Nederlands Dans Theater – Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax and Tar and Feathers; Lightfoot and León’s Signing Off – Sadler’s Wells


Three’s the charm as we practically forced ourselves out tonight, but I never really had any questions: Nederlands Dans Theater is one of the world’s top modern dance companies, the absolute A rank, and I didn’t really expect it would be anything but a great night. The evening opened with the classic “Wings of Wax,” a gorgeous meditation on movement and not-movement set underneath a suspended, inverted tree. The movement of the dancers was fluid and gorgeously handled the Biber Partita (which reminded me of the old round “Rose/will I ever see thee wed”) and its transition into a Cage fixed piano piece and then the mechanical rhythms of Glass. It had all of the texture I was wishing for last night – the dancers could be performing solo or with others, but somehow it never became rote. I’d actually seen this piece in Seattle years before, and I’m convinced it’s a modern classic.

Next up was the highlight of the evening (for me): Lightfoot and León’s “Signing Off.” It said in the program people were fighting to get pieces choreographed by this duo and I now believe it. The piece was just this … gesamtkunstwerk, if that’s the right phrase, a perfect combination of set, light, movement, and music. How it managed to actually use a set in a way I’d never seen before just kind of blows my mind, but we sat around dissecting it later, how it created so many spaces, how it helped the dance’s narrative, how it let the dancers fade into darkness gracefully, how it did so much using basically fairly basic technology so much better than any modern dance we’d ever seen. It shamed every thing I’ve ever seen that used video and I hereby ban TV screens from dance performances until every piece can approach the genius of the waterfall of mottled red silk that formed the end look of the piece. And that’s in addition to the fantastic dancing. The middle bit, with the three men in white pants … I’m a bit speechless. It was pretty well perfection.

Finally was the utterly bizarre “Tar and Feathers,” which I can describe elements of without claiming to understand. The set, a piano on elongated legs a la Dali, the other half of the stage dominated by a kind of ice crystal thing that was actually coated in bubble wrap; the sound, improvised piano with freakish barking that set the teenagers next to me laughing nearly uncontrollably; the movement – well, there was one bit where a woman was walking across stage on two men’s back, each of them rising up to move her forward as she “stepped,” and there was some neat multi-limbed stuff with three dancers hanging on each other, and the every-popular “pushing a dancer with her head” and clapping and hand fluttering; but I couldn’t make a bit of sense out of it. Interesting, modern, to be sure, but I couldn’t get any kind of connection between the movement in my head. The house still roared its approval at the end (while the dancer who was on stage the longest smiled wanly and looked like she wanted nothing more than to run offstage and collapse), so it was probably good but a little ahead of my personal ability to appreciate.

(More details of this brilliant show here.)

This review is for a performance that took place on April 3rd, 2008.

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