically on talent development for dancers aged 18-23. The IDFB puts Birmingham in the unique position of being the only city in the UK to have a dance festival as its biggest festival. It seems fitting therefore that, rather than opening with a more commercial piece, the Birmingham Hippodrome would begin their IDFB celebrations with the progressive NDT2.

The evening opens with I New Then, choreographed by Johan Inger. The welcoming voice of Van Morrison embraces the audience, with the familiar tones of Madame George, The Way Young Lovers Do, I'll Be Your Lover Too and Sweet Things. With swift entrances and exits, swinging hips and organic formations, I New Then is full of the freedom and wildness of youth; the perfect piece for these energetic young dancers. There is humour a-plenty here too, as the captivating Guido Dutilh gasps and exclaims with alternating childish shock and intrigue whilst spying on a couple's romantic embrace.

The fearless technique and discipline of the NDT2 is astounding, and their ensemble work is more slick and synchronised than any other contemporary company I have seen.

The programme continues with mutual comfort, a piece for two men and two women choreographed by Edward Clug. Finely detailed movement with head twitches and interlocking limbs characterises mutual comfort which, while less visually staggering than I New Then, conveys an interesting, egalitarian dynamic between male and female.

Hans van Manen's Solo, with its evident roots in classic ballet, in a glorious display of pirouettes and smooth leaps. It is liberating to see the three male dancers performing, not the bravura moves typical of many male solos, but an elegant, expressive combination of adage and eloquent gesture. Gregory Lau catches the eye with lithe limbs and an electrifying stage presence.

NDT2's stunning finale arrives in the form of Cacti, choreographed by former NDT dancer Alexander Ekman. A sardonic narrator compares traditional ritual to modern art forms, before introducing the concept of the human race as a living, breathing orchestra. Led by the passionate Madoka Kariya, the NDT2 transforms into an orchestra, providing percussion with claps, slaps, gasps, shrieks and maniacal laughter. The driving force of this rhythmic choreography creates a palpable energy throughout the auditorium. Once more, the sheer discipline and synchronisation of the dancers is staggering.

Dramatic lighting design by Tom Visser creates a visual spectacle, both sharply illuminating the dancers performing atop white platforms (accessorized by potted cacti), and using stark side lighting to create interesting, disorientating shadows. Bold, brash and brilliant, Visser's cheeky design leaves us in doubt as to the title of the piece; the word Cacti is illuminated in bright yellow bulbs.

This frenetic action is interrupted by a quirky duet, brilliantly performed by Gregory Lau and Katerina van de Wouwer. Male and female narrators voice out loud thoughts which could feasibly be running through each dancer's head, giving the audience a fantastic insight into the world of contemporary dance. Ranging from comments directly related to the movement - "be careful with my head on this bit" - and references to a potential romantic relationship - "what about the cat?" - Cacti combines dance and spoken word in the most innovative and exciting way imaginable.

This varied mixed bill shows that NDT2, now over thirty years old, is still one of the most vibrant, talented and versatile dance companies in the world. Despite their obvious youth, the dancers tackle abstract concepts and ideas with maturity and attack beyond their years. Virtuoso, clean technique, utter commitment, and an irreverent sense of humour make this NDT2 performance completely mesmeric and extremely memorable. NDT2 are surely one the finest contemporary dance companies in the world, and we must hope they continue to tour the UK for many years to come.

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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From This Author Emma Cann

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