Here are two rare pieces of lockdown dance that wouldn’t look out of place in normal times. The secret to effortless social distancing, it turns out, is an enormous stage (in this case The Hague’s Lucent Danstheater) and a significant number of couples and housemates among your company who can dance together. It helps, too, to have the never less than pristine production values of Nederlands Dans Theater, and some smart choreographic ideas.
The pandemic came as NDT was in the midst of its 60th anniversary season and about to bid farewell to artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León, leaving the company after more than 30 years as dancers and choreographers. Lightfoot and León were not about to let this significant moment fizzle away under lockdown, so they have marked it with two new dances, brought together in a matter of weeks. And while the creative partners (and former couple) usually make work together, here they’ve created individual farewells with very different approaches.
In Lightfoot’s Standby, what makes the heart sing most is the sheer scale of it, especially after watching so many people dancing in their cramped living rooms. The vast stage is stripped back to the walls, and the 42 dancers unleash great speed and brio. Standby is inspired by Harald Lander’s Etudes from 1961 (and uses the same orchestrations of Czerny by Knudåge Riisager). It’s an elaboration on the ballet dancer’s daily class, exercises turned into exquisite on-stage geometry, divided into ronds de jambe, port de bras, pirouettes, etc. Lightfoot’s dancers elaborate on the themes in his trademark style of long extensions and mannered quirks, lined up in diagonals, chessboard formations, boggling solos and particularly arresting duets.
The technical skill of this company is exceptional, not only the clarity of line, but the detail of attack, how they move from one step to another, whether with visible flow or a startling jump cut. There’s never an awkward moment, no matter how convoluted a sequence or unwieldy a lift.
For some, that slickness results in dance that wows the eyes, but leaves the heart untouched. Those people should watch Sol León’s She Remembers. In contrast with Standby’s scale, León chooses intimacy and moving personal reflection in a work created for only six dancers, who are also leaving the company this year.
A large door is the only piece of set, a place of entrances and exits, and a screen for the projection of archive footage of the dancers, from stage and studio, that gives the texture of memories, a collage where dancers glide into centre stage as if coming from different dreams.
To the beautifully sorrowful sounds of Handel and Max Richter, the dancers’ faces move as expressively as their bodies: Jorge Nozal in a silent movie-style monologue of grimaces, while Sebastian Haynes slowly unfolds an exquisite arabesque penchée behind him. That contrast of the bitter and the sweet is in constant interplay.
The passing of time is a universal theme, but the personal love and loss is tangible here. The final character in the piece is León and Lightfoot’s daughter, Saura (now 22, and an actor), who has grown up among this company. She appears on screen, as a toddler, then a girl joining her parents for a curtain call and finally an adult on stage, a smile breaking on her face as she scrolls though the memories. It’s a fitting send-off to mark the end of an era, which resonates with nostalgia, sadness and hope.