Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; July 2, 2014

Maggie Foyer

Nederlands Dans Theater 1 in 'Schmetterling'.  Photo courtesy Sadler's Wells

Nederlands Dans Theater 1 in ‘Schmetterling’.
Photo courtesy Sadler’s Wells

What joy to have Nederlands Dans Theater back in town on an all too rare visit. If you go to the theatre to be inspired, transported from the tedium of life yet opened to its infinite possibilities current directorial team of Paul Lightfoot and Sol León may be just the combination for you. They touch on theatre of the absurd, art of the surreal and their works are interpreted by dancers whose technical proficiency is a given and whose strength lies in their ability to bring integrity to each situation.

Lightfoot/León have titled their two pieces, “Sehnsucht” and “Schmetterling”, two portmanteau German words which come close to covering the range of expression in the pieces while providing a fitting platform for the dancers’ talents. In “Sehnsucht”, a cuboid of domesticity rotates above the stage. The seemingly boxed-in space is, in reality, liminal: the dancers finding escape through doors and windows reminiscent of the iconic “Shoot the Moon” of 2006. Medhi Walerski’s tall frame can almost stretch across the width and the confines spur choreographic creativity. The physical and metaphorical device of turning the world upside down is unsettling and shifts established perceptions in provocative ways. Parvaneh Scharafali is the other half of the relationship: a dream of a dancer who can switch from the simplicity of an ‘everywoman’ to the enigmatic beauty of a screen goddess in the blink of an eye.

On the stage beneath Silas Henriksen uncurls his laconic length and moves into action with a vigour that belies his passivity. He is another of NDT’s multi-faceted dancers: he looks young, vulnerable and even gauche but his dancing, notably in his solos to Beethoven’s exuberant music, is fiendish. The choreography for the group, clad only in trousers, shifts between neo-classical and contemporary, tempered with sinuous movement and punctuated with technical precision.

“Schmetterling” opens on a compact cell-like space chiselled from sharp black facets of curtains. Lightfoot and León shape space with matchless ingenuity. Here the outline morphs, almost imperceptibly, opening by degree and finishing on a vast apocalyptic landscape. It is against this unstable backdrop that a series of relationships are played out.

Walerski and Ahram Hasler remain a constant partnership. Hasler, her black hair greyed and convincingly aged in demeanour, if not in physical ability, invests the pairing with interesting asymmetry that shades the choreography with gentle humour and even pathos while Walerski, a dancer of natural grace remains a tower of strength.

The Magnetic Fields’ “69 Love Songs” accompanied a series of solos and duets quirky, ironic and always engaging. It was gratifying to see Danielle Rowe formerly one of Australian Ballet’s top dancers meld so seamlessly and effectively into NDT’s style. The close, to Max Richter’s music, on an uncluttered stage settled the piece with gravitas, closing an evening of class NDT dance.