DANCE Nederlands Dans Theater, Edinburgh Playhouse

Whether dealing with questions of sexual identity or illusion versus reality, Jiri Kylian's work is distinguished by a uniquely human touch. By John Percival
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The fluency of Jiri Kylian's choreography, his unexpected twists of movement and concern for human values put him streets ahead of his contemporaries. At his best, he is unbeatable, as in the Six Dances, one of the works brought to the Edinburgh Festival this week by his Nederlands Dans Theater.

Set to Mozart's German Dances, this is an uproariously funny piece, but much more than that. Its dancers - in white wigs, trailing clouds of powder and 18th-century dishabille - show the links between Mozart's time and our own with swift, concise episodes that mingle rivalry, lust, aggression and alarm.

Kylian pulls off something comparable, but with modern music, in Falling Angels, where Steve Reich's Drumming Part 1 (fiercely played by Circle Percussion) drives a cast of eight women through constantly changing geometric patterns in every direction of the stage. Each woman emerges briefly as a solo figure, suggesting the individuality as well as the solidarity and strength of her sex.

Placing that piece back to back with no pause against the all-male Sarabande renders the latter's send-up of macho posturing and smug confidence all the more devastating. But I wonder why its music, from a Bach Partita, had to be so unrecognisably electronically "processed" (by Dick Heuff) into an unbearable cacophony of harsh growls, screams and mocking shouts.

For a man whose choreographic response to music is exceptionally subtle and deep-probing, Kylian can be disconcertingly cavalier in assembling his scores. He treats Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms as a consistent whole for a modern ritual (which needs, I think, to be more tightly danced than it was in Edinburgh), but for two big recent works given, one on each of his festival programmes, he has constructed collages from discrepant sources.

In both these works, Kylian is exploring ideas about life and our attitude to it. Bella Figura (which runs musically from Pergolesi to Lukas Foss) is probably the easier to follow, raising questions of what we see and what people do, as the dancers are by turns revealed and masked by moving curtains, asking where performance begins and how it differs from the rest of life.

The theme of Whereabouts Unknown is of past and present; or rather, past in present, as references to Aboriginal art and African masks colour the dancing patterns. The highlight of this work is not so much the groups storming and swirling around the stage, thrilling as these are, but the quiet, puzzled, exploratory final duo to Charles Ives's The Unanswered Question.

Kylian's 21 years as NDT's artistic director have built a unique and dedicated company of dancers, even if (like Balanchine before him) his attempts to find new choreographers from among them are often less rewarding. Will London follow Edinburgh and catch up with them before Kylian's silver jubilee in four years' time?