Nederlands Dans Theater performs three works in Los Angeles this weekend at the Music Center. They open with a new work, Medhi Walerski’s Chamber, and also perform Same Difference (2007) and Shoot the Moon (2005), choreographed by Paul Lightfoot and Sol León.
Walerski, a dancer with the company for twelve years, collaborated with British composer Joby Talbot to create Chamber, “an echo” of Rite of Spring, the ground breaking work that provoked a riot in a Paris theater in 1913. Walerski and Talbot first met when NDT was last in Los Angeles in 2011 and it was the start of a year-long collaboration inspired by Stravinsky’s work. Walerski admits the process was daunting. The result is a neutral toned stage lined with revolving doors. A couple is “elected,” and the dancers evolve from groups, to individuals, back to groups. It reflects the “collective and the individual nature of the human being,” says Walerski. The dancers exhibit amazing power and seem to test the limits of their abilities, but the piece doesn’t have the same oomph as earlier reinventions of Rite of Spring, like Maurice Béjart’s version.
Artistic director Paul Lightfoot and his wife, Sol León, are the driving force behind what is now one of the most innovative dance companies in the world. Lightfoot has been with the company since 1985 and the two have choreographed more than 45 pieces for NDT. They have won numerous awards for their work, including the prestigious Dutch Swan Award for their piece Shoot the Moon in 2005-06. The jury for the award wrote, “Lightfoot [and] León demonstrate how powerfully and subtly a good choreography and good dance can communicate”. Their assessment is spot on—the first impression one gets watching Lightfoot and León’s choreography is how accurately they communicate their themes with seemingly disconnected elements. In the case of the second piece, Same Difference (2007), the two use theatrical principles (something Lightfoot says stems from his exposure to theatre in England growing up) to demonstrate how the ego drives individuals’ thoughts and actions. Seven dancers are assigned different roles, e.g., the soldier, the poet; but each could also be a shadow of the same person. The audience is drawn into a surrealistic world where bizarre, jarring movements and words echo the chaos that the ego inflicts on the psyche. It is surprising to hear the dancers yell out, laugh wildly without warning, and that may be a turn-off for some audience members. Yet the jarring actions are performed with such fluidity and control that ultimately we are distanced from, and perhaps released from, the chaos.
The third piece, Shoot the Moon, is a depiction of modern relationships and family life. Three couples dance together in three different rooms, and the doors and windows are always open–perhaps a commentary on the invisible boundaries and silent agreements that keep us inside of them. There is Ibsenesque claustrophia, but at the same time, the open windows suggest the endless possibility of something new. Movie screens above the rooms mirror the actions seen and unseen. Philip Glass’s Movement II from Tirol Concerto for piano and orchestra imbues the piece with repetitive, waves of emotion, what Lightfoot refers to as the agent of change in relationships: “the emotion inside”.
Pina Bausch and the German Tanztheater springs to mind when watching both pieces, Same Difference and Shoot the Moon, and it turns out that Lightfoot considers Bausch a key influence. In a Dance Europe magazine article he calls Bausch the greatest choreographer of the 20th Century. He says, “I first saw her perform when I was very young and I have always admired everything she did…I have often thought that I’d have loved to work with Pina because as a choreographer she just blew me away.”