DANCE / Hanging out at the youth club: Louise Levene on Nederlands Dans Theater's Under-21s at Sadler's Wells

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The Independent Culture
DOES age matter? To Jiri Kylian, the artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater, it evidently does because he has chosen to divide his company into three groups according to the age and perceived strengths of the dancers. Last week saw the London debut of NDT2 (under- 21s). As with its big sister NDT3 (over-40s supposedly past their prime) one wonders why the particular talents of the young cannot be showcased just as successfully within the main company. What is clear is the bold and exciting way that Kylian has used youth and the choreography it can best inhabit.

Both programmes on offer at Sadler's Wells contained Ohad Naharin's Passomezzo, a quirky 10-minute double act. This skittish, good-humoured piece is danced to Greensleeves and opens with a slippery, body-slapping solo by Dylan Newcomb. He is soon joined by Tessa Cooke (very fetching in thermal undies and knee bandages) and the quarrelsome couple dance out their differences, pulling their muscles in and out of tension with the speed and unconcern of puppets on strings.

The strongest piece in the first mixed bill was Kylian's Stamping Ground, inspired by the highly individual dances of Aboriginal tribesmen. This rather corny idea was transformed into an exhilarating work that mixed and matched the six performers in witty interchanges and unlikely physical tricks. The dancers' youth and enthusiasm is used to excellent effect: Mario Radacovsky struts beakily about the stage, his spiky hair and beady eyes giving him the air of a belligerent budgie. Lively, original and extremely well-received, Stamping Ground might have made a better finale than Nacho Duato's Jardi Tancat (Catalan for 'closed garden'), a barefoot tale of humble peasant folk enacted with simple sincerity to the warbling sobs of Maria del Mar Bonet. Worthy stuff, but not quite profound enough to make up for ending the evening on a downer.

The highlight of the second mixed bill was another Jiri Kylian piece, Stoolgame, a sinister version of musical chairs performed by seven dancers with six stools. The persecuted loser is finally laid out on a table flanked by the upturned props, their spiky legs like the candles round a corpse. Throughout the 25 minute work the young dancers flaunt their unique (if transitory) gift: the impossible suppleness of young cartilage. Kylian exploits this boneless flexibility in sequences of leaps, extensions and arching back bends. Crucially, the work never degenerates into gymnastic display but is held to its purpose by the simple dramatic metaphor of men fighting to the death for somewhere to sit down.

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