Dance: Smooth swirls, gleaming grace

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The Independent Culture
IF IT'S something to do with the air they breathe, I'm emigrating to the Netherlands. But more likely this young troupe, "a transit house from studentship to fully-fledged professionalism", owes its lean good looks and assurance to a pernickety selection process. The 14 dancers are not lazily gathered from neighbouring schools, but sifted from nine countries, to stay with NDT2 for a few years and then travel on, "perhaps into the main NDT company".

Probably the style of movement also contributes to these smooth, gleaming company contours. It swirls and pours; it paints sweeping ellipses with broad, spare brushstrokes. It is boldly beautiful, and filled with a poetic, allusive resonance. So Deja Vu by Hans Van Manen may be no more and no less than a densely articulated, fabulously constructed pas de deux for Rani Luther and Gustavo Ramirez. But within these miniaturist confines the substance expands into the whole human world.

When the dancers enter, sliding head first, they are, it seems, beginning life. When they finish, flat on the floor again, they have completed the universal cycle. And in between they have gradually learnt to stand and deal with each other.

Yet Van Manen works with metaphor, not literal mime. Concentrate on the movement and you see dance geometries arranged in mirror unison, or in partnering, or in sudden frozen postures that seem to listen to the suspended moments of Arvo Part's Fratres for violin and piano.

Van Manen, who started in the Fifties, belongs to the rapidly contracting international elite of first-rate ballet choreographers. Johan Inger is a baby by comparison, but he already has a rare sureness of touch. Like some of his other pieces, Round Corners (to music by Erkki-Sven Tuur and Part) is hermetic and, I am told, autobiographical. Fragments of a secret narrative about a relationship crystallise among the eight dancers and the standing lamps that are moved in surprising patterns. Yet ultimately meaning is less important than the interesting manipulation of movement and an overarching impression of melancholic theatricality.

Paul Lightfoot's familiar and fluent Skew-Whiff offers a burlesque hyperactivity to Rossini that evidently tickled the audience's sense of humour. For my money, though, the riveting mobility of Indigo Rose by Jiri Kylian, overall director of the NDT companies, has a more impressive subtlety.

But I don't think Kylian intended anything beyond a closing ballet of contrasted dances. He revels in a musical collage, plays games with silhouetted shadows, and allows the dancers to take individual bows via their projected photographs at the end.

NDT2 are a popular and regular item in Britain. But they have never seemed so outstanding as this time round.

Nadine Meisner

NDT2 tours until 5 June